Robert Palomo | Cabin Boy

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Cabin Boy

by Robert Palomo

Here's a salty folk song, the tale of a young lad who ran away to sea dreaming of a life of adventure and romance... and the life he actually found as a cabin boy... as told by the boy himself in a letter home to Mother bewailing his folly.
Genre: Folk: Sea Shanties
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Cabin Boy
3:56 $1.00
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Album Notes
Various sea adventure stories a built around the theme of the young boy from a small village who feels dissatisfied with hum-drum village life and dreams of going to sea and living a life of adventure and romance... and by hook or crook does it. But if you know anything of the history of old-time sailing ships, you understand that life aboard them was often anything but romantic, and whatever adventure there may have been was not always the sort you'd really want.

A young lad who went off to sea most generally began as a cabin boy. In Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling describes the job as "cook's helper an' everything else aboard that's too dirty for the men." Famous names like Nelson and Drake began their illustrious careers as cabin boys.

What started me off writing this song was happening across the 1954 film Long John Silver (a.k.a. Long John Silver's Return to Treasure Island), starring Robert Newton, the actor who gave us the quintessential "talk like a pirate" accent. There is a scene aboard the ship the evil Spanish pirate Mendoza in which Long John Silver (Newton) is cutting a dirty deal when the grog runs out. Mendoza calls for the cabin boy, who turns out to be none other than young Jim Hawkins, Long John's protege from Treasure Island, who has been kidnapped and pressed into service on the pirate vessel, against which he staunchly rebels.

Not wanting Mendoza to see that he knows Jim, Silver abuses him roundly and has him summarily flung from the cabin. As Jim collapses in misery at the foot of the stairs leading to the deck, thinking his friend has abandoned him, Newton's voice is heard in the background delivering what I think is a classic line: "Cabin boys - none of 'em be any good!"

That scene and that line got me to thinking about those sea adventure stories, and I thought that it might be fun to write a song retelling the story of the "boy who ran away to sea" story from the point of view of the boy himself, in a letter back home to Mother, in which he talks of his folly and the misery it has caused him. Sounds like a pretty terrible song, doesn't it? Well, I don't think you'll find yourself depressed by the end result. You know how boys exaggerate to get sympathy!



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