The Ballad of Bathtub Gin

Hamper McBee

My brain feels on the verge of frying or short-circuiting or something as I’ve been grading non-stop for weeks, not to mention meeting with a steady stream of students about essay revisions. I therefore turn for comic relief to a parody of Rudyard Kipling’s beloved poem “Gunga Din” that approximates my current state of mind. The parody was written many years ago by my father who (I can joyfully report) is reading again after a bout of dementia, perhaps brought on by a bladder infection.

You probably know Kipling’s poem, which you can read here. It begins as follows:

You may talk o’ gin and beer   
When you’re quartered safe out ’ere,   
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter   
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it.   
Now in Injia’s sunny clime,   
Where I used to spend my time   
A-servin’ of ’Er Majesty the Queen,   
Of all them blackfaced crew   
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

And here’s the famous ending:

So I’ll meet ’im later on
At the place where ’e is gone—
Where it’s always double drill and no canteen.   
’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals
Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,
An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!   
      Yes, Din! Din! Din!
   You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!   
   Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,   
      By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
   You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

Anyway, bathtub gin was a real and present reality where I grew up in the southern Cumberland Mountains in Sewanee, Tennessee. (Today it has tragically been replaced by the even more lethal bathtub meth.) When I was a child we actually knew an old moonshiner named Hamper McBee who, in addition to his frequent brushes with the law, was also a fine musician. Remarkably, he sang songs as they had been handed down over the ages so that, while he normally spoke with a southern drawl, the songs themselves were sung in the English of Shakespeare’s time. The Appalachians were that isolated.

Please excuse the digression. Here’s my father’s parody. Enjoy:

The Ballad of Bathtub Gin

By Scott Bates

You may talk of Scotch and Rye
When you’re drinkin’ on the sly
An’ you feel you ain’t got nothin’ much to lose;
But when it comes to liquor
You’ll never get their quicker
Than on good ol’-fashioned rotgut, homemade booze!

Now in Sewanee’s foggy clime
Where I used to spend my time
Indulgin’ in the gentle arts of sin,
Of all the local brew
The most potent stuff I knew
Was that belly-bustin’ beverage, bathtub gin!

It was gin! gin! gin!
You super-saturated Mickey Finn!
Hey, gimme another slug!
Wipe the sawdust off the plug!
Takes the ring right off the bathtub, bathtub gin!

But they carried me away
To where a jacket lay,
A double-vested job with strings to lace ‘er;
An’ when they got me tied,
I ‘eard em say aside,
“ ’E should’ve taken Draino for a chaser!”

So now I’m getting’ bored
In the Alcoholic Ward,
An’ I’m getting’ tired o’ watchin’ my D.T’s;
But when they treats me rude
I just dreams o’ getting’ stewed,
An’ they can give me trouble all they please!

So it’s gin! gin! gin!
Though they put me in this mouldy storage bin,
I know that when I die,
I’ll be really ridin’ high
‘Cause I’ll get a swig in Hell of bathtub gin!

–Yes, it’s gin! gin! gin!
What a pandemonic pickle I’ll be in!
By the devils that distill you
And the poor damned souls that swill you,
You’re the hottest hooch in Hades, bathtub gin!

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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