THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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Reflections on "Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean.

© William Morris Agency (management)

I am listening to this song today and remembering how I used to make my daughters (and any other children who found themselves in the back of my car) sing along to it on road trips. 

I probably first heard it – played to me by an uncle who took informal responsibility for my musical education – not too long after it came out in 1961. I'd have just started infants school. I heard it a lot over the years that followed.

Given the size of said uncle (and all the other men in my family) I knew that one day I'd grow up to be the size of the song's hero.

The boy Tom was a serious, thoughtful little chap and thought that one day he'd have to aspire to be that way – metaphorically.

It was a daunting prospect and good reason to enjoy the rest of a carefree boyhood while it lasted.

The only mine I ever went down didn't collapse on me. I never faced such a test of courage. Who knows how I would have fared? I might well have been one of the other miners: praying, my heart beating fast and fearing I'd breathed my last. Still, the song embodies for me the ideal of what it means to be a "proper man".

Today, that's "toxic masculinity" and is to be despised. "Courage" is now used as a word to describe public whingeing about one's first world problems – real or imagined.

Mr Paine the elder, a wiser gentleman than he knows, has often told me over the years that we have to die in the end, because the world changes until we no longer fit in it. Perhaps, when your highest ideals are looked down upon, it is time to move on?

Maybe so but I still love the song. YouTube does not permit it to be presented here, but follow this link to hear it. If your woke education permits, enjoy!


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Comments auto-close after one month but I received this one by email from Robert R.

“ Hi. I noted that the comments section on this article is closed already. Anyway I'd like to mention that I fully agree with the context of your reflections, and also would point you to three songs with similar messages.

It has absolutely nothing to do with any "macho attitude" to accept and welcome responsibility and value the term "duty" even when this would result in personal unfavorable consequences. Much to my despair, this is widely disparaged as "old white male" demeanor .. often combined with fierce rigor and invective, reminding me of Orwell's 1984 ... which, combined with Newspeak, Genderism, Cancel "Culture", and Political Correctness causes me to feel we are amidst a cultural civil war.

Three songs comparable to "Big Bad John"'s keynote I'd like to bring to your attention:

#1 Tom Paxton - The Bravest
#2 Marty Robbins - Utah Carol
#3 Marty Robbins - Ride Cowboy Ride

#1 is IMHO the best tribute to the WTC firemen on 9/11, and certainly not a song for the kind of people we call "Snowflakes" here.

Here are the lyrics:

The first plane hit the other tower, right after I came in
It left a fiery, gaping hole where offices had been
We stood and watched in horror, as we saw the first ones fall
Then someone yelled, "Get out, get out, they're trying to kill us all"

I grabbed the pictures from my desk and joined the flight for life
With every step I called the names of my children and my wife
And then we heard them coming up, from several floors below
A crowd of firefighters with their heavy gear in tow

Now every time I try to sleep, I'm haunted by the sound
Of firemen pounding up the stairs, while we were running down

And when we met them on the stairs, they said we were too slow
"Get out, get out", they yelled at us, "The whole thing's gonna go"
They didn't have to tell us twice, we'd seen the world on fire
We kept on running down the stairs, while they kept climbing higher

Now every time I try to sleep, I'm haunted by the sound
Of firemen pounding up the stairs, while we were running down

Thank God, we made it to the street, we ran through ash and smoke
I didn't know which way to run, I thought that I would choke
A fireman took me by the arm and he pointed me uptown
And, "Christ", I heard him whisper, as the tower came roaring down

So now I go to funerals for men I never knew
The pipers play 'Amazing Grace' as the coffins come in view
They must have seen it coming when they turned to face the fire
They sent us down to safety, then they kept on climbing higher

Now every time I try to sleep, I'm haunted by the sound
Of firemen pounding up the stairs, while we were running down
Of firemen pounding up the stairs, while we were running down”


Justified: thanks for the tip, it looks rather jolly.

John Miller

Since we’re of the same age, I, too, remember this song.

If you need cheering up I suggest watching “Justified” on Prime. Whilst watching it the other evening I thought of an ancient song of whom the hero reminded me. Great minds obviously think alike!

I understand the feelings you are going through, which is why the series is, for me, a lovely antidote to the current age. The baddies are (mostly) really bad and the hero is really good. I find the warnings by which any good programme is preceded especially amusing as the more urgent they are, the better the episode…

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