Moonshiner

While we were in Sevier County, Tennessee, I borrowed a book from the RV office about the history of this area nestled in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. 

I’m not a big fan of history books or museums, but something drew me to this little green book when I saw it on the coffee table.

Perhaps it was the wildfire that was raging in the distance or the look I saw in a young firefighter’s eyes as he took off his yellow firesuit stained with black smoke. Or maybe it was boredom and a nagging thought that I’d been spending too much time on Facebook. Whatever the reason, I found that I wanted to know more about the people who once lived here and called these mountains home.

The pages I read covered 1900-1920 or so. In Tennessee, at that time, most people owned their own farms. They were corn or potato farmers who also grew food for their own families. These are called “subsistence farmers”. Unfortunately, the price they could get for their crops kept going down and many were forced to sell their properties.

In addition, there was World War I and most of the able men went to Europe to fight against the German Kaiser. While there, the Spanish Flu hit and over 25,000,000 people died here in the US and across the world.

It was a cruel and rough existence, but the people were, according to the author who did many interviews, surprisingly happy – as long as they could make ends meet. They were not men who aspired to become rich.

Coming home from the war, though, many were unable to make a living due to harsh soil conditions and a further decline in the crop yield per acre. My heart went out to these people and it was shortly thereafter that I took out a pen and wrote the song lyric based on one man’s description of his plight.

Moonshiner ©2022 Scott Bierko

Spoken:
What a man does
with his own corn
On his own land –
Well, that’s his own damned business!


Corn was goin’ for .25 cents
For a bushel that’s mighty small
Not nearly enough for a growin’ family
Not nearly enough at’all

So me and my eldest and brother Tim
Gathered parts for a whiskey still
Hid it near…well, I ain’t sayin
Cause I know you’ll take your fill

I’m a moonshiner, a whiskey maker
And I’m finished being poor
The government? They can go hang themselves
I ain’t gonna starve no more


My wife needs a coat to keep her warm
And my kids, they need new shoes
I’m some dumb, but I ain’t plumb dumb
I know what I’ve gotta do

Yer choices are few when the payments due
Though my neighbors would disagree
They tell me the Lord looks down on a man
Who does evil things like me

I’m a moonshiner, a whiskey maker
And I’m finished being poor
The government? They can jump in the lake
‘Cause I ain’t gonna starve no more


I do what I do to take care of my children
Like buyin’ sweets at the general store
And I’m making payments on a washing machine
Got my eyes on a brand new Ford

So go ahead, condemn my choice
It’s a free country, say what you will
But until the price of being honest improves
I’m keeping my goddammed still

I’m a moonshiner, a whiskey maker
And I’m finished being poor
The government? They can go and piss themselves
I ain’t gonna starve no more

 
I’m a moonshiner, a whiskey maker
And I’m finished being poor
I’m through fighting for old Uncle Sam
And I ain’t gonna starve no more


Spoken:
What a man does
with his own corn
On his own land
Well, that’s his own damned business!

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