Bertha, down on Texas Street,
And Billy Lyon fell in love.
Their story's like those bittersweet
Stories you see plenty of
In school where a football star,
Or the rich kid with a car,
Falls for someone down to earth:
And starts to spend his money.
Not how Bertha judged his worth:
Billy was her honey
Going crazy, acting silly:
Calmly, Bertha undid Billy.
Little Bertha babysat
And Billy's job paid fine;
All the neighbors figured that
Bertha and her Billy Lyon
Would get a place together and
She would wear a wedding band.
But not so fast. It's first things first.
The war was on and there's a draft
Bringing teenage boys the worst
News there is: the autographed
Letters from the White House which
Would greet them with a little hitch.
They sent Billy overseas
With boys who're over seventeen
But couldn't find some way to squeeze
Out of such an ugly scene.
"Bertha, don't you worry, I'm
Only putting in my time."
You'd expect someone who's felt
The pain of tearful parting, to
Understand how wars are dealt
With daily. Folks like me and you
Are helpless. How can someone stop
A war--we going to call a cop?
She gets letters once a week
From Billy who wrote every day;
She'd press a letter to her cheek
And stop a teardrop on its way
To the kitchen table where
She reads each letter with a prayer.
Bertha's lonely, one night slept
With Billy's best friend who
Had gone to college. Bertha kept
It light and soft and quick it's true:
She thought of Billy, went to sleep--
Sanity was hard to keep.
Bertha's pregnant: Billy's friend.
Billy Lyon's coming home.
Billy took one look: The end.
Billy's look glared hard as chrome.
Coming home a wedding ring
No longer meant a fucking thing.
Waiting tables for a living,
Bertha faced the wayward smile
For the tips the hustler's giving;
Serves them beers and shooters while
Her pretty smile's wearing thin--
Weekends at the Fool's Rush Inn.
Bertha and her little girl
Who sucked her thumb when she would curl
Up in mama's silky lap,
Twists her hair and takes a nap--
Right now Mama's lap is hers,
Mama strokes her when she stirs.
Bertha on the bus that day
Had spotted Billy getting on;
Billy saw her on his way
To the back, then he was gone:
Bertha never turned to see
If that's the way it had to be.
More than Billy Lyon changed.
Times were different from before.
Now each day has been arranged
Around your going out the door:
Ignore the whistles at the park;
Shopping's done before its dark.
Bertha's wondering if she could
Move from her old neighborhood
Where hoodlum men can draw a crowd
And keep the people wowed or cowed.
Then Stacker Lee blew into town:
Jesus, different kind of clown!
He used to work on loading-docks;
Stacker's now too smart to work
Forty-some and punching clocks,
Working for some tight-ass jerk:
Told his boss he'd rather rob
And just walked off the nasty job.
We don't know what Stacker does
Since he moved himself down here,
Except throw dice and cop a buzz,
Chasing shots of Jack with beer.
Claimed he came from Tennessee.
All we know of Stacker Lee
Is what we saw: we heard his funny
Raps about his crazy life;
Always had a wad of money
And a butterfly--clack-clack--knife.
Big bills held a place on top--
He'd watch you watch the hundreds drop.
Laid back. Had a laugh. Relaxed,
And never seemed to hurry.
But he was quick and Stacker taxed
Your reservations with a flurry
Of moves and kicks. The times you'd hang
With Stacker Lee, things could go bang.
We hear a lot of that at night.
Drive by, cops, another fight;
Streets became a crying shame;
Good folks left, it's not the same.
Young men cruising after dark--
The ones that make my bulldog bark.
Stack showed up one Friday night;
Showing up on Bertha's shift.
He's good humored. She's up-tight--
People at the tables stiffed
Her bad that night. He knew the trip,
Stacker left a killer tip.
He could charm the birds from trees--
She's ignoring Stacker while
He tries to tell her life's a breeze--
All you need to have is style.
That made her laugh but she was glad
That Stacker Lee seemed not so bad....
Now Bertha has herself a man
Who likes to gamble shooting dice;
Treats her good as someone can,
Having money's awful nice--
He buys her things and really tries
To get along...a nice surprise.
Stack would treat her like a lady,
But often his mind wasn't there
When he got involved in shady
Deals--his steely eyes would stare
Out into space, and he was gone--
She'd wonder what was going on.
Billy Lyon has a wife
Who never smiles but my, she's sweet.
Seems she's not enjoying life--
Something inside has her beat.
But still, she's nice, you hope she makes
Something from some lucky breaks.
Two children and another due
But Billy's got it wired.
He has a job, a good one, too--
Recently got hired
To run a crew to build a mall--
Working on suburban sprawl.
Those not busy being born,
Bob Dylan sang, are dying;
With that in mind the bosses warn
Young men like Billy Lyon,
If bosses don't get more for less
The future's anybody's guess.
Billy Lyon's not as bad
As foremen you might get;
But the good side Billy had
Was the one that he'd regret.
It wasn't that he wasn't tough--
Billy wasn't tough enough.
Assurance given by his boss
Who fired him: "Don't worry son:
"There's plenty jobs you'll run across.
But here we need a bigger gun."
O.K. Sure. But when he looked
He realized his goose was cooked.
Things were slowing up which meant
The same old same old: more for less;
Workers who could take the stress
That gets ten hours out of eight;
Always straight and never late.
Bosses like that. Billy could
Give bosses that and more.
To earn a decent livelihood
He'd lay down like any whore.
Now foodstamps and dingbat work
Is making him feel such a jerk.
His unemployment checks weren't bad
For doing nothing. They got by.
Still they lost some things they had:
Economize--or so they'd try
Ignore what advertisements sell--
They'd do without some things a spell.
Billy's wife is feeling sick
And since she's pregnant too,
Billy Lyon tries to stick
Around the house to do
What he can and try to make
Things easy. But he's hard to take:
Sometimes Billy beats his chest
About the things he's mad about.
When they came and repossessed
His pick-up, he turned inside-out.
And doctors, hey! He's sorry they
Can't start to see things Billy's way.
Billy Lyon's brother-in-law
Came by always, dinner-time;
Otherwise made Billy draw
Conclusion he got by on crime.
He made his sister get up-tight
Inviting Billy out at night.
Billy, when he worked, declined.
Now he figured he could use
A few nights out. Why not? Unwind.
Go and listen to some blues.
"We'll shoot some craps with Stacker Lee,
He runs a game off Jamboree."
That's where Bertha goes to work.
On Jamboree the Fools Rush Inn
Stands. Where alley shadows lurk
Over crap games shadows win.
Stacker's game. He ran it right.
Honest as the morning light.
Bertha, one outrageous flirt;
Just like Stack, an extrovert.
Did she love him? She said yes,
For those times of tenderness
And times he took her breath away--
That's why she let Stacker stay.
But rumors that were up to mean
Tricks, would mess with Stacker's mind.
His suspicions got obscene,
Worked on tips and clues he'd find.
When Stacker couldn't be up front,
His Bertha made him, being blunt.
Bertha had a way to make
Him feel so good, shit, what a snake
He'd been for thinking nasty lies
Were what he saw in Bertha's eyes.
Her smile promised all she had,
And she kept things from getting bad.
Stacker Lee came home one night
And wouldn't say a word;
Something had the man uptight,
Something Stacker heard.
He slammed the wall, the man was crying,
"Goddamn liar, Billy Lyon."
Bertha knew, she knew her Bill,
He never quit a grudge;
He sometimes couldn't get his fill
Of acting like a judge.
It was Billy all the way.
"Stacker, what did Billy say?"
"He said nothing but he meant
That you, you couldn't trust."
Stacker Lee had to invent
The rest: of course, a bust.
"Billy Lyon," Bertha said,
"Never got it through his head
That losing's not so bad except
When winners have no heart.
Since the war, poor Billy's kept
That place inside himself apart--
The heart that shows now, I believe,
Is one that he wears on his sleeve."
Bertha told the story. Stack
Loved his Bertha all the more.
"Like they say, 'just don't look back,'
It's nothing I ain't seen before."
So what if Billy Lyon had been
The first, he said, of other men?
The bully and bragger
And bad company,
In alleys would swagger
Around Stacker Lee:
Play all night, some lose, some win
A game behind the Fool's Rush Inn.
Billy Lyon's coming some--
To games that Stacker ran;
Billy's not exactly dumb
But he can't do what Stacker can:
While Stack figures, Billy plods
Because he never learned the odds.
Stacker cleans out Billy Lyon,
Wasn't much but he's not working;
It hadn't been that gratifying
But paid Stack back for Billy jerking
Stack around when he implied
That Bertha was a tramp and lied.
Next night Billy Lyon's early,
He's got money, got his surley
Grin and tries to stare down Stack
Who isn't into staring back--
A fact that widens Billy's grin.
Tonight he's sure he's going to win.
Billy makes his money last.
Playing late that Tuesday night.
Tonight's the most he's ever passed
The dice and bet the games so light.
One by one the dudes crap out,
And Stagger Lee is just about
To call it quits but Billy grins,
"Come on Stack, it's early still."
Stacker thinks if Billy wins
His money back, Stack hopes he will
End it happy: politics.
Rolling seven, Bill calls six,
Grabbing up the four so quick
That Stacker wasn't sure at all--
Billy Lyon be so slick?
Between the roll and Billy's call,
Billy Lyon had him beat.
Stacker's letting Billy cheat.
While Stacker Lee let Billy run
His game on him he's keeping score.
Finally Billy Lyon won
Back everything he lost before.
Billy won back what he'd lost,
Cheating on what Stacker tossed.
That night Stacker Lee just shrugged.
Finally Billy Lyon said,
Stacker, looks like bad luck mugged
You good. tonight. I got your bread--
What you gonna use to buy
Back Bertha from some other guy?"
"Billy you're just talking shit,
But I don't want to fight--
It's late and so I got to quit.
You beat me bad tonight."
"But Stack, don't tell me you're afraid
To bet on your not getting laid
When you go home flat broke tonight?"
"Billy, like I said, you ain't
Going to get me in a fight,
But if you want I'll gladly paint
Yourself a picture: You ain't shit,
So do yourself a favor, quit."
Stacker has the dice and lays
A bet that Billy matches--
It's a big bet, Stacker pays
Attention, if he catches
Billy Lyon cheating now
He's got a gun. Hey Billy! Pow!
Stack threw seven, Billy swept
The three and four up in his hand;
"Eight", he called, and Stacker kept
His cool letting Billy stand.
Billy tossed back Stacker's dice,
The bones were feeling cold as ice
And that's when Stacker should've quit
But Billy Lyon got him hot--
His mouth so dry he couldn't spit,
Says, "Billy, how 'bout all you got
Against my brand new Cadillac?"
"You kidding, man? You got it, Stack."
Stack needs eight, but three and four,
Bounced off the wall instead.
"You lose", Stack." And Stacker swore,
The car keys crashed, and pinkslip bled
At Billy's feet, then Stacker Lee
Told Billy Lyon, "I could see
You cheat behind your fucked-up stare,
I don't need that shit from you.
Screw the caddy, I don't care.
But Billy Lyon, we're not through.
Fuck you and the Cadillac,
But don't be here when I come back."
Stack went home and Billy Lyon
Went back inside the corner bar--
Fools Rush Inn, up-front defying
Stack who lost his brand new car.
Too bad Bertha's off tonight,
Billy thinks, but feels all right.
stagger lee went home
and he knocked upon his woman's door
he said, wake up li'l bertha, baby,
and hand me my 44.
you know, bertha jumped out of bed screaming,
boy, she was looking dead in stagger lee's eyes,
she said come on inside honey,
I can see some poor man's going to die.
then stagger lee told bertha
that he'd lost his brand new cadillac
but he believed billy was cheating
and she knew he didn't go for that.
stagger lee went back on the corner
boy, he stood up in the bar room door
he said, don't nobody move
because I've got my 44
stagger lee shot billy lyon
you know, he shot the poor boy so fast
the bullet went through billy
and broke the bartender's glass.
billy lyon started to holler
he cried, stack please don't take my life
you know I got two little children
and a very sickly wife
stagger lee told billy, yes
I know you got a cute boy and girl
but if you want to see your family, Billy
better meet them in another world.
...as sung by Roy Byrd, aka Professor Longhair
Times are changing, that's for sure,
Changing like they did back when
Beethoven wrote the overture
For up and coming businessmen
Who then were known as bourgeoisie:
A French word for the middle-class:
Between the aristocracy
And lowly peasants busting ass.
Politics were then forsaking
Lords and Ladies at the helm
Because their Ship of State was breaking
Up against a rising realm:
This brand-new breed had made its way
To the top on what it owned:
Machines, and workers they would pay;
Ships, and money they had loaned.
Rising up, they tore controls
From rich, aristocratic clans--
Leaving them symbolic roles
And nostalgic, loyal fans.
Several centuries have since passed
Though one thing's still the same:
People's lives are being cast
In forms that shape a crying shame.
Here's a story, likely story
Of those days of classic strife;
A story of a search for glory
Complicating someone's life.
Back then life was usually short
Unless you held a place in Court--
With a title. Be amazed
How titles soften how you're raised.
A title gave more than prestige,
Unless the Crown was under seige,
A place in Court would guarantee
You priviledged perpetuity.
Our hero, now, a man called Jack
Had not been born to velvet slack:
Jack's a serf who owed his Lord
And master, life and limb;
Because a well-armed Lord could ward
Off dangers always threatening him:
Danger from the starving hordes
In search of food and plunder;
Peasants, then, swore by their Lords
To keep from going under;
Folks like Jack would serve a Lord
Who, by having shield and sword
And the blessings of the Church,
Protected them from those in search
Of victims they could catch alone:
Out there in the combat zone.
Often hungry bands were led
By pretenders to the Crown--
The upstarts every throne would dread.
Now, something else could bring them down:
The cities offered freedom to
The serfs and peasants to pursue
Their happiness from what they earned
By working where the fires burned.
Businessmen! They came and stole
The serfs they put on their payroll.
Lord faced a parasitic seige;
Serfs were giving up their Leige.
And Jack's Lord wasn't doing well
As others, as the hard times fell.
And even if his master could,
Jack knew his master never would
Improve his life in any way--
His Lord said wait for Judgement Day.
Now if Jack could find a Prince
Who spends less money than he mints,
Maybe some would trickle down
If he was loyal to the Crown.
It sounded good, our hero Jack
Decided he was going to pack.
Town and country: power teetered
Back and forth until it petered
Out from hands of Kings and Queens
To pockets of the bourgeoisie.
Where it can, this class convenes
A congress that will guarantee
Your welfare and your liberty.
But I digress, so let's get back
To our story's subject: Jack.
It wasn't easy as he thought,
The world was cold and times were hot.
For years Jack wandered rutted roads
And lived his life in episodes.
For years Jack followed gangs he tracked
To little towns they burned and sacked.
For years he mixed with roaming hordes
While frightened Lords fell on their swords.
For years our hero Jack gave aid
To villages the hordes would raid.
Jack's the doctor they'd be needing
To fix the breaks and stop the bleeding;
To help survivors put together
What's left of living under weather.
And for his help he'd earn a token,
For Jack was good at fixing broken
Bodies of the dying men
And women living way back when.
Jack became the best their was,
The people's doctor, good because
The doctors at frontline events
Have to face what Man invents
To wound and maim. But Jack got good
At fixing up what folks withstood.
So good, in fact, Jack thought a Prince,
Who spends less money than he mints,
Could use a man like Jack around--
Make his kingdom safe and sound.
He'd show a Prince one had to have
An expert rubbing in the salve.
Jack finally found an area which
Was thick with buzzing flies--
Garbage filling every ditch,
And well-fed pigs in crowded sties.
People held their noses high--
Around the rich, and crowded sty.
Where a Prince heard grievances
And confirmed allegiances,
Jack made his way. He had a plan
To carry out like no one could;
No more mister also-ran,
No longer be misundertood.
Jack's not one to miss a chance
That's going to help himself advance.
At his turn, the jack bowed low,
And said, "My Lord, I'll make
Your Kingdom here on earth below
Grow bigger if you let me take
A place in Court from where I'll tend
Your indoor servants, likewise mend
The breaks and treat the running sores
On those who work for you outdoors.
I'll keep them fit and on the go,
You can watch your Kingdom grow."
"Forget it, jack." The Prince was bored
With those who bargain with their Lord.
"I give my serfs protection,
In turn they work my land.
When God makes His selection,
What's left meets my demand.
They don't need a wetnurse
To nurse them to their grave.
A longer life's a peasant's curse--
A short life's what they crave."
The Prince then took another look
And realized, from what he took
That Jack had made a serious point.
And thought, "If all the priests annoint
The dead to save somebody's soul,
Doctors keeping bodies whole
And pushing peasants past the pain,
Would certainly help my kingdom gain."
"But sorry, jack, you're not the one.
I'm thinking of my youngest son.
A bleeding heart, day dreamed and read,
He isn't fit for battle.
He'll doctor in the fields instead,
Hear Death and not the sabre's rattle."
Jack spoke up, still on his knees,
"I'll teach your son, if it would please
Your Majesty. Make him my ward.
I treat and mend cuts from a sword.
I know it doesn't sound like much
But I can craft a sturdy crutch;
I even have a special brew
That works to purge you of the flu."
The Prince gave Jack a nasty grin,
Told him, "Kiss my Royal ass.
What makes you think I'll let you in
To be part of the titled class?
You've got no roots, how could I trust
Someone drifting in like dust?
Perhaps a spy
To see what's my undoing.
Get next to Royal
Blood to pry
And find what's worth pursuing.
A Digger, maybe, coming early
To communize my land;
Me safely in my grave you'd surely
Give the Levelers a hand.
"It doesn't matter who you are
Because with me you won't get far.
Try it on the bourgeioisie
Who can always use fast tongues
To compromise the misery--
Plug the leaks like wine cask bungs.
You might get lucky, getting those
Who'll signal turns to save your nose."
That last cut flew overhead,
Though I don't think Jack would have bled
Even if the Prince were clear:
A jack hears what he wants to hear.
Jack was smelling something new:
He wants to see what bourgeois do.
Beneath the haze of burning coal,
The jack was going to buttonhole
A businessman he'd flabbergast
Who's going to make him doctor fast.
The owner of a textile mill,
One who's always occupied
With orders that he had to fill
And little time to set aside,
Would talk to Jack sometime that day,
And hire another runaway.
Upstairs to a place on top,
Jack was led into a room
That held a clear view of the shop.
Below, all Jack could see was gloom.
A man behind a wide desk froze,
Dropped his pen, tipped back his nose
As though a foul smell drifted in,
Looked at Jack and said, "Begin."
Jack was nervous for he was quick
To see this was no easy trick--
Standing there he realized
The owner acted scandalized.
"Excuse the grime and way I dress--
I've seen bad times, I must confess.
But, I've come to pay respects
And compliment your industry.
Your grand pursuit in life reflects
The brightest light of history."
Jack was coming on so strong
It made the owner nervous:
"Make your point, I don't have long."
So Jack said, "At your service.
I'm a doctor, I can make
Your business operation sound.
As a doctor I can take
An illness anywhere it's found
And get the sickly up to do
As much as healthy can for you.
"There're times you need to brace a limb
When trees are full of fruit that's ripe;
Times when bearings need a shim;
Times when you refit a pipe.
Give a little, save a lot,
Taking care of what you got."
Jack pointed through the window glass
At workers down below,
Weaving patterns, busting ass.
The owner said, "You know
I think you're right. When labor's short
We need somebody of your sort.
"I think I'll send my oldest son
Away to study--faraway
He's had his share of sport and fun
And too much time to play.
I think it's time he worked a spell
And let his passions cool off.
He knows the game of hearts so well,
Let's see if he can treat a cough.
"Thanks, Jack, for the good advice,
Such things as these there is no price.
But take this token for the shrewd
Suggestion, you've my gratitude."
He handed Jack a coin and led
Him out as fast as shuttled thread.
On the streets, Jack's left to think
That, like the Nobles, bourgeois stink.
The first of blood, the second: ink.
And Jack now had to face the facts,
That history has no time for jacks
Who've fallen in between the cracks--
In between two feuding sides
Getting down and mean;
Down where civil war decides
Between cold science and machine,
Or the reigning King and Queen
Forever on the bloody scene.
Either side of that old penny
Offers naught but diddly squat.
No way Jack is getting any
For himself. A thought
Occurrs to him that tells him he
Might as well be breaking free
Of thinking what's above can save
Those below from being slave
To a system that divides
People into separate sides.
So Jack broke free from thinking that
The bourgeois or aristocrat
Had any place for him at all
Except somewhere he had to crawl.
Alas, poor Jack. The Jack died waiting--
All along anticipating
The day when there'd no longer be
Peasants or nobility,
Workers or the bourgoisie,
No class, but folks we'd like to be.