A few years ago, when Daughter was very young, a friend told me we should listen to Dan Zanes. He’s one of those musicians who appeals to both kids and grownups, she said, but I didn’t really follow up on it. Well, I ran across one of his songs on the compilation album For the Kids, called Wonderwheel. It’s a jaunty, beautiful, nostalgic piece about young love and the famous WonderWheel at Coney Island. It’s a simple, sweet, fun masterpiece, which Son loves to dance to and Daughter proclaimed to be her favorite. OK, so maybe I should look into this Dan Zanes guy, I thought.
The only Zanes CD at the local store was his Sea Music CD. I picked it up, thinking it would be more in the vein of Wonderwheel. Well, this CD is not at all what I thought it would be. It’s not even kids’ music, strictly speaking. But it is something really compelling.
For the past few years I’ve enjoyed reading tales of maritime exploration and adventure. I am fascintated by the maritime heritage of New England. Well, Sea Music is a compilation of authentic sea shanties, the folk music of maritime culture.
It’s a compelling glimpse into the life of the sailor. There are songs of mermaids, ships going to the bottom of the sea, squandering one’s pay on grog, gin, and women, and yearning for home in old New England. This is great stuff.
More than that, these songs are eminently singable. Zanes has made it his crusade to re-introduce communal singing into the modern world, and it’s a compelling vision. I didn’t grow up with much enthusiasm for music, whether singing, playing or listening, but somehow this idea speaks to me. I imagine singing with my kids at a campfire, or even in the car en route to grandma’s house. I even wonder if I would have the time and discipline to learn an instrument. Hmmm.