Welcome to the lyrics page for the eight songs on “527.” Click on the links below to go directly to lyrics, MP3 samples, and additional notes for each song.

The Guy Who Keeps it Going, Little Mexico, 1938, and Hello, Mr. Wolle, were written for the songwriting portion of “Steel Festival: The Art of an Industry” produced by Touchstone Theater in Bethlehem in 1999. Hello, Mr. Wolle, The Guy Who Keeps it Going, and 13 other songs about steelmaking in Bethlehem by other great writers can be heard on “Days of Steel,” available from Bummer Tent Records.  Special Thanks to Bummer Tent for their permission to re-release these two songs.  Thanks also to Jodi Beder, whose cello playing on Hello, Mr. Wolle is not acknowledged on the CD notes. All music and lyrics © 2000 Roland J. Kushner. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Big White Boys Downtown 
I Beg Your Pardon 
Little Mexico, 1938 
Hello, Mr. Wolle 
Penny Evans’ Daughters 
Each and Every Day 
I am the River 
The Guy Who Keeps it Going 

Big White Boys Downtown 
an urban geography … and history … and a look ahead?

In the clearance racks and bins 
In the firehalls and bars 
Working out a low cost life 
East of town among the barns 
The factories left the crossroads 
A million years ago 
And now we wait to see what prince 
Will rise to wear a crown 
Given for a moment 
By the big white boys downtown

On the west side of the city 
The burghers live out lives 
Of nervous contemplation 
Mixed with quietly whispered “Whys?” 
When Grandma was an office girl 
She held her head up high 
But now as she goes to work 
Her gaze looks carefully down 
Hidden from the watchful eyes 
Of the big white boys downtown

In the hills and valleys north and south 
The old and new estates 
Are all filled up with refugees 
Seeking open space 
In the shadows, in the evening 
In the morning caravan 
The leaders of society 
All make their daily rounds 
Rising to position as big white boys downtown

From north to south and east to west 
The axis lines are drawn 
A ragged shape of crucifixion 
Lies upon this river town 
And where they meet, we should see 
A place of common ground 
Tied up to a heritage 
That keeps on coming round 
And those who came across the sea 
Escaping from the crown 
Would they now love the legacy 
Of the big white boys downtown?

And those who came across the sea 
Escaping from the crown 
Would they now love the legacy 
The dirty trick of history 
The power, the greed and the jealousy 
Of the big white boys downtown 

I Beg Your Pardon 
(Sample 598K)

What home means to me …Sweet light is shining all of the day 
Guiding me all around the business at hand 
Three o’clock, four o’clock and all of the time 
A pathway is leading me home 
I beg your pardon 
Did you say that some place is better than home? 
I’ve done my traveling 
At the end of the way, the close of the day 
I reach the door to home

Sweet sounds are echoing all through the evening 
Bringing the music home and into my heart 
Eight, nine, ten o’clock and into the night 
A melody calls me home 
I beg your pardon 
Did you say that something sounds sweeter than song 
Call rhythm to calm me 
To end what sounds wrong, before too long 
I reach for my guitar

It’s not the last time 
Or even the next time or place 
That makes it seem right 
It’s here, it’s now, it’s love that sounds 
All of the day and at home tonight

Sweet love is shining all of the time 
It’s greater than glory and stronger than song 
In ocean bright sunshine and winter dark cold 
Your love is calling me home 
I beg your pardon 
Nothing that I know lasts longer than love 
Hard work is over 
At the end of each line, the close of each rhyme 
I reach for my true love

Refrain: It’s not the last time 
Or even the next time or place 
That makes it seem right 
It’s here, it’s now, it’s your love that surrounds me 
All of the day and at home tonight

Repeat last verse 
Little Mexico, 1938 
(Sample 891K)

Written for the Steel Festival, but not recorded on Days of Steel. Albert Gonzalez, a retired steelworker at Bethlehem Steel Company, told me that he was born in Kansas, but his father had come there from Aguascalientes [translation: hot waters], Mexico, to work for the Santa Fe railroad.  When his family came to Bethlehem in the 1930s, they lived in worker housing called “Little Mexico,” near the Bethlehem Steel Coke Works.  It was razed in 1939.  In the city of Puebla, Talavera tile has historically been one of the signature products of the region.  Lazáro Cárdenas was a popular president of Mexico in the 1930s, and sped up the pace of land reform.  His son, Cauhtemoc, has been Mayor of Mexico City in recent years.  In Accordion Crimes, E. Annie Proulx described how  workers migrated to the U.S. from Oaxaca and other areas of Mexico by bus.  I visited Puebla and Oaxaca with my family, and we brought some blue Talavera tile home with us.

What can you tell me of Aguascalientes? 
How will I learn? 
Each passing year takes me farther away 
I hope to return 
The distance is great 
My memories have changed 
Though I have lost count 
I cling to the days 
In this cold water town 
I’ll make a new life 
But the senses of home 
They live here at night 
Little Mexico

What can you tell me, amigo Poblano, 
Does the wind blow? 
Is Talavera still baked in the oven 
One tile that I know 
It came north with me 
Some home that is here 
The blue color shines 
When seen through my tears 
The color of steel 
It takes away all of the light 
A dark sun by day 
A bright moon by night 
Little Mexico

Do they still speak about Lazáro Cárdenas 
Does he still lead? 
I hear that he gave more land to the peasants 
That’s what they need 
This coke oven life 
It’s fit for a slave 
I wish I had land 
I wish I had stayed 
Under rust colored smoke 
In this company town 
We don’t own our land 
We must make it our home 
Little Mexico

Are they still coming, the poor Oaxaqueños? 
It was so hard 
To stay and to honor the land that God gave them 
They’re so far apart 
An image so bright 
It’s as close as I get 
Our hope lies ahead 
Though there’s much to regret 
On the bus and the train 
We answered the call 
With our friends all around 
We will stand and not fall 
Little Mexico 
Hello, Mr. Wolle 
(Sample 1,798K)

J. Frederick Wolle founded the Bach Choir of Bethlehem in 1898 to perform Bach’s St. John Passion for the first time in America.  The Choir, in its early years, was sustained by Steel President Charles Schwab.  Over the years, many Steel employees at all levels have sung in the Choir.  Mayari was the site of an important ore mine in Cuba; the Worker’s Memorial in Bethelehem’s Rose Garden is made of Mayari steel.  The Choir’s “signature” piece is Bach’s Mass in B Minor, which they have performed each May since 1912 in Packer Memorial Chapel on the Lehigh University campus, making the Bethlehem Bach Festival probably the longest running performing arts event in the country.  I worked for the Choir for three years, and encountered stories and accounts of how it served to join many different segments of society in Bethlehem, including references to steelworkers and their bosses singing together.

It’s day by day down at the plant 
Through seasons mean and kind 
We gather by the hundreds 
To push steel down the line 
But I’ve a second life, you know 
That never changes pattern 
I gather with the Choir each week 
To sing the great cantatas

Hello, Mr. Foreman 
And what work are we shoveling? 
Another heat of steel to bring 
To life in this bright oven 
But in my mind, amidst the clang 
And heat of this bright furnace 
I sing each tenor aria 
And think about the chorus


Hello, Mr. Wolle 
God’s given you the fire 
And courage that you need 
To make great music with the Choir

It’s us and them around the town 
He won’t talk to the workers 
But I know where to find the foreman 
After work is over 
It’s every Monday night you’ll see him 
Meet the working class 
In musical surroundings 
To practice for the Mass

Mayari steel each morning 
B minor at dusk 
My brothers of the open hearth 
Make fire to challenge rust 
The metal echoes all around 
The jagged shots of fire 
They’re nothing in this worker’s ear 
To the true sound of the Choir


And even when the times are bad 
We’re striking and it’s bitter 
Bach has got the touch of God 
That keeps this town together 
A picket line all through the day 
A tenor line at night 
His music has divinity 
And power, joy and light

To look back now, across the years 
Whoever would have thought it 
The ruin of a broken plant 
While Bach is still triumphant 
I meet the foreman now each May 
In Packer’s charming chapel 
We sit among the ladies gay 
And gratefully remember

Chorus, third line “we”   

Penny Evans’ Daughters 
(Sample 453K)

This song extends Steve Goodman’s beautiful “Ballad of Penny Evans,” recorded in the early 1970s. That song told of a Viet Nam war widow with two infant daughters. The young woman and her husband would play duets of “Heart and Soul” before he went away to war. Without knowing if there was a “true story” in the song, I wondered over the years what might have happened to the two daughters and the mother. A few years ago, I read a story about how Father’s Day was a trying time for the families of Viet Nam war dead, and it got me thinking again …

This also pays tribute to my maternal grandmother, Anna Kafka Dubsky Cahill, who kept her two daughters alive during World War II, having fled from Czechoslovakia to occupied France without knowing if my grandfather Josef Dubsky was alive or dead. He did survive, and they were reunited after the war. Though he died before I was born, we have a picture of him in our family photo gallery, and I’m always interested in hearing stories about him. I only knew my grandmother “Babi” as a widow in Montreal, and then as a little old lady in Pasadena, and then, for another 10 years, married to her second love Michael Cahill.  But at all times, her life was filled with charm and style and grace, to be sure! Mae is a family name in my wife’s family.

The melody is based on the “The Flying Cloud” (a traditional British song I heard from the fine British ballad singer Lou Killen) and also on Steve Goodman’s original.

Penny Evans is my mother, also to my sister Mae 
Our father died in Viet Nam at the dawn of a bright new day 
His picture sits at home upon an old piano stool 
With one of him beside my mother playing “Heart and Soul”

Our mother lived alone without a man to share her life 
She felt the steady heartache of a nation wrought with strife 
The lessons that she taught us, the lessons that we’ve learned 
Are how a life of peace is never given, only earned

And as we grew to womanhood our lives went separate ways 
I sought out quiet and comfort, while Mae found passion’s blaze 
We learned our Daddy’s story that his memory not grow cold 
And the three of us each Father’s Day will still play “Heart and Soul”

In Chicago and in New York, in Lake Charles and Bakersfield 
So many women had to forge a mother’s bond in steel 
The coming home was bitter for the soldiers who came home 
More bitter still the ache and torment of the widows left alone

It’s a lesson, it’s a struggle, it’s an honor earned each year 
The raising of a family, standing strong and fighting fears 
Her reservoir of strong resolve, her courage, love, and faith 
A widow’s path she’s walked and lived with charm and style and grace

We are Penny Evans’ daughters, it’s the dawning of our day 
The war that claimed our father’s life may never fade away 
Of their grandfather’s brave trial, how he went and was undone 
Are the stories we now tell to our daughters and our sons 
Each and Every Day 
(Sample 1,266K)

How young love becomes grown-up love …

I wasn’t there and I don’t know 
The kind of loving that you had before we met 
It’s long ago, too far too see 
When lovers are all grown 
They forgive and forget 
It’s here and now we make our love 
The path that we were speaking of 
Might help to light the path ahead 
But the love we’ll have tomorrow 
Grows on hope we build today 
And each and every day

We make our world by the things we do 
We make our paths by the way we walk 
We make our place where we choose to stay 
The path I walk leads back to you 
Each and every day

From the bottom of the mangrove’s muddy roots 
To the top of the maple’s ruddy crown 
At a table in a quiet country room 
In the bright lights of the monument downtown 
In the small and hidden places, 
It’s everywhere your face is 
The image I want to see 
I’m coming home to you from where I 
Walk and work and play 
Each and every day


In the hour when the stars stop shining 
On the last long mile that leads me home 
It eases that long slope I’m climbing 
To know I don’t have to be alone 
A victory, a cheer, for the one who holds me dear 
Who takes my life and makes me whole 
The sun is rising soon 
And it’s here that I will stay 
Each and every day

I am the River 
(Sample 691K)

Driving over shrunken rivers during a drought in 1999, thinking that it probably wouldn’t last …

I am the river, I’ve always been 
Force of nature, ocean seeking 
You build a bridge, I’ll tear it down 
You see beauty green, just wait 
I’ll be ugly brown

Willow tree up on brookside 
I’m narrow now but I’ll be wide 
Cast your line in, look for fish 
While you’re thinking trout, just wait 
I’m trying to get out

It just takes one gray evening 
All that drought is vengeance seeking 
The water gets too wide, best not cross over 
On your rooftops you will wait 
For boats to come to save you

What was a ford now needs a ferry 
It started trickling, now I’m waving 
The gentle banks have turned to mud 
With the power of storm and water and rising flood

A big fat storm with a lady’s name 
Come through your world, I’m not the same 
Heaving boulders, shaping torrents 
Did you ever think I wouldn’t wait 
Now the river will not sink

I am the river, I’ll always be 
It’s God alone who decides to fill me 
When you feel old age, I’ll reach flood stage 
Your life is short, I can wait 
My rising is your fate

I am the river 
 The Guy Who Keeps it Going 
(Sample 1,391K)

Written for the Steel Festival in 1999 and included on “Days of Steel.”  Endurance and pride in their work were hallmarks of steelworkers’ lives. More than anyone else, this was my father in-law, William J. Elm, 1913-1997.  Bill worked from 1931 to 1975 at the Steel, mostly as a maintenance welder in Number Two and Number Six Machine Shops.  Albert Gonzalez and Bruce Ward also told me stories that were worked into this song.

Tell me what it means to be a rigger 
To turn the car when the temperature was high 
Our team had the hot jobs 
The clean up, patch up, fix the breaks 
We got the right job done right on time

That’s my job, that’s my pride 
All the rest I could let it ride 
Every day and on the weekend 
I’m the guy who keeps it going

Tell me what it means to get the summons 
The panic voices in the late night call 
My job was the fixer 
The jam, the break, the late night crash 
I’m the one who saved them from their fall

Chorus, third line “Middle shift”

Tell me what it means to work the ovens 
Greasy dusty pits of gas and fire 
My job was the lidman 
The pole, the broom, the closing door 
No one ever saw me lose that line

Chorus, third line “Every night”

All around the plant, men are working 
I’ll tell you what I know each day I start 
My job is providing 
For wife, for kids, for family 
That’s the job that’s closest to my heart

Chorus, third line “Every day” 
Chorus, third line “All the time”

All lyrics © 2000 Roland J. Kushner. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.  For additional information, contact me via email at music@rjkushner.com.  This page was last modified on Feb 29, 2020