Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Songs Of Sail

BRRAAP - BRRAAP - BRRAAP. I reached over the gleaming cherry saloon table, grabbed the silver cell phone, and answered, “SEA-E-O SAILING.”

It was 1940 hours, with a williwaw coming in from the west. Damp and dank, with the only light coming from an old Weems and Plath Yacht Lamp.

“May I speak to Capt. Steve Stevens?” asked a polite and throaty female voice at the other end of the airwaves. She sounded as if she were taking a long drag on a long cigarette. “You’ve got him,” I replied.

“Oh hi. I’m Josie. I’m looking at your Web site, and I’d like to charter your boat Lively for a five-hour Bay cruise on the 15th. Is the boat available on that day?”

“Yes, it is,” I said, as I reached for the ceramic tumbler of lukewarm espresso. A double doppio macchiato. Three sugars.

“I see that you have a compact disc changer on the boat; can I bring some of my CDs for us to listen to?” she asked with a rather rhythmic inflection.

“Sure. But there are rules.”

“Rules?” She sounded a little confused about my rather abrupt answer.

“Well, there are tons of rules aboard boats,” I said, filling my Peterson pipe with fresh tobacco from the red tartan pouch. Grabbing my old silver Dunhill lighter, I ignited the Turkish weed into flames, filling the chilly cabin with gray smoke.

“The CD rule is that every CD brought on board must have at least one track about sailing, boating, wind, weather, or sky. A homage to the activity of sailing - so to speak.”

“You’re joshing, right? I mean the only things that we could listen to would be like drunken sailor songs...or horrors...Jimmy Buffett.”

“Nope. You will be surprised once you start digging through your CD collection,” I answered, blowing a ring of smoke over toward the chart table. “ I reserve the date for your charter or what?”

“OK. Sure. The 15th for me and three friends and my CDs. This will be a little interesting,” she replied.

We completed the details of the upcoming charter; I thanked Josie for the business and closed the phone.

Grabbing the lighter to renew the flame in my pipe, I glanced over to my personal CD collection, standing rigid on the fiddled bookshelf like little sailors grouped together for morning inspection.

It had taken me quite a while to assemble that collection of music - which, of course, met my self-imposed rules concerning the songs of sail. Feeling a little Italian and musical, I went through the inventory and tried to decide which I would load into the player for an impromptu evening of music in the cabin.

Which would it be tonight?

Musical Evenings with the Captain - In the first Aubrey-Maturin novel “Master and Commander” Patrick O’Brian has Jack and Stephen first meeting during a concert on the island of Minorca. After becoming friends and shipmates, the two often while away an evening aboard the seas playing the violin and cello. This CD features many of the pieces that they play throughout the novels, such as Haydn’s “Duet for Violin and Cello in D Major” and Boccherini’s “Sonata for Violin and Cello in D Major.”

Bobby Darin: An A&E Musical Anthology - The King of Cool deserves a spot in any musical collection. This CD contains the “Live in Los Angeles” cut of “Beyond the Sea” and, of course, his signature song, “Mack the Knife.”

Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village in the 60s - This has 16 songs by 16 artists such as Marshall Crenshaw, Loudon Wainwright III, Cry Cry Cry, and Larry Kirwan & Black 47. The cut which allows it on board the boat is Patty Larkin’s version of “Everybody’s Talking,” originally performed by Fred Neil: “I’m going where the sun keeps shining / Through the pouring rain. / Going where the weather / Suits my clothes. / Banking off of a northeast wind / Sailing on a Summer Breeze. / Skipping over the ocean / Like a stone.”

Bob Dylan: Hard Rain - Just gotta have some BOUUB on board. Maybe the whole Dylan canon. But this CD works well with “Idiot Wind” and “Shelter from the Storm.” An added bonus is “Lay, Lady, Lay.”

Eric Clapton: Unplugged - The greatest guitarist who ever lived? Maybe. But everybody likes listening to Clapton, and this CD contains some of his terrific hits - like “Layla” and “Tears in Heaven.” The cut that makes the grade here is “San Francisco Bay Blues.”

Boz Scaggs: Greatest Hits - The “Boss of the Bay” must be on a San Francisco Bay vessel. I even think that it may be a Coast Guard requirement. And if it’s not, it should be. Great stuff here. “Harbor Lights” is the qualifier.

Randy Newman: Sail Away - Before he started being routinely nominated for Oscar awards and finally winning, Newman was just a struggling songwriter and piano player, with a pretty bleak-sounding voice. But, his early stuff was good and incredibly funny. A critic once described his music as “mordant, ironic, concise songs with chromatic twists worthy of George Gershwin and Kurt Weill... .” In addition to the title song, there is also “Burn On,” which is about the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, catching fire - “Burn on, big river, burn on.”

Ute Lemper: Punishing Kiss and Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill - Speaking of Kurt Weill, the beautiful, usually leather-encased Lemper sings the signature song from Weill’s “Three Penny Opera” - “Die Moritat Von Mackie Messer,” which is otherwise known as “Mack the Knife.” But, her version is in German, in the original slow, almost um-pa-pa tempo, and just reeks of a small, smoky Deutschland nightclub, filled at four o’clock in the morning with the weird and the less than normal. Berlin before the last of the great wars - nothing like that decadence. “Punishing Kiss” contains songs by Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Kurt Weill. And just wait till you gaze at her pictures in the liner notes.

While I still had a lot of CDs left to go through, one suddenly caught my eye. I almost forgot I had put it on board. This would do for tonight. Lyle Lovett’s album “Pontiac” beginning with “If I Had A Boat” -

“If I had a boat,
I’d go out on the ocean;
And if I had a pony,
I’d ride him on my boat;
And we could all together,
Go out on the ocean;
Me upon my pony on my boat.”