Fisherman's Blues

I was turned on to "Fisherman's Blues", by The Waterboys, in 1992 by a girl I met while working at a provincial park in Ontario. She was kind of a hippy (by which I mean she gave and received hugs freely), and I kind of had a crush on her (though she was quite honest about not reciprocating). "There's this album," she said, "that you should really listen to." So I did, and wah -- I was hooked. The opening chords of "Fisherman's Blues"; the men's choir shouting along to "World Party"; the whimsy and fun of "And A Bang on the Ear"; and the gorgeous, moving, tearful beauty of both "Sweet Thing/Blackbird" and "The Stolen Child" held me like few other albums have. I listened to it over and over and over again. I have fond memories of her for lots of different reasons -- she was an excellent friend -- but high among them is telling me about this album.

I've listened to other songs by The Waterboys, but never really got into them. Lots of people I know love "Whole of the Moon" but it never left me anything but frowning, unsure how something like that could come from the same band.

Years later I came across "Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille" by Stephen Brust. It's a story about a band that plays Irish music in a bar that travels through space and time, and how they accidentally save humanity. It charmed me with quoted lyrics at the beginning of every chapter, with making a joke on the song "Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O" (covered by The Waterboys on their next album), with being funny and clever. Shortly after I met my future wife, we exchanged books; I gave her "Cowboy Feng", and she gave me "In The Skin of a Lion" by Michael Ondaatje. I felt seriously outclassed. I read her book, but it took me 'til the third and final part to really get into it -- but that just confirmed what a schnook I was, and how my choice of book was a poor one. She's dismissed that -- but that's how I felt.

I was harsh on myself, of course, and harsh on "Cowboy Feng." It may not be the best sci-fi novel ever written, but it holds a very special place in my heart. I love the way it focuses on small things, small details; yes, humanity has expanded to other star systems, settled on other worlds...but they have brought music with them, and it's something like what we have now, and it has evolved to nothing like we have now. People muddle on.

When my children were infants, I would sing, lullaby-fashion, "Fisherman's Blues" when I was trying to rock them to sleep. I don't know that it actually, you know, got them to sleep, , but it made me feel good. I think about that now -- about how much of what I do for my children, I do for reasons that move me rather than them. I think of articles I've read describing how artists deal with people who want to tell them What That Thing Means To Them, and how I still want to find Mike Scott and tell him about this.

Today I found out that there is a six-cd box set for The Waterboys' "Fisherman's Blues", with a metric crapton of outtakes, never-released and alternate versions. As a result, I spent an hour tonight trawling YouTube for live recordings of songs from that album, which apparently Mike Scott and Anthony Thistlewaite are touring/have toured. There are lots, of course -- the Internet is a big place -- and no lie, no exaggeration, I wept near constantly at the beauty of their performances and their songwriting.

I imagine them younger, at concerts I never saw; I imagine cover versions, some that might move me and some that will just piss me off, on planets I will never visit; I imagine showing my children these videos and them listening more or less politely, then wandering off to find their own songs; I imagine being old, possibly senile, and my eyes still lighting up when I hear that fiddle line from the title song.