By Caitlin Kelly
If you’re a TikTok fan — I confess I enjoy it but don’t follow people — you’ll have noticed a sudden interest in, of all things, sea shanties.
Here’s a nice piece from Vulture (part of NY Magazine) explaining why:
On the surface, it’s a little weird that digital culture in 2021 would become suddenly obsessed with 200-year-old folk songs about men on whaling boats. They sound like prehistoric oddities, which is part of the appeal. Simplistic in structure, they are deliberately repetitive and full of ideas and references that feel very, very far from life right now. Aside from the word Wellerman, they’re full of harpoons and pierheads and the specifics of butchering whales; the most recognizable lyrics are lines about “rounding the Cape” and the love of bonny brown-haired lasses.
Sea shanties are also resiliently uncool. They’re songs about whaling and strong winds…
One of my favorite songs ever, all nine verses, is by the late great Canadian folksinger, Stan Rogers, Barrett’s Privateers. Few things are as lovely for me as when I find a gang of fellow Canadians to belt out the words — some of which of course curse Americans!
Written in September 1976, it even has a detailed and helpful Wikipedia entry!
Here are some of the lyrics:
Oh, the year was 1778
How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now
A letter of marque came from the king
To the scummiest vessel I’ve ever seen
God damn them all! I was told
We’d cruise the seas for American gold
We’d fire no guns, shed no tears
But I’m a broken man on a Halifax pier
The last of Barrett’s Privateers
It’s a good time to sing and sing loudly and sing together.
There’s so much now we just can’t calmly discuss:
Millions in desperate straits, facing eviction, job loss, unemployment — while the wealthy keep scooping up the gold
Here’s a gorgeous, haunting song about heading out to hunt whales, Farewell to Tarwathie, sung by Judy Collins.