Showing posts with label Songs About the Sea. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Songs About the Sea. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Under The Sea

When I was growing up, Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997) was the most famous undersea explorer in the world. I knew about him primarily through his films and TV programs, although he also wrote many books as well. He pioneered techniques used in underwater photography (he was a filmmaker as much as sea diver), exploring the world’s oceans aboard his base ship, the Calypso (eventually the subject of an homage song by John Denver). Beginning in 1968, he hosted the television series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, a show which ran for several years, until the mid-70s. A few minutes of research on the web revealed that in 1959 he addressed the first World Oceanic Congress, which in turn led to his appearance on the March 28, 1960 cover of Time magazine. In April of 1961, he was awarded the National Geographic’s Gold Medal at a White House ceremony hosted by President John F. Kennedy. I don’t recall hearing of Jacques Cousteau before that time, but I certainly remember him from the Sixties on.

Among his very earliest films was Épaves (1945, available here), which captured the poetry of the undersea realm. The decaying wreckage of sunken ships resembles the ruins of undersea cathedrals, through which, like something from a Surrealist painting, we watch divers swim, like strange birds hovering in the air. His underwater photography captured sea creatures from all over the world, creatures rich and strange. Weird and occasionally nightmarish, they resembled things from another planet. Because of his keen sense of the delicate ecology of the ocean, he was like a crusader, a Naturalist capturing through his poetic films all the beauty, awe, and mystery of nature. His films took us out of our dreary, quotidian reality and daily routine, and provided an escape into a world serene and delicate, a pure realm uncontaminated by humans and their machines. I choose to think that Jacques Cousteau influenced popular culture as well, including its music. Most certainly songs about the sea (and songs about being under the sea) are a venerable subgenre of folk and popular music; “under the sea” songs are popular among schoolchildren as well. In the Sixties, though, songs about being under the sea were really the equivalent of a psychedelic trip, thanks to films of Jacques Cousteau. Some dream of flying, but when I was a child I dreamed of being a fish, not a bird, able to swim underwater indefinitely. One of the very earliest dreams I remember in my life was set underwater, in a vast river with a powerful current, and I was struggling to find sunken treasure. Fish swam by me lazily. Surprisingly, I saw a door on the bottom of the river, perfect in every way, so I swam for it. I reached out for the knob, pulled, opened it—and woke up, a bit like Dorothy opening the door to the world of Oz, which perhaps I had recently seen, I don’t know.

Or, perhaps my dream was influenced by those poetic and hauntingly memorable films made by Jacques Cousteau, as some of the following songs may have been as well.

Bobby Bare – The Mermaid
The Beatles – Octopus’s Garden
Jimmy Buffett – A Pirate Looks At Forty
John Denver – Calypso
Donovan – Atlantis
Jimi Hendrix – 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)
Roy Orbison – Leah
Marty Robbins – Devil Woman
Squirrel Nut Zippers – Under the Sea
The Verlaines – Cathedrals Under the Sea
Patrick Watson – Man Under the Sea
XTC – Mermaid Smiled