These questions relate to the lyrics, music, the cd wallet/jacket, and the website (www.grantsongs.com) for “Hardscrabble.” Answering these questions might also require research using sources related to US Grant, the Civil War, Grant’s two terms as President, Reconstruction, and perhaps some literature (for references in the songs). The website includes the lyrics, a rendition of the cd jacket, and a link to the songs.
I Questions relating to the cd jacket.
1. The cover of the cd is a variation on a famous photograph of Grant.
- a. Where was this photo taken? When?
- b. Who was the photographer?
- c. Focusing on the center of the cover, what item in the photo has been moved? That is, moved from its position in the original photo, and what is the point of this? Where else in the cd jacket do you see this item?
2. Staying with the cover.
- a. Starting with the house just off Grant’s right foot, name the buildings, or event, and provide the date(s) associated with these buildings or the event. Skip the battle scenes/soldier scenes along the bottom of the cover.
- b. Regarding the building in the upper left flap of the tent, is there anything anachronistic about the building or is it accurate for the date(s) you assigned it in 2a above.
3. Opening the cd jacket, let’s consider some of the illustrations.
- a. What is the connection (visually) between the illustrations associated with tracks 1 and 19? We will return to this later in a question related to the lyrics of these two songs.
- b. What “poetic license” – actually geographic license – is taken with the illustration for track 2 considering the dates and Grant’s assignment.
- c. Track 10. This is probably the most obscure illustration in the jacket (and maybe the hardest question). What does this illustration (the bird with food in its beak) have to do with Grant’s problems in the Shenandoah Valley at this point in the War?
- d. Track 12, Tara – what is the broader symbolism of this building being in flames?
- e. Back panel. Grant has three stars on his shoulder. What rank is this? What precedence was there in the US for this rank? Let’s look at that epaulette again … if we could see over his shoulder, there would be one more star. What rank is that? What precedence was there in the US for this rank?
II Questions relating to the lyrics and music
4. Track 1, USG.
- a. Explain the play on “push a little harness” and “not pushing harness anymore unless …”
- b. Do the math: verify the accuracy of the math implied in the third stanza (“If we started counting …”)
- c. “Looking cross the table at a time that now was dead …” what time is this/was this?
5. Track 2, Julia
- a. “I wrote you ‘bout the crossing …” The crossing of what land?
- b. How does Grant’s venture in the potato business foreshadow his future?
- c. The letter is closed with “Your Useless.” Is this a typo? Explain
6. Track 3, Hardscrabble
- a. What does “Wish-ton-Wish” refer to?
- b. How does Julia feel about this home that Grant built?
7. Track 4, Dixie 1 and Track 5, Dixie 2
- a. Track 4 is euphoric, naïve in its anticipation of war and two early successes in battle.. Track 5 is discouraged, almost defeated by the reality of a prolonged war. Cite contrasting lyrics in both songs to support this statement.
- b. What instrumental part complements the tone of Dixie 1?
- c. How does the music in the two songs compare and contrast.
8. Track 6, Whittle That
- a. The tag to this song is sung by Grant. What does he mean by “cannon on the corduroy”?
- b. What is the pun on “carved this battle plot my boys”?
- c. When Grant concludes with “Whittle that,” what do you think he is actually saying to his troops. And in what tone?
9. Track 8, The Wounded Wheel
- a. Why would the singer say he does not need to see a “barber”?
10. Track 12, Tara
- a. Who are the bummers. Who is Uncle Billy?
11. Track 14, Hotel Lobby-ists
- a. Where is this song set?
- b. Two of the three “petitioners” are looking for selfish, preferential treatment from Grant. They are lobbying for special treatment. Research the etymology of the word “lobbyist.” A solid source, of course, is the OED.
12. True Master’s Heir
- a. Who is the “True Master”?
- b. Who then is the false master?
- c. In the last part of this song the KKK sing “You know we’re gonna rise again.” What is this in reference to?
13. Track 17, One More Round
- a. The tag to this song is a transition to Track 18. In the tag is the following: “Then comes a blow, a fatal foe, the enemy within.” What is this enemy?
14. Track 18, As I Lie Dying
- a. Grant says “ … and rank surrendered” what does he mean – when/why would he have to surrender his rank?
- b. Grant then says “was at last by law restored me.” What law, what date, what motivated this legislation?
- c. This song basically closes out the chronological consideration of Grant’s life (the last track is sort of an epilogue and deals with his youth). Track 18 also is a musical summary of the other tracks. Identify the musical references to other tracks.
- d. Optional. Using the Grant website, post a comment regarding the Memoirs. The website explains this in more detail.
15. Track 19, It Would Not Take …
- a. Consider the illustration that accompanies this lyric. Where did you see these sketches before?
- b. What does it mean to state “The man became the boy.”
- c. What is the source of this concept (man becoming the boy). It is from a poem by William Wordsworth. What characteristics of Grant as a boy (as presented in this song – Track 19) did Grant manifest as a man?
III Some Literary/Scriptural References
16. In Track 8, The Wounded Wheel, what is the source of “Lord I know you clothe the lilies of the field”?
17. Track 12, Tara. What rather famous line from the novel (that is, the one this song is based on) is found in the lyrics.
18. In Track 14, Hotel Lobbyists, Grant states “I could use a David Copperfield …” What does he mean here – he could use a magician? If not, what is this reference to and what does it mean in this context?
19. Track 15, Whiskey – “Uncle Sam requires his pound of fiscal flesh.” This is a play on what line (from a Shakespearean play).
20. Track 15 – “swig in hell” What is this reference (from a poem by Kipling).
Further Research and Assignments
Write a paper following the rubric/conventions in your course on some topic related to Grant’s life or times. These could include:
– Crossing the Isthmus of Panama in the 19th Century
– The Battle of Shiloh
– The Vicksburg Campaign
– The Wilderness Campaign
– Sherman’s March to the Sea
– Gone With the Wind
– Civil War Medicine (perhaps with emphasis on surgery during the Civil War – a fine source here is Bleeding Blue and Grey by Ira Rutkow).
– The Whiskey Fraud or other scandal during Grant’s Presidency.
– Reconstruction (you would probably have to focus within this broad topic).
– The relationship between Grant and Mark Twain, especially as Grant was writing his Memoirs (a fine source here is Grant and Twain by Mark Perry).
– In your opinion is “Hardscrabble” an appropriate title for a collection of songs about the life of Ulysses S .Grant? Justify your answer with details from Grant’s life.
– Assess the stereotypical treatment of Grant as soldier and President. Until relatively recently, he was not esteemed by most historians and professors of American history.
Or … write a song about the Civil War. Perform/present this song to the class and lead a discussion about it.
Note: The single, best, short (around 160 pages) study of Grant that I have read is Ulysses S. Grant by Josiah Bunting III (2004).