Saturday, July 19, 2014

Music: Seven Songs For Sailors

Friends, I count it a personal victory that I reviewed three books about sailors without devolving into a 3000-word gush-fest centered on my love of ships.

The sea is my very favourite, an obsession we can probably blame on C.S. Lewis. I've read THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER upwards of twenty times, most of those before the age of ten. I welcome any and all fiction in which ships play a prominent role1. I leaped at the chance to learn sailing at a local nature preserve when I was a kid2. I can't pass a harbor without checking to see if there's a tall ship in residence. And you'd better believe I love any museum that pays particular attention to the history of sailing3.

The weird thing is, I'm batshit terrified of deep water4 and have no idea how I'd react if I were ever out of sight of land. While part of me longs to take to the high seas in search of adventure5, it's probably best if I stick to drooling over ships from the safety of dry land.

I also love music that reminds me of the ocean, whether or not it's actually intended to pay homage to that most storied expanse. Here are a few of my favourite songs for sailors.

First we, have "The Navy Song" by Billy Talent. This's a sad 'un. Come to think of it, the vast majority of sailing songs are pretty depressing...

I know I've shared Monster Truck's "Seven Sea Blues" with you before, but indulge me. It's too perfect to leave out. This song is the crashing waves and the salty spray on your face.

Flogging Molly's "Tobacco Island" is yet another depressing song about a sea voyage, this one undertaken without the sailors' consent.

Back to Billy Talent, now! "Swallowed Up By the Ocean" is a metaphor, y'all. One that always makes me think of shippers, on account of the last line.

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," as immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot, is a classic. I couldn't possibly leave it off a post like this one. Three guesses what happens to the Edmund Fitzgerald!

Viking songs cannot help but be sailing songs, so let's inject a little Led Zeppelin via "The Immigrant Song."

It's probably best we end off with something a little more upbeat: "Lukey's Boat" by Great Big sea. Yeah, Lukey's wife is dead, but he's got a great boat? And everybody seems really chipper about it?

But hey, it's a sailing song, so it's pretty safe to say that boat ain't gonna stay afloat forever.

  1. Ship-like conveyances also excite the hell out of me. Like, Naomi Novik's Temeraire books are basically sailing stories in which dragons stand in for ships and the skies stand in for the high seas. So awesome.

  2. I was nine or ten, and the place sent us out onto a retention pond in these cute little sail boats. My friend Mara and I paired up with excellent results--until the boom crashed into her head. (You remember the scene in PotC where Captain Jack Sparrow gets Will Turner's attention by tacking around so the thing at 90ยบ to the mast smacks him across the chest and leaves him dangling out over the water? That's the boom.) She tumbled out of the boat, most of the way to unconscious. My hero complex compelled me over the side to save her, but I ran into some difficulties when I tried to get her back into the boat without capsizing the thing. Luckily, some other sailors came alongside and helped us out.

  3. New Zealand was great for this. Most of the museums I visited had figureheads (which, by the way, are a hell of a lot larger than you think they're gonna be) and exhibits that memorialized the ships that meant so much to early settlers and native Pacific Islanders alike. Both actual ships and detailed models were common. And on one glorious occasion, I stumbled across the southern hemisphere's largest collection of ships in bottles.

    Yep. You heard me right. The southern hemisphere's largest collection of ships in bottles.

    Guess how excited I got. Go on. Guess.

    There's one major problem with model ships based on real vessels, though. The labels that accompany them inevitably read as follows:

    This was a good ship. It was built in this year, and it did great things. Then it sank.

    Every. Single. One.

    Some of them replace "then it sank" with "then it was scuttled," just to inject some variety into the proceedings.

    This gets pretty durned depressing, especially if you love ships and want only good things for them. After the first fifty or so, I swore never to read another ship-related museum label, and I've held to that resolution from that day to this.

  4. I'm told it's hilarious to watch submarine movies with me. Not that I seek them out or anything--I'm not that crazy--but sometimes you don't realize there's gonna be a submarine until it fills the entire screen and sends you yelping into the safety of your cupped hands.

    Surprise submarine movies are the worst. Also, U-571 is and shall remain the scariest movie ever made.

  5. My childhood heroes were Robin Hood and Reepicheep, so I always figured I'd steal me a ship and become the Robin Hood of pirates. My crew and I would rob the excessively wealthy to help the less fortunate folks at our various ports of call. And hey, if there happened to be enough left over to allow us to live in the lap of luxury aboard our trusty vessel, then so be it. The wise pirate always takes operating costs into account.


  1. CS Lewis must have created a whole generation of insane tall-ship-lovers. I took sailing lessons year before last, and sailing was AMAZING although the other people in sailing class were...less amazing. It turns out sometimes people who sail are rich d-bags. My instructor was. He told me a story of going out sailing in a hurricane, and I said (I have Opinions about hurricanes), "Wow, that was really inconsiderate of the people who would have had to come rescue you in case you got into trouble," and he said, "Well, we didn't! I'm a good sailor!" Later in the year Hurricane Sandy showed up and sank the Bounty, and I wanted to write my sailing instructor a letter to say THIS IS WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT YOU ENORMOUS JERK.

    Ahem. But, the sailing part seriously was so amazing. I love love love the sea. I could stare at the sea and go out on the sea all the time. I love your collection of sea shanties. I cherish a dream that one day I will Go to Sea.

  2. I feel like I could name five thousand million songs for you about ships by Great Big Sea. ;)

    Loooove Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Also, have you read the Horatio Hornblower books? They are my favourite nautical books.