The ocean is a song with the same words, but as many shifts and endings as there are people who hear it.
When I first arrived at the southern coast, I thought submerging myself in the Gulf would be sort of baptismal. I thought I’d be washing away all of my old life and making way for the new. In reality, it was kind of boring, and dull. The sand was muddy and murky, the water felt low-ish; it took over a hundred yards to get past waist-high water, and so I sort of shrugged my shoulders as I came out and went back to reading.
Then I got caught in a late summer rain.
Normally, getting caught in the rain is a bad thing, right? It happened on my last bike ride, an 18-mile adventure through the bayou. While we checked the radar and knew it might catch us about a mile before one of our rest stops, we also thought we might beat it.
Turns out, we were wrong, and I couldn’t have felt better about it.
See, normally, riding in the rain is an awful idea, but in the southern heat, it actually felt glorious*.
*Safety concerns: this was an off-street bike/running/skate horse trail. Vehicular encounters were of minimal concern.
“Ocean” is one of my favorite tracks of all time. This version, in particular—and I have to specify. Here’s a little trivia as the Youtube buffers up: I read somewhere that “Ocean” is not a song as we think of it. It’s referred to as a “code.” The way I’ve come to understand it is that it’s similar to a jazz improv: there are a series of modules expanded upon and bridged together, allowing the performer (in this case, the venerable John Butler) to adjust the song to his and his audience’s immediate whimsy.
Good storytellers understand what’s going on, and it’s kind of a wonder that more musicians don’t do this. Little Red Riding Hood follows the same script, but it’s told a thousand different was. Do we focus on the analogy of lost innocence? Do we make the forest out to be darker and spookier? Do we play up the possible sexual metaphors between Red and the Wolf? That depends; who’s your audience? What’s your intent? That’s what’s going on here; “Ocean” isn’t just a song—it’s a story without words. It follows all of the steps: introduction, rising action, climax (oh lord, that 4:03 mark…), denouement…
It just might be one of my favorite tracks of all time.
When I rode through the rain, this is kind of what it felt like. It’s what I’d wanted at the ocean, but if there’s anything I’ve learned, the ocean’s a metaphor. The story, its elements and what comes out of it, that remains the same. The details, however—those are yours to keep.
photo: Kim Seng/Flickr