Friday, January 08, 2010

Sea Shanties and old Celtic Folksongs

Lately, I write and revise to Sea Shanties and Celtic Rock. I'm not sure what it is about it, but it keeps me moving forward and I never get tired of listening to different version of "What Would You Do With A Drunken Sailor," or "I'll Tell Me Ma."

In fact, I've been thinking lately that someone should compile a cd of just Drunken Sailor variations. I would snatch that up in a heartbeat. (If anyone knows of any, please leave me a link in the comments!)

Maybe these Sea Shanties and Folk Songs resonate so well because they remind me so much of writing. You see, every story we tell has been told, in its essence, somewhere else. Some say that Homer already used every plot in existence, and everything since has just been recycled from there. I'm not sure I necessarily want to go through and list the themes and plots in Homer's works to see if they're right, but these variations that we tell now, they're like old folk songs. Every locality, every ship, every group of people would have their own way of singing it, unique to itself, but sharing with all the others the basics. Maybe the tune is the same, but the lyrics are slightly different. Or maybe the tempo is different and the melody is changed, but the lyrics are the same. Or maybe they're different pieces of the same song that broke off from one another back in the day. But they resonate inside us because we know the story, we know the song, we've known it for an eternity, from the dawn of time, and listening it to again, no matter where we are and what version it is, still brings us, for that moment, back home again.

A good story can do the same thing. As much as we groan about cliches and things that are overused, maybe there's a reason that all these tropes keep recurring. Maybe because these are stories that we know, that we remember, that bring us comfort, no matter how many times we've heard them. Maybe it's the adult version of the child who demands to be read The Three Little Pigs every night before bed. The sailor singing the songs from home to remind him of his children.

For myself, I don't mind if I can recognize the story, as long as you're telling it well. And I will listen to three more versions of "I'll Tell Me Ma" and laugh when I wake up singing it to myself in the morning. Classics are classic for a reason, right?
I'll tell me ma when I go home,
The boys won't leave the girls alone.
They pulled my hair, they stole my comb,
But that's all right 'til I go home.
She is handsome, she is pretty,
She's the belle of Belfast City,
She goes courtin', a one, two, three
Please won't you tell me who is she?


  1. I know all about The Three Little Pigs every night before bedtime. And every day when I come home. Good thing we have multiple versions to choose from!

    That Homer was one smart guy!

  2. I would snatch up a CD like that too. Very cool!

  3. I like the way you compared folk songs to stories and how they share similarities as well as variations due to culture. Well done.

  4. So true, so true.

    And I can relate to the randomness of music invading the brain. I'm on a recent kick of Adam Lambert and Owl City. Classic case of "Wtf? I don't know, but oh well."

  5. Great post! There are no new stories, only new ways to relate them. I think we sometimes get so caught up in our pretty sentences that we forget we're storytellers first and foremost.

    Oh, and I would so buy that cd! I'm addicted to the Van Morrison version of I'll Tell Me Ma. It reminds me of being in an Irish pub.

  6. I haven't been able to stop listening to celtic folksongs and the like since starting my novel.

    Tell Me Ma as done by Gaelic Storm is perhaps the finest song ever. Well, aside from their "Johnny Tarr" -- when that song comes on and I'm driving, watch out!


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