As a folksinger, I had to perform some odd gigs. At the coffeehouses, you knew what to expect at two in the morning from the drunks. But at a wedding, where bride and groom requested Wild About My Lovin’ as a processional down the aisle and Jelly Roll Baker at the reception, it was a toss-up. The time it happened, their parents just weren’t into it.

I didn’t give up playing for many years, but I did stop performing at public venues. Instead, I often played at parties for friends, which was how some of my more salacious material got included at the wedding. 

I was not afraid to write topical and sarcastic material while in grad school – did that contribute to my doctoral difficulties? Anyway, I was a wild child, and many of my friends appreciated my take on folk music.

But by the 1980’s I was not making much music. Then a close friend died. He and I were sailing buddies and raconteurs of the highest water. He had perfected the art of the sea story, and I picked up many finer points from him. So I, of course, made plans to attend the funeral.

Then came the call from the widow, also a friend sailing buddy, and active in the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Would I play some nautical numbers at the funeral? “Well, Tink,” says I, “I haven’t played or sung in years.” 

Silence at the other end of the phone connection. “But Lou, it would mean so much to Bill. Now don’t do some boring old thing like the Navy Hymn; the choir will do that. Instead, give us some salty songs that Bill would have liked.” Salty. OK.

And, that’s how I got to stand up at the funeral home in Winthrop at my friend’s funeral and sing. I pared the selection down to two songs in light of my being so out of practice. I chose a shantey for the first song- Go Down You Blood Red Roses- a piece about being at sea aboard a whaler. This song was done acapella, singing right on the guitar’s surface and using the guitar’s body to resonate with the music. For the second number, I choose a mildly salacious piece called Toralai. It went over very well, and Tink was pleased with the performance. 

Afterward, I packed the guitar away and joined the other guests at the reception. I soon found myself mobbed by retired Navy, Coasties, Auxiliary members, and Merchant Seamen. All wanted to know why I had sung the clean version of the song. The song may date to the early days before the United States Navy formed, and we borrowed many traditions, including music from the Royal Navy. It might date back as far as Drake or at least Nelson. It was part of Nautical Tradition, and I had sung a sanitized version of it. All of them outranked me, and I was rapidly introduced to some of the bawdier verses that I had not included. I was duly educated.

That was my last public performance. I keep a low profile these days. But if you are interested, here is the version of the song that I sang.

All you salty types out there are free to message me with the good stuff I left out. But this is a mixed audience, and I have to play to the House.

The enlisted men ride in a motor launch,

The Captain rides in a barge,

He don’t go a damned sight faster,

But it gives the old bugger a charge.

Singing turalai, urali, urali,

Singing turalai, urali, ay,

Singing turalai, urali, urali,

Singing turalai, urali, ay,

The enlisted men ride in a motor boat,

The admiral he rides in a gig,

He don’t go a damned sight faster,

But it makes the old bugger feel big.

The enlisted men eat in the wardroom,

The Captain won’t eat with the mob,

It ain’t that he eats any better,

He don’t want us to know he’s a slob.

The enlisted men sleep in their hammocks,

The Captain he sleeps in a bed,

He don’t sleep a damned sight better

But he’s twenty feet nearer the head.

The sexual life of a camel.

Is not quite what everyone thinks,

One night in an excess of passion,

He tried to make love to the Sphinx.

Now the Sphinx’s posterior regions

Are all clogged by the sands of the Nile,

Which accounts for the hump on the camel,

And the Sphinx’s inscrutable smile.

In the process of civilization,

From arthropoid ape down to man,

The palm is awarded the Navy,

For buggering whatever it can

Further experimentation

Has incontrovertibly shown,

That comparative safety on shipboard

Is enjoyed by the hedgehog alone.

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