After writing “The Forge,” a love song from Moby-Dick to Captain Ahab, I wanted to write a reciprocal love song from Ahab to Moby-Dick, and found a perfect opportunity in Chapter 29, “Enter Ahab; to him, Stubb.” The chapter starts with a nostalgia-inflected description of “winsome days” and “seducing nights” that reminded me of love songs from the ’50’s and early ’60’s.
The action of the chapter follows Stubb as he asks Ahab to pad his ivory leg when he walks the decks at night, to allow the men to sleep below. Stubb quickly learns that Ahab will not allow his intensity to be muffled: “‘Am I a cannonball, Stubb,’ said Ahab, ‘that you would wad me in that fashion?'”
Ishmael draws several parallels between the peaceful weather, sleep, restfulness and death. Ahab feels that going to his cabin “feels like going down into one’s tomb,” and Ishmael notes that “Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death.” For Ahab, underneath each moment of rest and peace lurks torment. The calm weather inspires memories, which for Ahab, are torturous. Ahab’s peg leg gives the men below dreams of “the crunching teeth of sharks.” We can imply from here that death will be no picnic for Ahab, either.
The difficulty of writing a love song lies in finding a conflict to drive the story without souring the love. One common out for this conundrum is the “hurts so good” model of love song. In this model, the love is so intense, it’s unhealthy and painful — you can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t think about anything but the object of your love. Sounds like Ahab to me.
Ch 29: Enter Ahab; to him, Stubb
I’ve been sailing on the oceans of memory,
A vision I’ve been saving of you.
In a passion, my actions are a remedy
For the truth.
I’ve been pacing, cracked upon your every dream.
Sleep feels like I’ll slumber indefinitely.
Up from my tomb
In a restless, ponderous oppressiveness
The days are overflowing with peacefulness,
The warmth of but a passing goodbye.
I stand upon the only
Leg you left to hold me
Upright in the great ecstasy!
All I want is another dance for you and me,
A chance to make you forever mine.
Longing for you
Is a purpose, an absolute subversiveness
Of the rules.
(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 11, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea February 19, 2009