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What's in a Song: 'Songs of the Humpback Chubb'
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What's in a Song: 'Songs of the Humpback Chubb'

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From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Part of the magic of music is that it can give voice to just about anyone: the jilted lover, the lonesome cowboy, the crazed teen-ager and, in the case of at least one song, a fish that lives at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. In the latest installment of What's In a Song?, our occasional series from the Western Folklife Center about one song and its story, we hear "Songs of the Humpback Chub."

(Soundbite of "Songs of the Humpback Chub")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Be-bom, be-bom, be-bom, be-bom, be-bom, be-bom, be-bom, be-be-bom...

Mr. LARRY STEVENS (Ecologist): I'm Larry Stevens, and I'm an ecologist here on the southern Colorado plateau.

(Soundbite of "Songs of the Humpback Chub")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Be-bom, be-bom, hey!

Unidentified Man: (Singing) We come from that muddy river, funny-looking and nearly blind.

Mr. STEVENS: The humpback chub is a very funny-shaped fish that lives at individual rocks in the Colorado River and comes out to forage usually at night, feeds on insects and goes back to its rock. There aren't many of them left because of the dams and the changes in the water chemistry and temperature.

(Soundbite of "Songs of the Humpback Chub")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Grand Canyon dam turned the Colorado River from a warm, muddy raging stream to a regulated river with daily fluctuations and a trophy trout fisherman's dream.

Mr. STEVENS: The song is very much an outgrowth of my whole history with the Grand Canyon--many, many wonderful experiences, of which music is the best. The best thing you can do in Grand Canyon is to sit with a group of people in the evening and sing songs.

(Soundbite of "Songs of the Humpback Chub")

Unidentified Group: (Singing in harmony) Bring back the river. Set that muddy water free. We want to frolic and spawn our whole lives long in the shade of the whalers bold, in the sky-blue waters at the mouth of the little sea.

Mr. STEVENS: This is really a circus. There are many organizations that are very committed to economic exploitation of the area. Recreation is a large concern in the region. Water and power are big gains there.

(Soundbite of "Songs of the Humpback Chub")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) The only way the barons of water and power in the Colorado Basin states want to see us is filleted on a sesame bun with tartar sauce on their plates.

Mr. STEVENS: And counter to that are the environmental concerns: protecting Grand Canyon, protecting the native species that are here in perpetuity, a seemingly impossible task in these days when we're losing so many species. A lot of quirky people are involved in this process.

(Soundbite of "Songs of the Humpback Chub")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) They study us with radio implants, stomach pumps and trammel nets.

Mr. STEVENS: Radio implants have been put in these fish to allow us to track their movements. Now the radio implants beep, and the song has a `beep, beep, beep...'

(Soundbite of "Songs of the Humpback Chub")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Beep, beep, beep, beep.

Mr. STEVENS: That's the radio implant. And being around some of those fisheries biologists as they were putting in the implants, it just seemed to me like the fish probably had a pretty negative response to having that beep go off. So I imagined that the fish kind of had a grunt of dissatisfaction as the beep went off, so the `be-bom.'

(Soundbite of "Songs of the Humpback Chub")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Be-bom, be-bom, be-bom, be-bom, be-bom, be-bom, be-bom...

Unidentified Man: (Singing) For all the money spent studying us, we could use a couple extra grand. We want to buy us a humpback time-share condo aquarium in Disneyland. Bony(ph) and the round(ph) have got a hot scam going on a worm ranch east of Grants(ph), and Lucy wants the money to try out one of the silicone hump implants.

Mr. STEVENS: You know, when you write a song like this, you can't exactly tell where it's going to go any more than probably if you're writing a novel you have any sense of what's going to really happen at the end of it. Now I'm not a proponent of taking down the dam. The dam actually holds back more non-native fish that would more seriously threaten what's left in Grand Canyon. But I also hate the fact that the dam is there. What we lost in Grand Canyon was just a terrible crime against this Earth.

(Soundbite of "Songs of the Humpback Chub")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) And the songs of the humpback chub are brought to straight from the heart of the wild Grand Canyon live from a river...

HANSEN: What's In a Song? is produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis of the Western Folklife Center. Larry Stevens' song is part of a new CD called "Songs and Stories of the Grand Canyon," just released on the Smithsonian Folkways label.

(Soundbite of "Songs of the Humpback Chub")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) ...water and adaptive management, set that muddy water free. Set the Colorado free!

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