“The Muddy Rudder” and “Sea Fever”

Linda here.

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to take some time to write a series of posts talking a little bit about the songs that we put on our “first unofficial EP”, Scrumgirl is Getting Married. This was a short CD that we sent out as an invitation to our wedding reception back in July. If you haven’t heard it, you can find it over on SoundCloud or BandCamp.

I don’t know if I’ll actually get around to writing posts about all of the tracks, but let’s go ahead and start, where else? At the very end.

The Muddy Rudder was a “hidden” track on the EP, meaning you had to let the CD run through a track with twenty seconds of silence before you found it. We put it there because the track was much less finished than others on the disc. While the first several songs were recorded on multiple tracks and rigorously (if amateur-ly) mixed, The Muddy Rudder was recorded on a single track, in a single take, on a microphone attached to a laptop sitting on our  coffee table. The reason for this artistic decision: we were totally out of time.

Picture, if you will, two frazzled people trying to make their ambition of recording a CD for their wedding (reception) invitation come true, whilst juggling the following: full-time jobs, toddler-rearing, geriatric-dog wrangling, the planning of a major, international trip (with wedding), and a reception to follow shortly thereafter. Nothing was done. While the other two originals on the EP– For You and Stubborn Love were both kinda-sorta written, both they and the covers had to be recorded from scratch. To make matters worse, Stubborn Love‘s entire “orchestral” arrangement had to be worked out. (Spoiler alert: we did not have access to a big band-style horn section.) (Second Spoiler Alert: Stubborn Love maybe didn’t come out as well as it should have, and will eventually be re-recorded when we’ve kidnapped a busload of All-State Jazz Band students.) Also, we didn’t know how to play “Paper Moon” at all. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t end up playing it, per se.)

The whole thing was done, start to finish, in probably a month and a half, maybe two. Between working all day and mixing all night, I was starting to LEGIT lose my mind. All I wanted, in the world, was for the damn CD to be done.

But there was this niggling little problem, and the closer I got to being finished, the more it…niggled: without meaning to, and almost totally by accident, I had written another song.

It wasn’t my fault, really. Our reception was to be held at The Muddy Rudder Restaurant in Yarmouth. The Muddy Rudder. Do you hear that? The meter of that name, that almost Seuss-ian lure.

Well, the song just started to write itself. Throw in some seafaring symbolism and borrow some inspiration from a dead poet, and all of a sudden, I was done. Against my better judgment, and without really knowing I was doing it, I had written another song. And not just any song: a song that would almost totally fail to make sense outside of the context of this CD. Why, if it didn’t get recorded now, it never would.

Dan’s point of view on the matter was a little different. While I merely had to deal with the loss of my mind and most of my faculties, he had to deal with the very real possibility of me screaming in tongues whilst bludgeoning him repeatedly in the head with a  microphone stand. He was willing to part with The Muddy Rudder song for good, for the sake of my sanity and his cranium.

But not me. I didn’t mean for this to happen, but it did. And these songs, they’re like my children. *Crazy Eyes.*

Eventually, we compromised. The song would be recorded in the aforementioned single track on the aforementioned coffee table, and stuck in as a bonus track. We tried a few takes and ended up with one that we really liked, weird banter about disappearing goats and all. (No, that’s not me going crazy. That’s really in there. You’ll see.) In the end, The Muddy Rudder became Dan’s favorite track on the whole EP.

…..But all of that’s not really what I wanted to talk about.

(Emily would be telling me to concise at this point. But I can’t do it. These words are like my children.)

The reason I’ve been wanting to write about this track for so long is this: I want to apologize to John Masefield.

Some of the lyrics in The Muddy Rudder are borrowed and/or adapted from his poem, Sea Fever. If you haven’t read it, do: it’s easily one of the most beautiful poems ever written. In fact, here it is:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
Clearly, a masterfully-crafted ode to the life of a fisherman: a man who is alone, but not lonely. A man who finds his passion in life in the freedom and beauty of the open sea, and is so fulfilled by that that he needs nothing else: not fame, not fortune, not love. All I ask is  a tall ship and a star to steer her by.

Then I, of course, go and totally bastardize the sentiment. I used words from possibly the world’s most famous ode to salty solitude to write a song about marriage.  Ew.

JohnMasefield

I made this my Facebook Profile picture during the process. Because, insult, injury. Whatever.

I turned “a tall ship and a star to steer her by” into “a tall ship and you there by my side.

I turned “I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life/To the gull’s way and the whale’s way and the wind’s like a whetted knife” into “I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life/To the gull’s way I will go with you if you’ll be my gypsy wife.

I turned “And all I ask is a merry yard from a laughing fellow-rover/And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.” into “And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover/And a girl like you to be my sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

*Shudder.*

I did all that, and then I left Dan and I making goat noises on the track. Really.

What’s my defense? Well, none, really, except…it’s a good song. It’s not as good a song as Sea Fever is a poem, and, trust me, my inner teenaged girl, who spent much of high school camped out in libraries reading poetry, is not happy with this sell-out.

But it kind of makes me think of this thing I learned when I was in a painting course in college. In the beginning, you’re painting this still life, and you’re trying so hard to make it accurate as possible, every detail on the canvas just as it is on the table. One day, I was struggling to get some little thing just right, because it didn’t sit well in the composition. I remember my instructor coming over me and advising me to stop struggling. At some point, he told me, the painting has to take over. The object I was painting became less important than the painting itself.

At some point, the new art has to break free of the realities of the inspiration, and just be what it is.

The difference here, of course, is that no one will ever see that exact arrangement of fruits and flowers again, but I would feel terrible if people heard The Muddy Rudder but never read Sea Fever. And I’d also feel pretty bad if they were aware of both, but just thought I was totally clueless about the original intention of the poem.

So here this is. A long-winded open letter, of sorts, to John Masefield. (Okay, not really, but he’s SUPER dead.) Your poem, Mr. Masefield, is a masterpiece, and my song has twisted it’s meaning quite a bit. But this song you helped to inspire, though not a masterpiece, is, well…it’s good. I think it’s good. Dan thinks it’s good. We performed it at the reception– to this day, the only song that Scrumgirl has ever performed in front of a crowd of more than three people– and that was good.

So, Mr. Masefield, here it is. With Love.

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