Soundcheck on WNYC, August 3, 2009:
The New York Times:
“Composing Songs for the One That Got Away”
SOMETIMES the songs are plaintive. Other times they are fuzzy and electric. One song is described as a “carnivalesque rock song.”
In all, there are 16 tracks and counting. And when Patrick Shea, a 31-year-old singer-songwriter from Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, lays them down, he is thinking about one thing: “Moby-Dick.”
This is Callmeishmael.org, a blog that Mr. Shea began in October. His goal was to write one song for each of the 136 chapters in “Moby-Dick,” Herman Melville’s sprawling 1851 classic, which tells the story of the ship captain Ahab and his haunted hunt for an elusive white whale.
Combining literary analysis with eclectic musical taste and a dark, clear baritone, Mr. Shea posts a new song each week.
Among the fans of Mr. Shea’s creations are Meg Guroff, the editor and publisher of the annotation Web site Powermobydick .com.
“I think it is a completely awesome thing to do,” Ms. Guroff said, “and I really like his music. People have written music about ‘Moby-Dick’ before, but I haven’t heard of anyone writing one song per chapter. It just seems like a very apt and obsessive response to this book about obsession.”
Another possible fan might be President Obama, who lists “Moby-Dick” as one of his favorite books on his Facebook page.
The song about Chapter 112, titled “The Blacksmith,” features an eerily echoing electronic heartbeat; the accompanying commentary is a 500-word reflection on labor, communal life, death and rebirth.
“As industry collapses, the very fabric of domesticity crumbles,” Mr. Shea writes. “Workshops and factories are the basement foundation of family life; the labor within its heartbeat.”
By contrast, the song about Chapter 2, “The Carpet-Bag,” is a sweet acoustic pop number with a catchy hook and the recurring lyric “I’ve never had the money you got/ To be on the inside,/ To find me a home.”
Mr. Shea, a sixth-grade teacher and the frontman for the Brooklyn-based duo the New Fantastics, said he came up with the idea for the blog over the summer. He had set two goals for himself over the break — to read “Moby-Dick” and to write a new song every day — and as time passed, he said, “the tasks slowly merged.”
Though he began with Chapter 1, he has otherwise chosen chapters at random. Melville in many ways was “the first postmodernist,” Mr. Shea wrote in his first post, “so I think he’d approve.”
The author might also have approved of a New Yorker seeking to keep his most famous work alive. Melville was born in the city and he died here, and worked for a time as a customs inspector on the New York docks.
More than 150 years on, during stormy economic times, Ishmael’s advice in Chapter 23, “The Lee Shore,” still resonates. Stay close to shore only during good weather, he warns; a ship near the shore during a storm will be dashed on the rocks. Mr. Shea writes: “Distilled to a pop song, I think this is all a way of saying enjoy the fair weather but let it go when you need to. How better to enjoy good times than to dance? How better to dance than to dance ‘The Lee Shore’?”
By BETH SCHWARTZAPFEL
Published: January 30, 2009; New York Times, City Section
Moby Monday – The Musical Monomania of Patrick Shea
July 20, 2009, 9:30 am
Filed under: Moby-Monday, maritime, new media | Tags: Call Me Ishmael, Dickmas, Meg Guroff, Patrick Shea
At work they call him “Mr. Shea”
While you were doing whatever the heck you’ve been doing the past 10 months—working? watching pug videos on YouTube? who can remember?—Brooklyn sixth-grade teacher Patrick Shea has been cranking out whaling tunes. Specifically, he has been writing one song per week, each based on a chapter of Moby-Dick.
Shea—who is also the frontman for the pop band The New Fantastics—posts these songs to his blog, Call Me Ishmael. Last week he announced that the first 19 of them were available as a digital download. For just $5, you get the close vocal harmonies of “The Specksynder”; the counterintuitively danceable “The Lee Shore”; “The Counterpane” waltz; and many more. The perfect(ly affordable) gift for the music fan on your Dickmas* list!
Shea says he came up with the idea for the blog last summer, when his two vacation goals of reading Moby-Dick and writing one song per day eventually combined. He has posted 39 songs so far, which means that he ought to be done with the book’s 135 chapters (plus epilogue) in another couple of years. About the same amount of time, total, as your average 19th-century whaling expedition.
*August 1, Herman Melville’s birthday
Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.