Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mariners In Review: iPod Edition

Stereos or iPod docks are standard equipment on many vessels, although their presence there is not without controversy. Some captains still insist on the traditional "dark, quiet bridge" and forbid music on watch, believing it to be a distraction and a potential link in the "error chain" leading to a maritime casualty. On the other hand, some research indicates that music actually aids in concentration, particularly in the type of mathematical tasks that so often accompany a bridge watch. I certainly have found music to be tremendously helpful in making a long, tedious bridge watch go faster. I've also had to "secure" the bridge stereo on occasion when a mate had their "tunes" so loud they couldn't hear the intercom, an alarm, or the VHF radio.

The music mariners listen to on watch varies with the watch stander. I've had deckhands complain that the mates they stood watch with listened to "nothing but thrash surfer metal" as well as "four straight hours of Enya." One deckhand complained to me that "all Jimmy Buffet songs sound the same," but, given the option to pick the music himself, he would always put on Bob Marley's Legend. Mariners don't always listen to music about maritime topics, any more than dentists alway listen to music about dentistry. Some songs capture the flavor of going to sea pretty well, though, so here's my (admittedly subjective) Merchant Marine Playlist:

"Barometer Soup," Jimmy Buffett (Barometer Soup). No list of "boat songs" would be complete without Jimmy Buffett, although for every mariner who has every Buffett song on his iPod, there's another who can't stand the guy. He knows something about going to sea, though (in his song "Migration" (A1A) he sings "I might have joined the Merchant Marine if I hadn't learned how to sing"). In "Barometer Soup" we hear the story of the professional mariner: "I've crossed the ocean for more than just thrills."

"Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)," Looking Glass (Looking Glass). About the ones we leave at home when we go to sea.

"Calypso," John Denver (Windsong). Denver's love song to the ocean and to a particular ship, born of his long association with Jacques Cousteau.

"Cool Change," Little River Band (First Under The Wire). With Christopher Cross's song below, a tribute to the healing power of going to sea, and by sail in particular.

"The Downeaster Alexa," Billy Joel (Storm Front). Aptly sums up the plight of the modern commercial fisherman.

"Landfall," Jimmy Buffett (Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes). "I spent all my life in an eight by twelve room." Sounds like crew berthing to me.

"One Particular Harbor," Jimmy Buffett (One Particular Harbor). The things we miss when we go to sea, and how good it feels to come home again.

"Sailing," Christopher Cross (Christopher Cross).

"Save The Whales!," Country Joe McDonald (Paradise With An Ocean View). Best known for his goofy "Vietnam Song" performance at Woodstock, McDonald here combines the traditional refrain of "Up She Rises" with a tale of modern whaling.

"Southern Cross," Crosby, Stills, & Nash (Daylight Again). Sometimes running away to sea also means running from something, a feeling this song captures very well.

"Valparaiso," Sting (Mercury Falling). Probably the most haunting and evocative song on the list.

Jimmy Buffett fans might also enjoy songs by Gene Mitchell (try "Out Past The Reef" (Big Coconut)) or Howard Livingston & Mile Marker 24 (try "Bonnie Teller" (Meet Me In The Keys)). If you're more of a pure country fan, Buffett's album License To Chill features both country classics and "boat songs" with guest appearances by Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, George Strait, and others.

Those with a classical bent have any number of options. A favorite of mine is Richard Wagner's opera Der Fliegende Hollander ("The Flying Dutchman"). Be careful of playing it during rough weather, though: you may scare the bejesus out of the rest of your watch.

The Messing About In Ships podcast concludes with Podsafe Network song downloads each episode. Find it here.