Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day at Sea


I once shipped with an all-male crew, and during that tedious voyage learned a stern lesson: NEVER again. Machismo is magnified exponentially when estrogen is not there to balance the equation.

Joe Boruchow
Co-ed crews were not the norm in our sailing past - in fact they were unheard of among the average deck hand - and as a consequence the long lonely months at sea resulted in some of the worlds most heart-wrenching songs. Shanties were not immune to the influence of the lovesick men who sang them. Some became ballads of loss, others anchors of hope. Many warned of the dangers of a pretty face and soft voice speaking false promises. Like everything else a young man tells, a few became fish stories that grew with every retelling. Similar to the parallel stories the loggers spun ashore of Paul Bunion and Babe, it was a matter of style and no small pride to constantly one-up each other with every increasingly-improbable verse.

When Al Hoffman and Norman Gimbel were ask to revive the shanty style and write a piece for Kirk Douglas, who was to play master harpooner Ned Land, singing the catchy tune to his doomed crew shortly before their ship’s destruction in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the pair followed the fish story model and penned Whale of a Tale - a true toe-tapping masterpiece.

Mr. Douglas did a phenomenal job in performing the forebitter, (but didn’t actually play the guitar on set), and does a great drunk duet refrain with a seal, later in the movie. His is a hard act to follow, but we had to try, so Mike, Val, Lee, and I belted it out for the Sage Club and again when the whole group learned Al and Norman’s movie version during February’s Shanty Circle.

In honor of Valentine's Day we are taking it a step further and asking you all to add your own verse to the song, telling the story of your current (or past) love(s). Remember this is a fish story and is meant to be a fun tongue-in-cheek exercise - and (of course) there will be a prize awarded to that lucky random person, drawn from the list of those that had the gumption to post a verse; prize to be awarded when we meet at our next Circle on March 7, when we will sing all the newly created verses.

Here is the amazing Kirk Douglas as Ned Land to remind us of the tune and meter:


And here are the lyrics:

(Please keep in mind that Disney Studios holds copyright on the song and treat the following with that consideration.)

A Whale of a Tale

By Al Hoffman and Norman Gimbel


Got a whale of a tale to tell ya, lads,
A whale of a tale or two,
'Bout the flapping fish and girls I've loved,
On nights like this with the moon above,
A whale of a tale and it's all true,
I swear by my tattoo.

There was Mermaid Minnie,
Met her down in Madagascar,
She would kiss me,
Anytime that I would ask her,
Then one evening,
Her flame of love blew out,
Blow me down and pick me up,
She swapped me for a trout!

Got a whale of a tale to tell ya, lads,
A whale of a tale or two,
'Bout the flapping fish and girls I've loved,
On nights like this with the moon above,
A whale of a tale and it's all true,
I swear by my tattoo.

There was Typhoon Tessie,
Met her on the coast of Java,
When we kissed I,
Bubbled up like molten lava,
Then she gave me,
The scare of my young life,
Blow me down, and pick me up,
She was the captain's wife!

Got a whale of a tale to tell ya, lads,
A whale of a tale or two,
'Bout the flapping fish and girls I've loved,
On nights like this with the moon above,
A whale of a tale and it's all true,
I swear by my tattoo.

Then there was Harpoon Hannah,
Had a face that made you shudder,
Lips like fishhooks,
And a nose just like a rudder,
If I kissed her, and held her tenderly
There’s no sea monster big enough,
To ever frighten me!

Got a whale of a tale to tell ya, lads,
A whale of a tale or two,
'Bout the flapping fish and girls I've loved,
On nights like this with the moon above,
A whale of a tale and it's all true,
I swear by my tattoo.

Post your verse(s) below in the comment field, and/or email them to singshanties(at)gmail(dot)com.

Post by Mark Olson