The song's best-known version tells of a magical place. There, peppermints grow on trees. Lemonade flows in streams. The very ground is made of candy. The song is saccharine and cloying and various other adjectives that unintentionally riff on the song's lyrics. Yet in its earliest form, the song's extra words render it a lot darker, on several levels. Let's start with the milder bits, shall we?
Listen to the opening verse, as sung by its writer, Harry McClintock, in 1928:
One evening as the sun went down and the jungle fire was burning
Down the track came a hobo hiking and he said, "Boy, I'm not turning
I'm headin' for a land that's far away beside the crystal fountains
So come with me we'll go and see the Big Rock Candy Mountains."
The magical story in the song is narrated by a hobo to a boy. The description of an ideal land is a hobo's tale of his destination. And this ideal land is a bit different in the original. It's not a place delicious to 21st century children. It's a place perfect for 20th century hobos. The "peppermint trees" are, in the original song, "cigarette trees." The lakes of "gold" and "silver" originally hold "stew" and "whiskey." Cops have wooden legs on the Big Rock Candy Mountain because that keeps them from catching hobos. The jails are made of tin so you can break right out of them. The railway guards are blind, so you can sneak aboard and sleep whenever you like.
And free trashcan fires for everyone!
But you're probably now most shocked by one thing: Why haven't we mocked the creepy subtext of a hobo trying to lure away a boy? The reason: It's not subtext. The song has a final verse, one that's rarely sung, perhaps never recorded, and only shared by McClintock to prove a copyright claim. In the verse, the boy (the "punk") responds to the hobo (the "jocker"). Books from the era censor the exchange with a string of asterisks. It goes:
The punk rolled up his big blue eyes and said to the jocker, "Sandy
I've hiked and hitched and wandered too, but I ain't seen any candy
I've hiked and hiked till my feet are sore, I'll be god damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo's whore on the Big Rock Candy Mountains."
Yes, the hobo spins his tale hoping that the boy will follow and he can sodomize him. Tramps regularly tried to seduce youngsters with such "ghost stories," and this song parodies them or is an outright "homosexual tramp serenade." McClintock based it on his actual experiences. He said that while on the road, "There were times when I fought like a wildcat or ran like a deer to protect my independence and my virginity."
Yeah, we're not sleeping tonight, either.
We'd end this on a joke about the hobo's "big rock candy" penis or something, but that wouldn't be a joke. That's the actual song.
Menezes broke down and got himself a Twitter page. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Related Reading: Curious about the true stories behind your favorite songs? This article includes the incredible story of how the Beach Boys plagiarized Charles Manson. And if stolen music is in your wheelhouse, this list of song-stealing musicians should be everything you've ever dreamed of. And why stop the disillusionment there? Did you know Radiohead hated the song Creep? And they aren't the only musicians to despise their most iconic songs.