A Song Will Lift As The Mainsail Shifts – When the Ship Comes In

29 Jan

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I started this blog back in college as a conduit for my musomania. It continues to live, albeit somewhat infrequently on my end – continued thanks to Toria whose posts truly carry the blog, and I anticipate the blog existing in whatever shape and form continually. I hope the content continues to be fresh and original, no matter its frequency, and that you get as much enjoyment reading as I do writing.

That said, in all of my years writing for the blog, I never (at least to my knowledge) comprehensively brought politics or current events (outside of music) onto these pages. This was, and still is, purely intentional; this is a music blog through and through, and I want to keep it that way. That said, I would be averse not to mention the current transformations in the U.S., and the vitriolic reactions on both sides of the coin responding to these changes. I will not use this blog as a platform to lecture on my political beliefs, but I will say I do maintain a shaken temperament as a witness to these changes. Instead, I will do what I always promised to do on this blog, and use music to convey my thoughts.

Bob Dylan’s “When The Ship Comes In” appeared on his third studio album, the politically charged The Times They Are A-Changin’, which Dylan released in 1964, buttressing his participation in the civil rights movement of the time. Yes, Dylan’s clear protest song on the album, the eponymous title track, may be more apropros for this post, but the third track on Side 2, “When the Ship Comes In” always held deeper significance for me, although the song was, according to Dylan’s biographer Clinton Heylin and musician Joan Baez, about how a hotel clerk refused Dylan admission to a hotel room because of his unkempt appearance. Dylan, who modeled the song after “Pirate Jenny”from Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera (a big inspiration for The Doors as well), wrote about how he envisaged his enemies, “like Goliath” conquered.

For me, though, the song always held some added metaphorical significance, the “foes” representing the forces of jacobin injustice and antiquated policy.  The ship, who are pirates in Brecht’s lyric, are more benevolent conquerers in Dylan’s piece, as the fishes “laugh”, seagulls “smile”, and rocks “proudly stand” when “the ship comes in”. Heck, even the “sun” respects those on the ship, indicating that the most essential forces of nature shine upon this ship – a bit prescient considering our current situation. The ship comes in on a song, and then Dylan finishes the piece with two potent verses, which I will copy below:

Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real
The hour that the ship comes in.

Then they’ll raise their hands
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands
But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered
And like Pharaoh’s tribe
They’ll be drownded in the tide
And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered.

The ship finds the foes sleeping and in a soporific stupor, and despite the foes’ attempted rapprochement, they are “drownded in the tide” and conquered. That they are sleeping is fascinating, as it was Socrates (through Plato) who evinced that society needs a gadfly to pester it when it falls into a somnific and obstinate state so society will wake up and notice that the times are changing. When I look out to the horizon I can hear the slightest melody as it lingers in the ocean waiting once again for the sands to “roll out a carpet of gold” because the “whole wide world is watchin'” and waiting for the hour that the ship comes in.

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