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Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin: Music

Osama's Pajamas

(Jody Stecher)
Jody Stecher

The instrumental melody that underlies the vocal of “Osama’s Pajamas” is “The Lake Street Stomp”,  a tune I composed a long time ago, which my students and friends have been asking me to record. It makes a nice instrumental. 

 

I composed the vocal rant shortly after I noted that doubts about the death of Osama bin Laden were being expressed by people of all political persuasions, religions, nationalities, and ethnicities. It struck me that not one of the doubters challenged the identity of the woman who was with the man who was killed in Abbottabad. Muslim, Christian, right wing, left wing — not one doubter said that she was not the wife of Osama bin Laden. So my song poses what I think is a reasonable question: If it wasn’t Osama who got killed, how come some other guy was living with Osama’s wife? And if that guy was not Osama, who was he?  

 

It has seemed a preposterous idea to me that it could have been anyone else but her husband. But then everything about the so-called “hunt” for bin Laden has seemed preposterous to me. While millions of people in India and the middle east knew perfectly well that Osama was in Pakistan, and a smaller number knew exactly where, both the Bush and Obama administrations seemed to pretend that they didn’t know where he was. I’ll never forget John Kerry’s hollow sounding election promise to “hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden” as though that made him look like a real tough customer, and as though seeing Osama killed was the collective wish of the American people, (which it wasn’t) and as though one dead egotistic prima donna murderous sociopath (that would be Osama bin Laden) would make us safer (which I doubt.)

 

The words to “Osama’s Pajamas”, when they can be understood, have been generally misinterpreted. So I guess I’d better explain myself.

 

The superb Mississippi blues man Fred McDowell  recorded a song called “Jim Steam Killed Lula.” The first line is “Jim killed Lula on a friday night”. Melodically, and tonally, it’s one of the most striking lines of recorded music I’ve ever heard. “Osama’s Pajamas” begins ‘Obama killed Osama’ and the song ends with ‘on a Friday night.’ These “bookends” are a parody of the old song. 

 

President Obama is not particularly the subject of this satirical song. Obama is a handy rhyme for Osama, and a stand-in for Jim (who killed Lula). The use of the two rhyming names is also a reminder that a surprising number of people confuse the two with each other and that they also confuse either one with the Boogie Man.  However, the assassination of Osama bin Laden looks to me to have been more of a political gesture than a safety measure. I also think that politicians from both sides of the aisle have cynically manipulated the fears of Americans and encouraged us to irrationally fear a trial of the Guantanamo prisoners on American soil — and this is one of the subjects of the song (if you can call this zany rant a “song”. )  It would seem that we are expected to believe that no American prison is secure enough to hold the prisoners. Why wire cages in Cuba are more secure than any of our stout Federal prisons is never explained. Do the Guantanamo prisoners have magical powers that become activated on the American mainland but are inert in Cuba?  Children “know” that the Boogie Man, who lurks in the closet or under the bed, immediately becomes invisible when the light is turned on, but that he’s really still there. “Osama’s Pajamas” satirizes this way of thinking in adults.

 

So here we go.

 

Obama killed Osama  

  

I say this is true. Through delegates, yeah, but following the Jim Killed Lula formula, I expressed it this way.  I say it was not some other guy that got killed. 

 

Mommy, are we safe now?

 

This is my way of saying, in a satirical way, that we are not any safer. I’m also implying that the media, the politicians, and the powers that influence both, are attempting to wear away the confidence of adult Americans so that we might each be reduced to the state of a frightened child clinging to our mother’s skirt.   The vaguer the threat the better. There might be legitimate legal reasons that make a trial on the American mainland difficult but we are not told these reasons. Instead we are led to believe that the prisoners, despite their poor health and shackles, would surely escape and immediately start doing nefarious things like planting small atomic bombs in public places (these would be assembled from the spare parts and plutonium they have stealthily concealed between their toes for all these years), hijacking the next available aircraft, or suggesting single payer universal health care.

 

Geronimo! in Guantanamo

 

“Geronimo” was the battle cry of the 82nd Airborne in WW II. You’ve probably seen that in black and white paratrooper movies. It seems that “Geronimo” was also one of the code words associated with the operation to kill Osama bin Laden, and possibly a code word for bin Laden himself. And of course Geronimo, the daring Apache warrior, although a very different sort, had some things in common with the wealthy Saudi narcissist Osama. Both were difficult to capture, and each came to symbolize a feared “otherness”.

 

It has been said many times that the inmates at Guantanamo are stand-ins for Osama bin Laden but no one ever seems to ask why this particular dirt bag was singled out to take the blame for the September 11th attacks. He waffled and prevaricated about his involvement, alternating between claiming and denying that he had planned the attacks. He seems to have gloated and rejoiced at the deaths of innocents, but news reports at the time indicated that he was surprised to learn of the attacks. 

 

If he sees me I am dead  

Don't let the boogie man go !

 

Don’t let him see me

Don’t let him  see my shame

Don’t let him know my name    

Don't let him go

 

My idea here is that there is a common irrational and unexamined view amongst many Americans that the prisoners in Guantanamo —some of whom seem to have been active terrorists, and some of whom seem to have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and had the same name as a felon — are being treated so oddly and cruelly, not because they are loathed for their alleged crimes, but because they are feared for their Other-ness, which is equated with magic powers. Why are they led from place to place blindfolded? My song suggests that perhaps it is not to humiliate them but to prevent them from seeing us. 

 

Don't let the boogie man step on our soil

Let’s take his oil

Oil    Oil        

 

At the time that George W Bush was running against the son of Fiddlin’ Al Gore I had a banjo student who was a staunch life-long Old School conservative and was rather wary of W. I mentioned to him that I thought the Republican agenda was “mostly about oil”. He corrected me. “No, Jody. It’s ENTIRELY about oil”.  

 

 

Boogie Boogie Boogie Boogie

 

This is a quote from Groucho Marx in the film “A Night At The Opera”, nothing more or less. Well, more actually: I added one Boogie for good measure. 

 

Shackled and gagged       Beaten and bound

He’s the boogie man, he's still the boogie man

Under my bed: it’s the horribobble boogie man

Bag on his head, Rag on his head  Gag on his head  

 

Politicians warn of the Guantanamo prisoners’ magical powers; should they set a manacled foot on the American mainland to stand trial, we’ll lose our liberties, health, and bank accounts. And to protect these endangered liberties the politicians recommend that our liberties be suspended, as if that made sense. Fear sends us crawling under our beds. But there’s no safety there; that’s where the Boogie Man lurks.  Not only are the prisoners substitutes for Osama bin Laden, but bin Laden himself is a substitute for the Boogie Man. 

 

Boogie Boogie Boogie Boogie

 

Groucho again.

 

Big Bad Booger Rooger 

 

This has nothing to do with mucous. Booger Man is as common a term as Boogie Man. Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded “Booger Rooger Blues” in the 1920s. I thought it sounded funny.  A Booger Rooger seems to have meant a low class dance hall or something of that sort. But I just am using a funny sound.  

 

Boogie Man got no eyes ,Boogie Man got no voice

No hands Boogie Man, he can’t stand

 

All these restraints on them and we still are told to be afraid of these prisoners. 

 

 help! help! the horribobble boogie man

 

An affectionate reference to A A Milne’s “horrible heffalump”

 

 

 

Just how frail is a federal jail?

A convicted politician can never get out

A convicted militiaman can’t get out

Ain’t no condition where they can get out

A federal prison sure is stout

But the blindfolded boogie man he might get out

The manacled radical he might get out

He might be under my bed right now

he might be under my bed.

He is! He is! He’s under my bed,

he’s under my bed with a bag on his head

 

If our federal prisons are secure enough to prevent domestic terrorists from escaping but are not secure enough to hold a blind-folded, handcuffed, manacled, possible terrorist of the imported variety—which is what the media and the politicians have told us —then it must be not because of the weakness of the prisons but because of the super powers of the prisoners. 

 

If it was wasn’t Osama who lost his life

Who's the guy in Pakistan living with his wife?  

Who was the guy in Osama’s pajamas, living with Osama’s wife?

 

None of the doubters have been able to explain how some other guy who was not Osama managed to fool Osama’s wife into believing she was defending and protecting her husband and not an impostor. 

 

Who's the guy in Pakistan eatin' cheese and crackers an' Preening in the mirror 

 

In an interview with Osama bin Laden’s cook, the interviewer asked what I thought was a very sensible question. “What does he like to eat?”  Turns out his fave in the cave was instant macaroni and cheese. I tried to get that into the song but it doesn’t rhyme with Pakistan.

 

Some say it was Edward The Fifth

Some say it was my Uncle Fred

Others say it was Ambrose Bierce

Or Jimmy Hoffa who got dead

 

Here I list people who have disappeared. I’m pretending to be helpful by making suggestions as to who this impostor might be.  

 

I say to every doubting Thomas 

Doubting the dude in Osama’s pajamas

If it wasn’t Osama who got dead 

Maybe he’s the boogie man under my bed

 

He’s bin Laden

He’s “bin”  hidin’  He’s “bin” plottin’    

To take away our constanta-tuitional right

To be denied health care and medical treatment

 

Politicians and their agents yell about protecting the Constitution but they have no idea what the Constitution actually says, and some high ranking office holders have even confused it with the Declaration of Independence. And there was the Tea Party protest where someone had a sign that said Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare.  That is as astonishing as the fact that President Obama had to explain to the American people that Medicare is a government program. Who did the objectors to Obama’s health care plan (with which I have my own issues) think was running Medicare?  McDonald’s?  Monsanto?  What I was trying to say in this part of the song (but couldn’t sing fast enough to get it all in) is that a portion of the American population is worried that a universal health care plan will interfere with their constitutional right to be denied medical treatment due to a pre-existing condition. And that is all the fault of Osama. Or Obama. I do think that there are people who vote who get the two confused. And they can’t pronounce “constitutional”.

 

 

bind him, blind him    cut him down

 

A reference to the old comic ballad “The Derby Ram”

 

some say on a sunday

some say on a monday

others say the second of May

 

I noticed that the news reports of the death of Osama each gave a different time of death and even a different day. Part of this was due to the difference between Pakistan time and American time zones but it also seemed to be part of the whole ridiculous scenario surrounding this bit of political theatre. 

 

Obama killed Osama on a friday night

 

This is a return to Jim Steam killed Lula.


Osama’s Pajamas

© Jody Stecher,  Vegetiboy Music (BMI)

 

Obama killed Osama    

Mommy, are we safe now?

 

Geronimo! in Guantanamo

With a bag on his head

If he sees me I am dead  

Don't let the boogie man go !

 

Don’t let him see me

Don’t let him  see my shame

Don’t let him know my name    

Don't let him go

 

Don't let the boogie man  

Don't let the boogie man step on our soil

Let’s take his oil

Oil    Oil        Boogie Boogie Boogie Boogie

 

Shackled and gagged       

Beaten and bound

He’s the boogie man, he's still the boogie man

 

Under my bed: it’s the horribobble boogie man

Bag on his head, Rag on his head,  Gag on his head  

Boogie Boogie Boogie Boogie

Big Bad Booger Rooger 

 

Boogie Man got no eyes Boogie Man got no voice

No hands Boogie Man, he can’t stand

 

help! help! the horribobble boogie man

help! help!  the boogie man

are we safe now, mommy are we safe?

 

Obama            killed Osama

( are we safe now? Mommy are we safe?)

Just how frail is a federal jail?

A convicted politician can never get out

A convicted militiaman can’t get out

Ain’t no condition where they can get out

A federal prison sure is stout

But the blindfolded boogie man he might get out

The manacled radical he might get out

He might be under my bed right now

He might be under my bed.

He is! He is! He’s under my bed,

He’s under my bed with a bag on his head

 

Help! Help! The Horribobble Boogie

Are we safe now? Mommy are we safe?

Help!     the big bad boogie man

Horribobble Boogie Man Under my Bed

 

Obama killed Osama

Mommy are we safe? 

If it was wasn’t Osama who lost his life

Who's the guy in Pakistan living with his wife?

 

Who was the guy in Osama’s pajamas         

Living with Osama’s wife?

Who's the guy in Pakistan eatin' cheese and crackers an' Preening in the mirror ?

 

Some say it was Edward The Fifth

Some say it was my Uncle Fred

Others say it was Ambrose Bierce

Or Jimmy Hoffa who got dead

 

I say to every doubting Thomas 

Doubting the dude in Osama’s pajamas

If it wasn’t Osama who got dead 

Maybe he’s the boogie man under my bed

 

He’s Bin Laden

He’s “bin”  hidin’  He’s “bin” plottin’    

To take away our constanta-tutional right

To be denied health care and medical treatment

 

Horribobble boogie man under my bed  

Big bad boogie man under my bed

Bind him, blind him.    cut him down

 

Obama he killed Osama  

Hip hooray  

Hip Hip Hooray

 

Obama killed Osama    

(are we safe now, mommy are we safe?)

or a big stuffed dummy in Osama’s pajamas

some say on a sunday

some say on a monday

others say the second  of may

Obama killed Osama

on a friday night

on a friday night

on a friday night

on a friday night

 

Jody Stecher: vocal and mandolin

Suzy Thompson: vocal and 1 row button accordion

Allegra Thompson: vocal

Eric Thompson: guitar

Chad Manning: fiddle

Paul Knight: bass