Friday, May 26, 2017

The Mary Ellen Carter

SS Marine Electric whose chief mate, Bob Cusick
spent the night clinging to a partly deflated raft
singing "The Mary Ellen Carter" in the freezing
water to keep up his courage till rescued.
This wonderful song about the indomitable spirit of sailor men is one of my favorites. the brief video interview with a sailor at the beginning of the clip tells how the song literally saved his life when his own ship sank.  Stan Rogers, a marvelous Canadian folksinger and songwriter, based this song on a true story about a ship whose drunken officers managed to sink her. Sailors, however, often have a powerful relationship with the ships upon which they serve. As the Mary Ellen Carter sank, they swore they'd raise her up again. Despite a profound lack of interest by the owners and insurers and as unlikely as it might have been, five of the ship's crewmembers banded together and salvaged and refloated the ship.

This song is not only inspiring to all of us to whom "adversity has dealt the final blow", but the song is actually credited with saving the life of one shipwrecked sailor who sang it to keep himself going a whole long night until the Coast Guard found him floating in the sea clinging to the wreckage. The sailor attended Stan's very last concert and was able to shake his hand and thank him.

The song celebrates the human spirit that overcomes adversity. Sadly, we lost Stan Rogers far too soon. On June 2, 1983, Rogers was headed home from the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. A fire started in the restroom on Air Canada flight 797. It was forced to land in the Greater Cincinatti Airport. Rogers was one of 23 people who died of smoke inhalation. He was only 33. We can only imagine what songs he might have given us had he lived on.

Here's Stan singing the Mary Ellen Carter:

Here's a version by another pair of my favorite singers, Liam Clancy, one of the last survivors of the inimitable Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.  It was my privilege to hear the Clancy Brothers in one of their last performances before Tom died. I got to hear Liam in a reunion tour paired up with Tommy Makem. This is Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy singing The Mary Ellen Carter with Liam taking the lead in capturing the Irish seafaring soul.

So to you to whom adversity has dealt the final blow,
With smilin' bastards lyin' to ya' everywhere ya' go,
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And, like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again!”

c 2017 by Tom King

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