Pete Seeger: Beans In Your Ears
True story: when my brother was a kid, he put a dried piece of corn in his ear, and it got stuck. We had to go to the emergency room to get it out. This, of course, led to one of those inevitable conversations adults are always having with kids, where the adult asks "what were you thinking", and the kid just looks at him like this is the dumbest question ever, which it is. You'd think we'd stop asking such stupid questions of our own children, but alas, such is the life of a parent.
The premise of this song is much the same. On the surface, the advice here is that which Seeger's narrator gets from his mother: don't put beans in your ears. Underneath that, however, is an interesting story about how children get their ideas, as Seeger only puts the beans in his ears because his mother's advice gets him wondering why this might be a tempting idea in the first place. We might suggest that Seeger has some advice for us, too -- about being careful with your own suggestions, lest you give ideas to impressionable young minds curious enough to try just about anything.
I am reminded, in fact, that my mother used to sing this song to us when we were very little. These days, like many a childhood folksong, it gets stuck in my head from time to time, but I daren't let it out. After all, hospital visits are expensive.
Note: The original of this song is actually by Len Chandler, an obscure folk singer who was a contemporary of Seeger; if anyone has a recording of an original, I'd love to hear it. Seeger being Seeger, of course, he cannot help but make the song an anti-Vietnam soapbox, adding a final, political verse about "Mrs. Jay's son, Albie", who must have beans in his ears, too, else he would presumably respond to the protests about his war policies.
But then, to Seeger, all songs were protest songs; the liner notes to his 1966 album Dangerous Songs?! include the thought that, to kids, lullabies are propaganda songs, too. The album also includes one other straightforward advice song, a traditional folk ballad called "Never Marry an Old Man".