Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Songs sung in the Key of Largo

October 13, 1982, a pirate
looks at forty; 1,000 miles off
Cape Mendocino, California
As spring blossoms, it has a way of tugging in several directions at once. Years ago this was the time of year I abandoned whatever adventure I had been on for the winter and headed back to the ocean. It was time for the most dreaded time in any sailor’s life: YARD WORK. It was also the time to renew old friendships and make new ones at whatever waterfront watering hole we preferred. One spring I came back wounded from a love affair gone horribly wrong and took to naming ours Key Largo after the song that was going around at the time about a lamented love with the line "we had it all, just like Bogie and Bacall."

As the summer progressed into new adventures and new women, the lament faded but the name stuck and we would head for Key Largo every night after the day's work was done. It was always a place that held music even if none was being played at the time. That fall I joined some friends on a boat sailing from Alaska to Hawaii. In the course of the trip we all became immersed in the sailing songs of Jimmy Buffett. The one that particularly appealed to me at the time was "A Pirate Looks at Forty," although I usually called it "mother ocean." I turned 40 during that trip and I guess I felt very piratical (romantically so, not Somalian).

After the trip we separated and went about the coming winter's adventures. When those were done most of us returned to Key Largo in the spring. Sitting there one night, we were barely listening to the lounge singer. This guy really was one of those Bill Murray patterned his Saturday Night Live act after. We tired of his act fairly quickly and after he made an attempt at a Buffett song, I said to a friend who had been on the trip to Hawaii that if the guy tried Mother Ocean I was going to mug him. To which my friend replied, "Yeah, Nautical Wheelers" too." I noticed the bartender slip out from behind the bar and go over and talk to the singer. After that I never heard him try another Buffett song while I was in there.

A few weeks later another singer had arrived, a woman who sang several familiar songs in a way that didn’t alter them. One night paying little attention I thought I might have heard, "this is for Tim," but paid it little mind. Then I heard the chords and the first words of Mother Ocean. I must have reacted obviously because the bartender quickly came over and put her hands on mine. "No, it's OK," she said. (I really wouldn't have mugged a woman anyway.) Then this woman, Suzan with a Z, sang the song beautifully. I was in love. Suzan played one place or another around that town for most of the summer and I always went to see her when I could and she always played a song or two she knew I liked.

And that was the way the music went in our harbor life. Toward the end of the commercial fishing season when the seiners worked closer in, they would often gather at Key Largo and those were the days when we started doing our own singing. We had several favorites, mostly older songs that lent themselves well to our raspy out-of-tune smoked up voices, songs like "That's Amore" and "Sixteen Tons." One night when the sunset colored the mountains at the east end of the bay, we actually made everyone in the bar stand up and sing "...purple mountains majesty...."

But it wasn't just in town, music was there with us most of the time on the boats. That next winter I went crab fishing with a friend. We took some time off over Thanksgiving and while away, I came across a new Buffett album called "One Particular Harbor." I didn't have a chance to listen to the whole thing until one morning over breakfast on the crab boat. When he came to singing the line, "we are the people our parents warned us about," I looked at my friend and he looked at me with this wide eyed visage of recognition and I laughed so hard I spit out a mouthful of breakfast.

Years passed, winter adventures, summers on boats, occasional long voyages and always the reunions at Key Largo in the spring, a day like today when the ocean beckons even if it it means scraping and painting a bottom. And music, always music which brings us to where this blog has been going.

Toward late August one of the last summers of that life, the seiners were just about done and thinking about heading south, a few guys off the other work boats around, a few of us from the tour boats all gathered yet again in Key Largo more relaxed now as the season was coming to a close and there were not very many tourists around any more.

Somewhere, someone started the song and before long everyone within earshot had joined in. It was in what Pete Seeger used to call veer harmony. This song wasn’t sung with our usual boisterousness. As it progressed the emotion was almost tangible, each singer reaching into memory for the those experiences that created the reverence that seemed to grow as the song sailed toward its crescendo. When the last line had been sung, the room remained very quiet for a moment as each of us absorbed what emotion had been brought up and shared among people who know the sea. It was a precious moment you wouldn’t expect among the souls in that bar. I looked at my friend, the same one from sailing, crabbing and others and just above a whisper said, “that was special.” He nodded agreement. Slowly the noise level rose again as conversations picked up. We didn’t sing another song that night.

Perhaps that is why it came to mind today, a day when the impulse is so strong. “Mother, Mother Ocean, I have heard your call ...”

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Interesting quotations

· " “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” — Ernest Hemingway

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. Kurt Vonnegut

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Stephen King

The thing about ignornance is, you don't have to remain ignorant. — me again"

Never debate with someone who gets ink by the barrel" — George Hayes, former Alaska Attorney General who died recently

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeareon Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

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He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

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“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

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"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

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Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

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"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

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"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

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"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

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"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

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After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

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