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Music and the sea

June 3, 2019

Occasionally, I torture those around me by playing my guitar. That’s what I call it, anyway. Some people call it…something else. Since I play an acoustic guitar, specifically a dreadnought which has a rather pronounced (some say “booming”) bass, overall loudness and rather dark tone, I tend toward musical genres for which it is best suited – folk, country, bluegrass and some rock. In all likelihood, my musical preferences came first and the guitar followed.

Folk music

I think it was Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, who said “folk music is the music folks play.” That’s probably about as good a definition as one is likely to encounter. It allows one to avoid discussions of  the meanings of things like “traditional cultures” or “orally transmitted,” and the like. It was folk music that got me interested in finger picking (once it became obvious I was never going to be successful with country style flatpicking). Often associated, at least in my experience, with efforts at social change, I tend to enjoy the older songs. Some of the newer stuff seeks to address issues I don’t see as issues. Which is probably an indication I am becoming, uh, “seasoned” or perhaps “mature.”

The Newport Folk Festival began in, I believe, 1959. In its early years it featured both great musicians and great music. While many of the current musicians are also quite talented, the music, in many cases, has changed. That’s okay. Music does that, over time. Long ago, the guitar was not a lead instrument. That took the creativity of the Spanish and the advent of classical guitar. I recognize the inevitability of change. I also recognize that I like what I like. With that in mind, I thought I’d share an old clip from the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. It features two musicians, Judy Collins and Theodore Bikel.* This one is a sea shanty. I first heard it on a vinyl album I checked out of the public library in Phoenix, Arizona, many years ago. The quality is what it is, but I enjoy it a lot.


Next, there are two more modern songs which, if not sea shanties, are at least sea-related songs, both by the same artist. The first appeals to me mainly, I guess, because of my time in the Coast Guard. In its earliest form, it was the Revenue Marine. They weren’t pirates. They were simply an armed customs enforcement service. By the time I came along, of course, it was the United States Coast Guard and we spent a lot of time chasing the very people the song describes. Occasionally, we even caught some.


The second is just fun.


I have made a life and home here, in West Texas. Still, I’ll admit it. There are days I miss the sea. There are days I miss being underway. I wonder if that will ever change?

*No, I don’t agree with either of them about much, politically, but there is more to life than politics. If we are to only appreciate the work and efforts of those with whom we agree on politics, we force ourselves into bubbles and echo chambers, which is not a good idea. We miss a lot, that way. Besides, it’s a damn sea shanty. Not to mention that I consider Wilmington, North Carolina my hometown. I spent many of my formative years fishing, clamming and crabbing from the Cape Fear River to the ocean. My entire military career was spent in the USCG and the USN. I like sea shanties and related songs.

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One Comment
  1. OldNFO permalink

    Good music! And ‘our’ (Navy/USCG) perspective is a little different than most peoples… 🙂

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