Monday, April 15, 2013

M - The Mary Ellen Carter

"Learn this song.  You'll need it some day." 

I read those words once in an essay about folk songs.  The writer's grandmother had been teaching her a song.  She said that she had smiled to herself at the time - she was a lot younger - but when the time came she realized that they were true.   Humans have many ways or arming and enriching themselves, and one of them is in words.  A verse from a poem, a passage in a book - there are many things that remind us that we do not stand alone, that others have gone before us down the same paths we are navigating now, and feeling the same fears and pain...

So, a year or so ago, there was me.  I had picked up a recording by Trad Routes, a little Irish group that perform in pubs and at folk festivals in Ireland  They have quite a following.  I had never heard of them, but I saw a CD by them in a thrift store, the titles looked interesting, and I bought it.  The Celts and the Gaels are generally very musical.  Most of the songs that I like - the older ones - are set to older Celtic tunes ('Morning has Broken', for example).  I got the CD, put it in my car's player, and drove along, listening to the music.

Some were good, a traditional song about a victory of an Irish army over an English one three times its size.  Some not so good, for the most part the fault of the tenor, who had an emotional voice but couldn't carry a tune in places.  The baritone, now, with the banjo was very good.

So I went through the songs as I drove along, and I encountered The Mary Ellen Carter. 


She went down last October in a pouring driving rain.
The skipper, he'd been drinking and the Mate, he felt no pain.
Too close to Three Mile Rock, and she was dealt her mortal blow,
And the Mary Ellen Carter settled low.

I love seafaring songs.  It comes of growing up in the Navy.  I love schooners and sloops, and for some reason I thought the Mary Ellen Carter was a schooner.

The words continued:

Well, the owners wrote her off; not a nickel would they spend.
"She gave twenty years of service, boys, then met her sorry end.
But insurance paid the loss to us," they let her rest below.
Then they laughed at us and said we had to go.
But we talked of her all winter, some days around the clock,
For she's worth a quarter million, afloat and at the dock.
And with every jar that hit the bar, we swore we would remain
And make the Mary Ellen Carter rise again.

Hm, thought I.  This is interesting.  I listened as they spoke of their efforts - the five who remained with her until she sank beneath the waves -

But we've patched her rents, stopped her vents, dogged hatch and porthole down.
Put cables to her, 'fore and aft and girded her around.
Tomorrow, noon, we hit the air and then take up the strain.
And make the Mary Ellen Carter Rise Again!

Very good! I thought, smiling and making a right turn.  The song went on about how they were doing this, and why, and what hopes they had.  And then I was knocked breathless:


And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again. 

Rise again, rise again - though your heart it be broken
And life about to end
No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend.
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.


I was breathless - I had needed those words.  I wasn't alonE against the 'smiling bastards' who were lying to me.  Others had been through it and their hope gave me hope.  I listened again.

Here is the song (CLICK FOR THE LINK).  It isn't sung by Trad Routes, unfortunately, but it's a decent rendition, though the photo leaves something to be desired.  Listen to the song.  You need it.


THE MARY ELLEN CARTER

She went down last October in a pouring driving rain.
The skipper, he'd been drinking and the Mate, he felt no pain.
Too close to Three Mile Rock, and she was dealt her mortal blow,
And the Mary Ellen Carter settled low.
There were just us five aboard her when she finally was awash.
We'd worked like hell to save her, all heedless of the cost.
And the groan she gave as she went down, it caused us to proclaim
That the Mary Ellen Carter would rise again.

Well, the owners wrote her off; not a nickel would they spend.
"She gave twenty years of service, boys, then met her sorry end.
But insurance paid the loss to us, so let her rest below."
Then they laughed at us and said we had to go.

But we talked of her all winter, some days around the clock,
For she's worth a quarter million, afloat and at the dock.
And with every jar that hit the bar, we swore we would remain
And make the Mary Ellen Carter rise again.

Rise again, rise again, that her name not be lost
To the knowledge of men.
Those who loved her best and were with her till the end
Will make the Mary Ellen Carter rise again.

All spring, now, we've been with her on a barge lent by a friend.
Three dives a day in hard hat suit and twice I've had the bends.
Thank God it's only sixty feet and the currents here are slow
Or I'd never have the strength to go below.
But we've patched her rents, stopped her vents, dogged hatch and porthole down.
Put cables to her, 'fore and aft and girded her around.
Tomorrow, noon, we hit the air and then take up the strain.
And make the Mary Ellen Carter Rise Again.

For we couldn't leave her there, you see, to crumble into scale.
She'd saved our lives so many times, living through the gale
And the laughing, drunken rats who left her to a sorry grave
They won't be laughing in another day. . .

And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Rise again, rise again - though your heart it be broken
And life about to end
No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend.
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Written and recorded by Stan Rogers on Between the Breaks ....Live.
Copyright Fogarty's Cove Music, FCM 002

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