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July 29, 2002

Drunken sailors and trashed databases
Posted by Teresa at 10:01 AM * 5 comments

I posted a short book review to Amazon almost three weeks ago, but it still hasn’t shown up on their site. This was after waiting a month after the book was published to review it, since Amazon had trouble believing it had come out.

To heck with it. Here’s the review:

What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?: Unexpurgated Sea Chanties, Compiled and Annotated by Douglas Morgan
Pomfret, CT: Swordsmith Books, 2002
128 pp. ISBN 1-931013-09-8 $9.95

I love this book. I’ve read it straight through a couple of times now.

It’s not just another collection of indecent sea chanties. The songs are indecent—no avoiding that—but Morgan’s commentaries on them are the real prize. He remains unruffled and avoids unnecessary vulgarity while displaying an encyclopedic knowledge of some extremely vulgar subjects; and while his scholarship is unfailingly sound, it is never dull.

He also avoids simply rehashing old information. For instance, I’ve seldom seen “The Captain” in print, and then usually in bowdlerized versions. I’m not sure I’ve seen “Guantanamo Bay” in any previous collection, and I know I haven’t seen its date of composition pinned down, as he does here.

But the real reason I’ve read and re-read the book is that it’s fun. These excerpts are from Morgan’s comments on “New York Girls”:

There’s a joke about how to guarantee yourself a good time on liberty: First, go up on deck, take out your wallet, and throw all your money over the side. Then go below to your berthing quarters. Take an old sock and put it in your mouth. Now slam your dick in your locker door. Bang your head against the bulkhead four or five times. Now hit your rack and go to sleep.

In the morning: Your head hurts, your dick hurts, your mouth tastes like shit, your money is gone, and you can’t remember leaving the ship. You must have had a good time!

How a Mexican general [Santa Ana] came to play such a prominent role in the seafaring musical tradition is something of a puzzler. One theory is that he got a boost from Saint Anne, the patron saint of Breton sailors. It’s possible that nineteenth-century Yankee sailors conflated memories of encounters with Breton sailors swearing by their patron Sainte Anne with then-current news stories about General Santa Anna.

Santa Ana himself eventually moved to Staten Island, where he helped introduce chewing gum to the United States.

How can you not like a book like that?
There now. Don’t see what Amazon found so hard about it.

Before I go any further, I have to say that I know Doug Morgan personally. That’s not why I reviewed his book; I praised it because I enjoyed it. The reason I mention the acquaintance is that any book seems better when you can hear in it a friend’s voice speaking. It may be over-scrupulous of me to worry about this.

Back to those delays. There’s a chance they may have something to do with Amazon skittishly deciding it doesn’t recognize the existence of the book’s publisher. Which would be silly; Swordsmith’s a small but perfectly respectable nonfiction house. On the other hand, the delays may be part of the more general problem of Amazon’s database being trashed, as described here in early June.

Update: Amazon’s database is still trashed. Just now on Amazon, when I clicked on Doug’s name to see the listing for his other book, I got Douglas H. Gresham’s The Narnia Cookbook, Sarah L. Morgan’s The Essential Arthritis Cookbook, the bookcassette edition of Morgan Llywelyn’s 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion, Jeanne Masson-Douglas’s Virginia Lover & Other Poems, Craig D. Morgan’s Bluebell Field Drill-Hole Database, Duchesne and Uintah Counties, Utah, and, mysteriously, California City and County User Charges: Change and Efficiency Since Proposition 13 by Lloyd J. Mercer et al.

Buried amidst these misattributions was Tiger Cruise, Doug’s other book so far. I’m fond of it, in spite of its having had some Hollywood plot elements wished on it by some Hollywood people who got involved. That’s a long tale of human wretchedness and degradation—the book’s production, I mean; not the book itself, which is a zippy little thriller with good dialogue.

Comments on Drunken sailors and trashed databases:
#1 ::: Kip T. Williams ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2002, 07:45 PM:

Yeah, I remember Santa Anna introducing chicle gum to the USA. For one thing, his name is almost the name of the city where I was born, in California. For another, it's in this classic Ace book, _Why Did They Name It...?_ by Hannah Campbell.

Lessee... War of 1836... Santa Anna spared... goes to New York with supply of chicle... Thomas Adams of Jersey City experiments with the substance... observes Santa Anna chewing it... sees druggist selling kids paraffin to chew... Adams and his son Horatio work on the confection... Horatio later dies in 1956 at the age of 102. Yup, it's in there.

Even better, in some ways, is the account from the next article ("Dubble Bubble") about Frank H. Fleer starting to make bubble gum in 1885, around which time Fleer was faced with a persistent salesman who alleged that people would drop coins into a slot in order to buy sweets. When Fleer remained skeptical, the salesman went so far as to assert that people would pay money for nothing at all... and Fleer agreed that if they did, he'd buy some machines.

"The experiment was to be conducted at the old Flatiron Building in New York which was noted for the strong gusts of wind that blew around it unceasingly. It was a popular gethering place for sight-seers and the salesman set up a vending machine at this point, with printed instructions to 'drop a penny in the slot and listen to the wind blow.'

"The salesman got Fleer's order because literally hundreds of people dropped pennies in the slot and continued to do so until the police finally caught on and had the machine hauled away."

Can I tell my salmon story now?


#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2002, 06:34 PM:

(slightly dazed) Yes, Kip. Of course you can.

#3 ::: Kip T. Williams ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2002, 06:41 PM:

Sorry, this story came to mind when typing the other one. It was maybe about a hundred years ago, and a cannery owner was in despair because nobody would buy his white salmon. It was just as good as pink salmon, but nobody wanted to touch it. Facing bankruptcy, he called in a PR man who sized up the situation and gave him a line of type to add to the label of each can.

This line of type reversed his declining fortunes, and the cans of white salmon practically flew from the shelves, until the other manufacturers stepped in and took legal action. It said, "Guaranteed not to turn pink in the can."

(I feel like I should say "Good DAY!")


#4 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2002, 01:13 AM:

There's a fairly nasty occupational disease among those who collect chicle (called chicleros disease) which causes the cartiledge in the nose and ears to disintegrate and those parts to slough off. You never know what might be in that Juicy Fruit, eh?

Oh, yeah, and the Drunken Sailor book: Syphilis is prominently mentioned in several of the songs and tertiary syphilis can also cause your nose and ears to slough off.

#5 ::: Kip T. Williams ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2002, 10:45 AM:

Just wanted to put in a word for the enthusiastic performance of "Friggin' in the Riggin'" that wraps up the Sex Pistols movie, _The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle_. As a bonus, it's one of the several animated portions of the picture, featuring the Pistols being thrown (or jumping) off of a symbolic ship, which then sinks, if my memory serves, and it's not 'improving' things for me again.


--Cap'n Kip

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