Mudcat Café message #3562665 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #152346   Message #3562665
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
30-Sep-13 - 12:36 AM
Thread Name: 'Obscenity' in Chanties/Shanties
Subject: RE: 'Obscenity' in Chanties/Shanties

    This theory of mine is not to deny that "ordinary," typical chanties would not also have contained obscenity. On the contrary, I think most of the above testimonies by sailors are in reference to typical chanties. The distinction would be that these were not obscene by their very design, but rather by the choice of lyrics invented by individual chantymen. Nor were they coyly expressed, but rather very matter-of-fact in their rough language. The following documented couplet from "Sally Brown" is an example of the style:

>>Oh Sally Brown my love grows bigger

But for Heavens sake don't f-ck that nigger. <<

A sailor's lines for "A Long Time Ago" included these brazen statements:

>>Oh, it's a long, long time since I've had a "short time"

Oh, it's a long, long time since I've had a good "f-ck"

And it's a long, long time since I've had a sore cock <<

Similar examples, however, are rare. Is it because they were "unprintable," or because they were not common? Unprintability, to be sure, was a reason why some did not get documented, but, with little evidence to the contrary, we must also suspect that there were places and times in chantying where lewd sentiment was far less common than popular tropes of the "Abel Brown"/"Bollocky Bill" sailor may lead us to imagine.
        In sum, the available evidence gives no reason to assert that chantying of the early decadesóincluding the "core" repertoireówas particularly obscene. I have suggested that it may not have been until the 1860s, the earliest period known to people claiming obscenity, that the lyrical style took a turn. I have argued that it was more in the character of songs from European traditions to take up sexual themes, and speculated that sailors of later years took up obscene lyrics as part of their ethos. At that time, classics like "Sally Brown" and "A Long Time Ago," originally having chaste themes, were "corrupted," as it were. Finally, observations of chantying that placed weight on the items of repertoire from the bawdier song traditionsórepertoire more at home at the pumps and capstan, rather than the halyards and windlassówould come up with an assessment that sailors' chanties were "dirty." Indeed, those observers, in the past and present, who tend to view the types of chanties less discriminately (even shading into forecastle songs) would get an impression of greater obscenity than those who focus on the formative period and repertoire of the genre.

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