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Author of Czech tramping anthem dies

An hour ago, everyone was told that songmaker Mr Wabi Daněk died at 70. He has recorded lots of songs but the most famous one was his 1970 song "Dew on the Tracks".



It has become the anthem of the Czech tramping. Now, the word "tramp" surely sounds like a perfectly English word – sometimes, Czechs pronounce it "tramp", sometimes they read it like a Czech word, e.g. "trump" (which makes it even more relevant nowadays). I have heard or said the word every other day for 5 years before I learned how to say "I am" in English. ;-) Nevertheless, Wikipedia basically tells us that the word "tramping" is either from Czechia or from New Zealand, see a disambiguation page. Kiwis consider tramping to be "a style of backpacking".




Well, the Czech tramping page makes it clear that tramping in the Czech sense is much more than some walking in Nature. It's a cultural movement inspired by America – and by Karl May's novels about the Wild West. And the Czech tramping music is an inseparable part of this culture.




The Czech tramping page starts as follows:

Tramping (in Czech and Slovak language) is a movement incorporating woodcraft, hiking/backpacking/camping and scouting, with a characteristic flavour of and styled on American culture, especially the Wild West.[1] The latter is particularly noticeable in the tramping song, a song and musical style associated with tramping. Tramping originated in Czechoslovakia in the beginning of the 20th century[1] and is still present in today's Czech Republic and to a lesser degree in Slovakia. It manifests itself in a distinctive style of clothing, hiking culture and tramping music. For the urban youth it was a specific form of a "return to the nature".
Most European nations look at America in their own special way. Some nations have been so attracted to America that lots of people have emigrated. The Poles and the Irish are pretty good examples – and America has rewarded them by turning them into heroes of jokes about morons. ;-)

Czechs are not classic emigrants to America. We have been pretty satisfied in the stinky little Czech pond (the Czech basin). However, there are Czech communities in the U.S. But it's cool to look where they're located. I think that my Yankee readers will agree that most immigrants from generic foreign countries try to get to the blue states – and the wealthiest blue states – and they also tend to contribute to their being blue.

Well, Czechs are arguably "economic leftists" but it's strikingly obvious that they have moved to the red states. Look at this list posted by Pamela Grennes, a Texan, of the top 50 communities in the U.S. that have the largest Czech minorities (by percentage). Munden, Kansas tops the list with 46.8%. Other states you will find in the list include Texas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Indiana, North Dakota, and also Minnesota and tiny representation of California and Illinois. Look at this table of preferred presidential candidates to see that the red states wildly dominate – and even the blue ones were red up to Bush Sr. New Prague in Minnesota has a clear Czech-inspired name.



Czechs were apparently attracted to the vertical strip right in the middle of the U.S. That's paradoxically (approximately) the region without trees.

Those towns with large Czech minorities tend to know kolaches which are probably the most characteristic symbols of my nation's heritage over there – I don't think that Czechs in Czechia would agree that our nation is about koláče LOL. But it's plausible that the romantic attraction to the Wild West and America's Nature partly explains why Czechs have chosen these wild states as their emigration targets.

Although I am naturally much more "urban", tramping was something I couldn't avoid as a kid. While I refused to join the Socialist Youth Union (SSM) where teenagers become members to plan their friendship with the communist party, I was still a "pioneer" – the pro-regime children organization. We had a great scout leader and his son and we made lots of trips etc. And of course, I was exposed to some tramping outside the pioneer activities, too.

Some hiking in Nature is inseparable, we didn't really do any hunting but there were lots of campfires. Around the campfires, someone plays a guitar and folks typically sing the Czech tramping songs. They're a hybrid of Czech folks songs and the American country (and confederate) music. The Czech bluegrass music is considered a subset of those things. Aside from the extraordinarily strong presence of country music in Czechia, I would also say that relatively to the rest of Europe, Czechia is also a jazz superpower – but jazz doesn't belong to the tramping culture as far as I understand it. ;-)

The fact that most of these things were culturally inspired by America wasn't quite clear to me in the 1980s. In May 2017, it was ironic to learn that the chairman of our class came from a hardcore communist family – I considered him one of the top tramping guys, too. (Classmate J.S. was a defining tramper for me, however, and a big fan of Wabi Daněk. I think he's very sad today.) Clearly, the American flavor of tramping wasn't incompatible with the communist regimes. The communists didn't care about it and maybe they didn't even know that tramping was "pro-American" and many of the songs were actually directly copied American country songs – and, in some cases, even gospels.

YouTube offers you lots of playlists with Czech tramping songs.

At the top, I embedded the most famous song by the late Wabi Daněk. Here's a speedy translation of the lyrics, so that you may get something from the atmosphere (well, lots of other songs were much merrier or combative):

Dew on the Tracks

Just like the tongue that constantly hits a broken tooth,
I am persistently hitting my railway station in order to keep on moving.
In front of me, shadows are plodding, and above the landscape,
a strange bird is circling, a bird or a cloud.

Chorus:
So step on it, for you to see a chunk of the world.
Try to grab the distance into your palm once again.
Telegraph wires have been playing something for you for years:
The infinitely long, monotonous blues.
+
It's the morning, it's the morning,
you are wiping the dew on the tracks with your feet.

Pajda [doggy name, "a limping puppy"] is nicely guarding pilgrims who wonder through the night,
who prefer to wait for the sunset and they keep on walking.
They are dragging barefoot over the railway tracks
and on their rope, they carry their whole house, a blanket, and rum.

Chorus:
So step on it, for you to see a chunk of the world.
Try to grab the distance into your palm once again.
Telegraph wires have been playing something for you for years:
The infinitely long, monotonous blues.
+
It's the morning, it's the morning,
you are wiping the dew on the tracks with your feet.

You are wiping the dew on the tracks with your feet.



Some other music inspired by America – The Heavy Pokondr band's funny texts added on top of the theme music from the movie about the two most famous Americans of all times, Winnetou and Old Shatterhand. I suspect that most American readers are asking: Who the fudge are Winnetou and Old Shatterhand? Well, maybe Czechs know America more than you do, Yankees. ;-)

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