One of my dearest friends Joseph got married last year and his bachelor party consisted of a trip to Portland, Maine to stay in a house his future in-laws owned. Myself, many of my best friends, and a few people who Joseph grew up with that I didn’t know particularly well filled this beautiful house just a few blocks from the Atlantic and we wandered the city with half a plan and a vague idea of what one is meant to do during a bachelor party.
I took this occasion to spend a bit more of my vacation time at my old job, so I went up a week early and hung out with my family in Boston. I took a train up and lugged my guitar along with in case I had some time to write.
I mostly didn’t--we spent our time taking Lyfts to what might be the mildest (read: the worst) Thai restaurant I have ever eaten at, or to lobster-eating places where I paid too much for grilled cheese so I could watch everyone there pretend that lobster was worth it.
After one such excursion, we wandered the rainy hills of downtown Portland and I found myself in a bookstore. I’d just finished the book I bought in Chicago during the layover between trains, and I had some budget left over after that day’s grilled cheese. I found a book about the history of American whaling called Leviathan, which I spent the next few days reading if we had any downtime.
Then, on the last day, almost everyone else left in the morning. It was $30 less to buy a ticket that flew out at 6pm, so myself and one friend found ourselves in this big, suddenly-empty house for an extra seven hours. I sat up in the sunroom, and out came two songs about whales.One, far slower and more existential, has yet to be played live more than once or twice. But the second song sprung out of an idea about a man who works on a whaling ship to buy a ring to marry his beloved with, but dies and becomes a ghost. Initially, the idea would be that the whole song would follow that thread, and our ghostly hero would be dismayed that his lover cannot see him when he finally returns to her. The end result was much different.
Rather than the main character of the song dying, he survives and returns to Paris to find his love after years of writing her letters on his voyage only to find that she perished almost immediately after he left because he forgot his keys and she fell down his front steps trying to catch up to him to return them. The song plays off as a comedic tragedy, though the description devoid of the music mostly just feels macabre. All the same, that’s my sense of humor In general, it is wise not to cling too tightly to the reasons one has in the beginning of anything, a song, a relationship, a job.
We tend to think that our reason for starting something needs to carry over through completion or we lose our integrity, but really we just need a reason to start. And then that reason can (and often should) very well change. The end result is usually better than what we set out for initially anyway. Unless you set out to buy a ring for your beloved by joining a whaling crew, then things may not turn out very well.
Help us get this song recorded
on hatchet men:
Most early American off-shore whaling consisted of small boats (not dissimilar in size to the lifeboat seen in Life of Pi or one of the boats in Titanic that there were not enough of) with a crowd of men working in tandem and shifting positions mid-fight if they score a whale. Here's how a successful hunt would go:
1. Spear a whale, attach sed spear to a drogue (a large piece of wood or other debris which slowed the whale down, made it difficult to dive, and helped to tire the creature out).
2. Throw a second spear, attaching that spear to the boat itself causing it to serve as a drogue
3. Once the creature is sufficiently exhausted, bring the boat close enough that one of the sailors can plunge a great harpoon deep enough into its body to pierce the lungs, thus ending the fight.
This brutal, dangerous trade shaped early interest in European settlement in America, and for years before that First Nation tribes living on the Eastern coasts lived off of whales and the many uses that could be made of their bodies. The sort of people who undertook these tasks had to have strong stomachs, cool heads, and something between bravery and foolishness.
After step two, one of the whaling crew would stand by with a hatchet raised so that if the whale dove the line could be cut so that the ship wouldn't be yanked into the water.
Holy crap. Here's the book if you're as fascinated as I am by this stuff.