I have my sister’s family to blame for this post. They are going to the beach and making a road trip cd, and I wanted to share one song that if everyone learns the lyrics, is a fantastic road trip song. And then I went too far down the rabbit hole.
Where should I start?
Those in my family and coworkers know I love music, and singing. My callsign was “Karaoke” on the Z team! Fun times. I was also reminded often how I would sing Haul Away Joe when I was a wee bairn. I have an affinity for sea shanties.
An important caveat here; I used to love the bawdy songs too. And I have since matured even if I still find them humorous. But I recognize that bawdiness doesn’t a good song make.
So, when I worked for Leonard, and Phil and I were the only ones in the office, I would put on Sloop John B and sing it loudly because if you know the lyrics, it talks about wanting to go home. Which is perfect for early morning before you have had any coffee. I guess that reminds me too of blasting Mir Ham’s Vom Sauerkraut before Sunday breakfast. But I digress.
Sea shanties, the good ones anyway, all have a sense of the incomplete, or of unfulfilled potential, or sadness. Even the ones that are meant for hauling on ropes have that same aspect. Galway Shawl, Mary Ann, Remember Me, Keep Haulin, Mingulay Boat Song, Sloop John B, Northwest Passage, etc, etc and so forth. Brilliant stuff.
Because, Reader-land, while the sea may be a symbol and reflection of God and His love for us, deep, mysterious, and somewhat soothing on the shore, the sea, she’s dangerous. We go out on titanic crafts and think we have conquered it, but they are specks in the ocean. Sailors love sailing but know the sea is a fickle mistress. So their songs reflect that, and you hear it when they sing about loved ones on land, or to keep pushing on despite difficultly because to stop is to be swallowed by the sea. Or, to use a comparison, to despair is to drown.
I think a lot of good comes from this kind of comparison. We float on the ocean of God’s love, and we have to keep going because storms are going to try to sink us. (Let’s remember that the atmosphere/weather causes storms, not the sea.) We need to work with the sea to survive, because to fight it or give up means drowning.
When I hear good sea shanties, this is what I think about. And the wistful words of a lover leaving, hoping to return, knowing the dangers and begging the beloved to wait for him, gets me every time. I get emotional. Maybe this is just me all poetical, or sentimental, but I think it is just true.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I guarantee that the modern culture of sex on demand and an aversion to parenthood took away from the understanding of love. New music about one night stands and whatnot, it’s garbage, and can never plumb the depths of what humanity is capable of loving because it’s been reduced to a single act, instead of the action of continually loving and working towards it. Like a sailor, if lovers do not actively work on their relationship, it will fail. Sailors, while often being the most promiscuous, have captured this in their shanties.
I know I have often fallen down in my relationships, not just with Mel but with friends and family. Guilty, and maybe that is why I get emotional when I listen to sea shanties, because I can recognize I have fallen. Hopefully it is, anyway, I know I have a lot of faults. So enjoy these songs.