Chapter 88: Schools and Schoolmasters

Writing a love song seems simple enough, but turns out to be maddeningly difficult. My friends and I discussed this difficulty often through high school and college, as various girlfriends expected some homage in song. I remember hearing elder songwriters talk in interviews about the difficulty as well, and so I started keeping an ear out for a love song devoid of hurt feelings, cheating, unrequited affection, creepy emotional imbalance (i.e.; I’m-obsessed-with-how-perfect-you-are kinds of ditties), or a variety of other problems, which, in the end, is what makes the love song such a difficult thing to write — a good story needs a good conflict, but the conflict often sends the sentiment off-kilter. We grow up listening to pop music that reinforces the worst cliches of problematic relationships — it’s fun to listen to, if not a little terrifying for an inexperienced kid of fifteen to twenty-five (or so).

In “Schools and Schoolmasters,” Ishmael compares the social habits of whales to similarly problematic human love relationships. Whales most often travel in schools of twenty to fifty, which appear in one of two general types. First, we have the “harem” variety of school — one alpha male followed by numerous females. “As ashore, the ladies often cause the most terrible duels among their rival admirers,” when other male whales try to elbow into the “domestic bliss” of the harem. On top of all that strife, that lazy dog of a man won’t nurse the babies he fathered. Second, we have the fraternity variety of school — all young men, ripping-and-a-roaring through the world without a care for the future. Unlike the ladies of the harem, these men will ditch a friend at the first sign of trouble…men!

These cliches are certainly not without basis in the world, but they appear disproportionately in pop music. Thus, Ishmael’s satire made for some easy parallels to the early rock and doo-wop I love so dearly — happily for me, since songs about unhealthy relationships are fun to write, as well.

Chapter 88: Schools and Schoolmasters

A man in need is lonely indeed
‘Cause his friends don’t ever stick around,
But girlfriends know, when trouble’s at the door
You should never leave a good friend!
You should never leave a good friend!

Men will fight each other for the right
To defend a woman ’til the end.
They’ll party right through each and every night
‘Til a woman comes between them!
‘Til a woman comes between them!

Oh, girls last forever!
Together ’til the end!
Girls last forever!
Everlasting friends!

Men like making babies in the night,
but they never want to nurse them.
They leave their girls alone to brush the curls —
Thank heavens for a girlfriend!
Thank heavens for a girlfriend!

Oh, girls last forever!
Together ’til the end!
Girls last forever!
Everlasting friends!

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea September 14, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea August 5, 2009

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