Friday, May 31, 2024

New from Hagen Music: "Ship of Fools"

Ship of Fools

(music & lyrics: Daniel Hagen)

Out at sea, I’m floating again
Away, away to where I don’t know
To my friends, I call you once more
To help me find that golden shore

Troubled times are with us this year
But when has this not been the case
All we need is a beacon of hope
To light our way down this road
     On a ship of fools


To my kin, look where we are
We’ve not begun to get that far
Don’t give up, but look in your hearts
And there you’ll find the place to start
     On a ship of fools

Oh, why, why do we pretend?
Oh, why, why do we give in?

Out at sea, I’m floating again
Away, away to where I don’t know
     On a ship of fools

vocals, all instruments & arrangements: Daniel Hagen

*        *        * 

I first wrote this track nearly 20 years ago now, probably around '06 or thereabouts. The unstable chord progression and melody both fit the lyrics well with its obvious "nautical" theme. (Of course, the theme goes deeper than that--no pun intended.) A friend of mine from university, Kazu Shiota, who was then teaching as an adjunct professor at a university in Tokyo pointed out that the melody was in a locrian mode. This won't mean much to most people, but suffice to say it's almost certainly the least commonly used as it's one of the only standard western scales that doesn't have a perfect 5th. In any case, this harmonic instability is fitting for a song about being adrift on an ocean.

I can't honestly remember how the song evolved or what parts came first, but I typically write music, then lyrics, with perhaps some lyrics emerging in tandem with the music. The intro and outro sections emerged organically while experimenting with the key changes, so I was quite pleased with how it all came together with those sections bookending the song.

As early as 2011, I had begun work on a demo of the song and while it went through a number of arrangements instrumentally, I was always especially unhappy with how I sang the bridge--it just never felt right. Long story short, after several years of musical inactivity, I bought a new audio interface earlier this year to facilitate recording. In the process of transferring this song to a newer computer, several of the previously arranged instruments were momentarily unavailable and a simpler arrangement presented itself. Following this path, I completed the arrangement with a new bridge vocal, additional harmonies, new string parts and the harp/clarinet instrumentation. The new strings parts along with the harp and clarinet parts were particularly inspired by (or cribbed from) by the final scene of an opera--'Peter Grimes' by Benjamin Britten. This was one of those pieces of music in my life that demanded my attention the first time I properly heard it; upon writing 'Ship of Fools', I felt it a similarly appropriate vehicle (again, no pun intended) for such an arrangement and so did my best to adapt some of the orchestration from Britten's piece. 

Lastly, I finished the recording in early March of this year. Sharing it with my good friend, Mark Darvill, he remarked that he would be interested in putting a guitar part to it. However, as he's been busy with a variety of things, he's not been able to put anything to tape, so I may at some point be replacing the current version here with another one if that ever comes to pass. In any case, that's why I hadn't posted this sooner.

Lyrically, my own inspiration for the song comes from the Hieronymous Bosch painting, which was featured just in my previous post, "An Inconvenient Earth" - A Poem. Bosch took his own inspiration from Sebastian Brant's satirical book Ship of Fools (1494), but the allegory itself dates back as fas Plato's Republic (375 BC); Benjamin Jowett's 1871 translation of Plato's text is well worth a read and is provided on the Wiki page. In regards to my own song, the allegory still holds though the perspective is less from the point of view of one trying to take control of the ship than it is from one who has no control at all. In this day and age, it is increasingly apparent that the people who are fighting to steer the ship are no wiser than they've ever been and most of us are the mercy of such people, caught in the flow of conditions beyond our power. 

So yeah, "Fun fun fun" as the Beach Boys would say (more on them later). Maybe it's best to just lie back, relax, and float on...

- DH

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