Welcome to the lyrics page for the eight songs on "527." Click on the links below to go directly to lyrics, MP3 samples, and additional notes for each song.

If you are interested in purchasing "527," please contact me by phone at 610-865-9697, or via email at music@rjkushner.com

The Guy Who Keeps it Going,Little Mexico, 1938, and Hello, Mr. Wolle, were written for the songwriting portion of "Steel Festival: The Art of an Industry" produced by Touchstone Theater in Bethlehem in 1999. Hello, Mr. Wolle, The Guy Who Keeps it Going, and 13 other songs about steelmaking in Bethlehem by other great writers can be heard on "Days of Steel," available from Bummer Tent Records.  Special Thanks to Bummer Tent for their permission to re-release these two songs.  Thanks also to Jodi Beder, whose cello playing on Hello, Mr. Wolle is not acknowledged on the CD notes. All music and lyrics © 2000 Roland J. Kushner. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Big White Boys Downtown
I Beg Your Pardon
Little Mexico, 1938
Hello, Mr. Wolle
Penny Evans' Daughters
Each and Every Day
I am the River
The Guy Who Keeps it Going

Big White Boys Downtown
(Sample 853K)

an urban geography ... and history ... and a look ahead?

In the clearance racks and bins
In the firehalls and bars
Working out a low cost life
East of town among the barns
The factories left the crossroads
A million years ago
And now we wait to see what prince
Will rise to wear a crown
Given for a moment
By the big white boys downtown

On the west side of the city
The burghers live out lives
Of nervous contemplation
Mixed with quietly whispered "Whys?"
When Grandma was an office girl
She held her head up high
But now as she goes to work
Her gaze looks carefully down
Hidden from the watchful eyes
Of the big white boys downtown

In the hills and valleys north and south
The old and new estates
Are all filled up with refugees
Seeking open space
In the shadows, in the evening
In the morning caravan
The leaders of society
All make their daily rounds
Rising to position as big white boys downtown

From north to south and east to west
The axis lines are drawn
A ragged shape of crucifixion
Lies upon this river town
And where they meet, we should see
A place of common ground
Tied up to a heritage
That keeps on coming round
And those who came across the sea
Escaping from the crown
Would they now love the legacy
Of the big white boys downtown?

And those who came across the sea
Escaping from the crown
Would they now love the legacy
The dirty trick of history
The power, the greed and the jealousy
Of the big white boys downtown

I Beg Your Pardon
(Sample 598K)

What home means to me ...

Sweet light is shining all of the day
Guiding me all around the business at hand
Three o'clock, four o'clock and all of the time
A pathway is leading me home
I beg your pardon
Did you say that some place is better than home?
I've done my traveling
At the end of the way, the close of the day
I reach the door to home

Sweet sounds are echoing all through the evening
Bringing the music home and into my heart
Eight, nine, ten o'clock and into the night
A melody calls me home
I beg your pardon
Did you say that something sounds sweeter than song
Call rhythm to calm me
To end what sounds wrong, before too long
I reach for my guitar

It's not the last time
Or even the next time or place
That makes it seem right
It's here, it's now, it's love that sounds
All of the day and at home tonight

Sweet love is shining all of the time
It's greater than glory and stronger than song
In ocean bright sunshine and winter dark cold
Your love is calling me home
I beg your pardon
Nothing that I know lasts longer than love
Hard work is over
At the end of each line, the close of each rhyme
I reach for my true love

Refrain: It's not the last time
Or even the next time or place
That makes it seem right
It's here, it's now, it's your love that surrounds me
All of the day and at home tonight

Repeat last verse

Little Mexico, 1938
(Sample 891K)

Written for the Steel Festival, but not recorded on Days of Steel. Albert Gonzalez, a retired steelworker at Bethlehem Steel Company, told me that he was born in Kansas, but his father had come there from Aguascalientes [translation: hot waters], Mexico, to work for the Santa Fe railroad.  When his family came to Bethlehem in the 1930s, they lived in worker housing called “Little Mexico,” near the Bethlehem Steel Coke Works.  It was razed in 1939.  In the city of Puebla, Talavera tile has historically been one of the signature products of the region.  Lazáro Cárdenas was a popular president of Mexico in the 1930s, and sped up the pace of land reform.  His son, Cauhtemoc, has been Mayor of Mexico City in recent years.  In Accordion Crimes, E. Annie Proulx described how  workers migrated to the U.S. from Oaxaca and other areas of Mexico by bus.  I visited Puebla and Oaxaca with my family, and we brought some blue Talavera tile home with us.

What can you tell me of Aguascalientes?
How will I learn?
Each passing year takes me farther away
I hope to return
The distance is great
My memories have changed
Though I have lost count
I cling to the days
In this cold water town
I'll make a new life
But the senses of home
They live here at night
Little Mexico

What can you tell me, amigo Poblano,
Does the wind blow?
Is Talavera still baked in the oven
One tile that I know
It came north with me
Some home that is here
The blue color shines
When seen through my tears
The color of steel
It takes away all of the light
A dark sun by day
A bright moon by night
Little Mexico

Do they still speak about Lazáro Cárdenas
Does he still lead?
I hear that he gave more land to the peasants
That's what they need
This coke oven life
It's fit for a slave
I wish I had land
I wish I had stayed
Under rust colored smoke
In this company town
We don't own our land
We must make it our home
Little Mexico

Are they still coming, the poor Oaxaqueños?
It was so hard
To stay and to honor the land that God gave them
They're so far apart
An image so bright
It's as close as I get
Our hope lies ahead
Though there's much to regret
On the bus and the train
We answered the call
With our friends all around
We will stand and not fall
Little Mexico

Hello, Mr. Wolle
(Sample 1,798K)

J. Frederick Wolle founded the Bach Choir of Bethlehem in 1898 to perform Bach’s St. John Passion for the first time in America.  The Choir, in its early years, was sustained by Steel President Charles Schwab.  Over the years, many Steel employees at all levels have sung in the Choir.  Mayari was the site of an important ore mine in Cuba; the Worker’s Memorial in Bethelehem’s Rose Garden is made of Mayari steel.  The Choir’s “signature” piece is Bach’s Mass in B Minor, which they have performed each May since 1912 in Packer Memorial Chapel on the Lehigh University campus, making the Bethlehem Bach Festival probably the longest running performing arts event in the country.  I worked for the Choir for three years, and encountered stories and accounts of how it served to join many different segments of society in Bethlehem, including references to steelworkers and their bosses singing together.

It’s day by day down at the plant
Through seasons mean and kind
We gather by the hundreds
To push steel down the line
But I’ve a second life, you know
That never changes pattern
I gather with the Choir each week
To sing the great cantatas

Hello, Mr. Foreman
And what work are we shoveling?
Another heat of steel to bring
To life in this bright oven
But in my mind, amidst the clang
And heat of this bright furnace
I sing each tenor aria
And think about the chorus


Hello, Mr. Wolle
God’s given you the fire
And courage that you need
To make great music with the Choir

It’s us and them around the town
He won’t talk to the workers
But I know where to find the foreman
After work is over
It’s every Monday night you’ll see him
Meet the working class
In musical surroundings
To practice for the Mass

Mayari steel each morning
B minor at dusk
My brothers of the open hearth
Make fire to challenge rust
The metal echoes all around
The jagged shots of fire
They’re nothing in this worker’s ear
To the true sound of the Choir


And even when the times are bad
We’re striking and it’s bitter
Bach has got the touch of God
That keeps this town together
A picket line all through the day
A tenor line at night
His music has divinity
And power, joy and light

To look back now, across the years
Whoever would have thought it
The ruin of a broken plant
While Bach is still triumphant
I meet the foreman now each May
In Packer’s charming chapel
We sit among the ladies gay
And gratefully remember

Chorus, third line “we”

Penny Evans' Daughters
(Sample 453K)

This song extends Steve Goodman's beautiful "The Ballad of Penny Evans," recorded in the early 1970s. That song told of a Viet Nam war widow with two infant daughters. The young woman and her husband would play duets of "Heart and Soul" before he went away to war. Without knowing if there was a "true story" in the song, I wondered over the years what might have happened to the two daughters and the mother. A few years ago, I read a story about how Father's Day was a trying time for the families of Viet Nam war dead, and it got me thinking again ...

This also pays tribute to my maternal grandmother, Anna Kafka Dubsky Cahill, who kept her two daughters alive during World War II, having fled from Czechoslovakia to occupied France without knowing if my grandfather Josef Dubsky was alive or dead. He did survive, and they were reunited after the war. Though he died before I was born, we have a picture of him in our family photo gallery, and I'm always interested in hearing stories about him. I only knew my grandmother "Babi" as a widow in Montreal, and then as a little old lady in Pasadena, and then, for another 10 years, married to her second love Michael Cahill.  But at all times, her life was filled with charm and style and grace, to be sure! Mae is a family name in my wife's family.

The melody is based on the "The Flying Cloud" (a traditional British song I heard from the fine British ballad singer Lou Killen) and also on Steve Goodman's original.

Penny Evans is my mother, also to my sister Mae
Our father died in Viet Nam at the dawn of a bright new day
His picture sits at home upon an old piano stool
With one of him beside my mother playing "Heart and Soul"

Our mother lived alone without a man to share her life
She felt the steady heartache of a nation wrought with strife
The lessons that she taught us, the lessons that we've learned
Are how a life of peace is never given, only earned

And as we grew to womanhood our lives went separate ways
I sought out quiet and comfort, while Mae found passion's blaze
We learned our Daddy's story that his memory not grow cold
And the three of us each Father's Day will still play "Heart and Soul"

In Chicago and in New York, in Lake Charles and Bakersfield
So many women had to forge a mother's bond in steel
The coming home was bitter for the soldiers who came home
More bitter still the ache and torment of the widows left alone

It's a lesson, it's a struggle, it's an honor earned each year
The raising of a family, standing strong and fighting fears
Her reservoir of strong resolve, her courage, love, and faith
A widow's path she's walked and lived with charm and style and grace

We are Penny Evans' daughters, it's the dawning of our day
The war that claimed our father's life may never fade away
Of their grandfather's brave trial, how he went and was undone
Are the stories we now tell to our daughters and our sons

Each and Every Day
(Sample 1,266K)

How young love becomes grown-up love ...

I wasn't there and I don't know
The kind of loving that you had before we met
It's long ago, too far too see
When lovers are all grown
They forgive and forget
It's here and now we make our love
The path that we were speaking of
Might help to light the path ahead
But the love we'll have tomorrow
Grows on hope we build today
And each and every day

We make our world by the things we do
We make our paths by the way we walk
We make our place where we choose to stay
The path I walk leads back to you
Each and every day

From the bottom of the mangrove's muddy roots
To the top of the maple's ruddy crown
At a table in a quiet country room
In the bright lights of the monument downtown
In the small and hidden places,
It's everywhere your face is
The image I want to see
I'm coming home to you from where I
Walk and work and play
Each and every day


In the hour when the stars stop shining
On the last long mile that leads me home
It eases that long slope I'm climbing
To know I don't have to be alone
A victory, a cheer, for the one who holds me dear
Who takes my life and makes me whole
The sun is rising soon
And it's here that I will stay
Each and every day


I am the River
(Sample 691K)

Driving over shrunken rivers during a drought in 1999, thinking that it probably wouldn't last ...

I am the river, I've always been
Force of nature, ocean seeking
You build a bridge, I'll tear it down
You see beauty green, just wait
I'll be ugly brown

Willow tree up on brookside
I'm narrow now but I'll be wide
Cast your line in, look for fish
While you're thinking trout, just wait
I'm trying to get out

It just takes one gray evening
All that drought is vengeance seeking
The water gets too wide, best not cross over
On your rooftops you will wait
For boats to come to save you

What was a ford now needs a ferry
It started trickling, now I'm waving
The gentle banks have turned to mud
With the power of storm and water and rising flood

A big fat storm with a lady's name
Come through your world, I'm not the same
Heaving boulders, shaping torrents
Did you ever think I wouldn't wait
Now the river will not sink

I am the river, I'll always be
It's God alone who decides to fill me
When you feel old age, I'll reach flood stage
Your life is short, I can wait
My rising is your fate

I am the river

The Guy Who Keeps it Going
(Sample 1,391K)

Written for the Steel Festival in 1999 and included on "Days of Steel."  Endurance and pride in their work were hallmarks of steelworkers’ lives. More than anyone else, this was my father in-law, William J. Elm, 1913-1997.  Bill worked from 1931 to 1975 at the Steel, mostly as a maintenance welder in Number Two and Number Six Machine Shops.  Albert Gonzalez and Bruce Ward also told me stories that were worked into this song.

Tell me what it means to be a rigger
To turn the car when the temperature was high
Our team had the hot jobs
The clean up, patch up, fix the breaks
We got the right job done right on time

That’s my job, that’s my pride
All the rest I could let it ride
Every day and on the weekend
I’m the guy who keeps it going

Tell me what it means to get the summons
The panic voices in the late night call
My job was the fixer
The jam, the break, the late night crash
I’m the one who saved them from their fall

Chorus, third line “Middle shift”

Tell me what it means to work the ovens
Greasy dusty pits of gas and fire
My job was the lidman
The pole, the broom, the closing door
No one ever saw me lose that line

Chorus, third line “Every night”

All around the plant, men are working
I’ll tell you what I know each day I start
My job is providing
For wife, for kids, for family
That’s the job that’s closest to my heart

Chorus, third line “Every day”
Chorus, third line “All the time”

All lyrics © 2000 Roland J. Kushner. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.  For additional information, write to me at music@rjkushner.com.  This page was last modified on May 20, 2002