Sittin’ On The Dock of Gats”Bay”

30 Mar

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Hey Music Court readers. Sorry I have been a bit terse (more like complete radio silence) over the past several weeks. It often does seem that I lose big chunks of time when I’m busy. That said, I am back with another literary/music mix because as an English teacher I cannot contain myself.

There are some songs that contain an untenable eeriness to them, and Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay” is one of them. Otis Redding, whose promising career was tragically cut short because of a plane crash, recorded the song days before the crash. The melancholic but peaceful whistle at the song’s fade was, as the story goes, supposed to be an ad-lib spoken word by Redding, but he forgot it and instead whistled – which perhaps is the most known part of the song now. He never had a chance to correct this extemporaneous ending.

I want to focus, though, on the lyric (of course). In the song, Redding paints an image of littoral beauty, a depiction of matutinal beauty from his houseboat. The song, which features the existential reflection of Redding sitting and watching the sea, makes me think of Jay Gatsby, another character – albeit fictional – who spends time staring at the water with a sense of longing. In a sense, Gatsby is revealed through Redding’s lyric, “Looks like nothing’s gonna change; Everything still remains the same.” Redding clearly does not want his perfect visage to end, and Gatsby, similarly, does not want his perfect image of Daisy Buchanan, his first and only love, to change. That said, life does get in the way, and Redding and Gatsby both meet unfortunate ends because, let’s face it, everything changes. In our memory, though, we will always have the bay.

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2 Responses to “Sittin’ On The Dock of Gats”Bay””

  1. Keith April 5, 2017 at 6:14 pm #

    Interesting. I never would have thought to compare Otis to Jay Gatsby. Perhaps Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea, but then again, maybe the maritime connection is too obvious, too “on the nose.” By the way, Steve Cropper (guitarist for Booker T and the MGs) wrote the bulk of the lyrics based on Otis’s initial melancholy lines about watching the ships come and go. Accidental or not, I like the whistling at the end. It gives it a slight “sea shanty” feel. And now I feel compelled to challenge you to tie another soul hit to any character from my favorite American classic, “Moby Dick.” Good luck!
    Keith

    • Matthew Coleman April 5, 2017 at 7:43 pm #

      Thanks for the comment. Excellent thoughts. Challenge accepted!

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