you don’t know jack about jack and the beanstalk


Phil used to manage musical talent. New Kids On The Block, to be specific. He also came to manage The Ritz (former Studio 54), and while there, he’d receive the rider (a stipulation attached to an agreement) from each band before their gig, stating their demands. Ice water, without ice. M&Ms, only green ones. Very very important–no substitutions, please: 1 bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, with all the fixin’s. 1 bag of Oreo cookies. 1 jar of Smucker’s Strawberry Jam. 12 bananas, 2 lbs. seedless grapes, 6 navel oranges. 1 box Count Chocula. That type of thing.

I love the idea of a rider, a list of absurd demands, of favorites. Over dinner tonight, I wanted to get to the bottom of what our family rider might be. Admittedly it was a ruse to get them all to divulge their favorite things. Phil volunteered to go first.

That was a joke.

On Sir Beckett’s rider: a giraffe, apples, french toast, and the color blue. He’d need to arrive by way of train, and tomatoes & chicken would be lovely, then for snack, he’d require cookies—Mama’s cookies.

Miss Abigail’s proviso: pink—the color, not the person. (I tried to talk her out of it, but she held her ground). A giraffe, strawberries, waffles, and a helicopter. There’d be a tie between shrimp and soup, with chips. Dora, not Diego. Lucas can have Diego. Lastly, she’d require a bedtime story: Jack and the Beanstalk. Bean Beckett agreed.

jack beanstalk In trying to tuck the talent in tonight, I had a hard time remembering the moral of Jack and the Beanstalk. See, I get that a lot of traditional tales are violent. With blood, slaughters, and careless parents who let their children wander forests alone, equipped only with a dark hard loaf of bread. But I thought a lot of them had a nice tidy life lesson woven in there. The way I tell this particular tale, though, doesn’t make much sense. Before you continue reading here, any idea what the moral is? It’s a story about wants, in the same way a band might attach a rider to its contract. The theme of greed comes into play, but what’s the lesson in it all?

I’ve spun this one a few ways, with Jack going to town to buy a cow, returning instead with five "magic" beans, and I’ve also told the abandonment version: where Jack must sell the family cow, because he can’t expect to get the milk for free.

Although incorrect, I usually stick with Jack’s mother trusting him to go to town and buy a cow. It was the very last of their money, and the cow would give them fresh milk, butter, and cellulite. Jack disappointed his mother when he returned home with "magic" beans instead of Bessy. His mother was so frustrated, disappointed, and angry, that she sent Jack straight to bed and threw the beans out the window. By morning, a beanstalk had sprouted, all the way up to the sky. Jack climbed it and found a castle in the clouds, filled with conflict-free diamonds. I then get into the fee-fi-fo-fum bit a few times, complete with British accent and the blood of an Englishman. I’m not so clear on the hen laying golden eggs, or a magic harp, especially when I just want them to sleep already. So it usually goes, in my version, that Jack does get away, but in doing so, to prevent the giant king from grabbing him, so he can move faster, Jack must unload all the riches he’d taken from the castle, only to arrive back in his yard, chopping down the stalk, with nothing to show for any of it. It’s then that his mother lets him know that he’s the only treasure she needs. When they embrace, something pokes him—why, is that? A sparkling ruby must have fallen down Jack’s shirt and somehow gotten stuck in his bellybutton! Jack, his mama, and the cow live happily ever after. 

And the moral of the story? Don’t obey your mama, take a restful snooze, then play in your yard, steal from others, again and again, escape death, and your mother will still love you and ask you if she can cook you your favorite meal.


  1. I love you when you think about things like this-peeling away the layers. I gave my two boys masses of space and freedom, and they still teach me things every day. ( I am 66.) I was told an amazing tip by Wayme Dwyer for when they ask the unanswerable question. Say, ” Well, I really don’t know, maybe YOU will find out the answer one day” yOU COULD JUST SEE THEM SWELLING WITH PRIDE AND AFFIRMATION. Also, growing up involves( after age 8-10,depending on the child ,I’d say) realizing that their parents are human, fallible beings.

  2. The book “Wonder of Boys” (wonderful book by the way) suggests that Jack and the Beanstalk is a metaphor for how boys become men. That they must first slay the dragon (or must first go out and conquer some feat) before coming back to the house and settling down with a family.

    I’m finding a hard time with Rumpelstiksin (spelling?)..why did the father lock her in the castle? why would you ever lock a woman in a castle?

    1. My understanding, Shelby, of all the fairy tales involving beautiful young women being locked up/falling asleep/being bewitched by evil old hags (subtext -menopausal women) were about protecting one’s daughter’s virginity until a suitable (subtext – rich & powerful) prince/hero came along.

    2. It was actually the king who locked her in the castle, to spin straw into gold… after which he married her. I’m really not sure what message that sends, but I guess it’s worth noting that, in the end, she triumphs by her own wits, rather than being rescued by said king or her father who handed her over to him.

  3. We can credit the stranger rider request to Van Halen. They used to place strange requests in the rider, so it would be easy to know if the contract was read or not. If you ask for x, and then x isn’t there, you know someone didn’t read the contract all the way through. And if they missed x, then they probably missed other things too. Things that might be important to the group. The green m&m’s isn’t always about the green m&m’s…

  4. I’ve only ever heard it where Jack must sell the family cow and instead of coming home with the cash, he trades it for the beans. I’ve always thought the moral was along the lines of “don’t be a sucker”/”there is no easy way out of your problems – keep your nose down, work hard, and good things will come to you – bet your future on some magic beans and you might get eaten by a giant”

  5. Also totally unrelated, but does Phil receive any residual checks for being a former NKOTB manager? I know, inappropriate.

  6. I have read both of your books (a few times each) and there was no mention of NKOTB. Since you are virtually the same age as me I know you are in the right age range to be a fan. Does Phil have any interesting inside stories about them? I was a Joey girl. I really love reading Moose because your descriptions of music, brands, t.v. shows bring me right back to that age. Love this blog.

  7. Jack is sympathetic for his gullibility and curiosity. Jack makes a mistake, but he manages to redeem himself through an adventure in which he ultimately outwits a Giant. It’s a David and Goliath tale which also manages to highlight the perils of disobedience. And, as a child, I knew magic wasn’t real. It was part of the appeal and escapism of such stories.

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