Anybody remember the ’70s song, “The Mighty Quinn”? The artist was Manfred Mann. Quinn, of course, was an Eskimo, the polar opposite of sailing songwriter Eileen Quinn’s subject matter. Forgive me the free association. And for playing “The Name Game.” (Banana-fanna-fo Quinn.) Segue to the CD spinning in my Sony boombox, left of center on my old leather-topped desk.
Eileen Quinn’s business card and letterhead is subtitled, “music for sailors . . . and normal people.” Cruising sailors might be more accurate, and to this “un-normal” audience her lyrics fly to the heart like a . . . er . . . uncontrolled jibe? Mean Low Water is Eileen’s third CD, preceded by No Significant Features and Degrees of Deviation. As in the previous two, the songs are mostly about the cruising lifestyle and are usually comic, often satirical, though always there is an underlying and deeply felt appreciation for the sea and the world around her.
“Come Back Dinghy” resonates with anyone who has ever looked over the transom to find the dinghy gone. Yikes! Eileen writes, “I know you’re out there somewhere, just beyond my reach, probably drinking margaritas, lying on a beach.” In “What Do You Do All Day?” Eileen answers this unimaginative question (“it’s so hard to resist a gleeful grin, when envy tinges their lily white skin, they’re imagining a booze and sun-induced coma, while hoping that your liver’s shot, and you’ve got melanoma”), by saying she’s really “busting my tail, a slave to a hunk of fiberglass.” Ain’t that the truth. So much for the romance.
But in “Building a Boat,” she sympathizes with the dreamy, angst-ridden man who sees his life slipping away, wishing for something powerful and life-altering. “It’s not that he’s unhappy, with the farm or the wife, it’s just that haunting feeling, that there may be more to life.” He sends away for boat plans and spends the next six years building his dream, only to die with the boat on the hard, “with the tiller in his hand.” The moral here is: Go now!
Most man-woman teams will relate to “If I Killed the Captain,” because, let’s face it, a boat is a mighty small space for two people to spend any length of time. And when one yells at the other for some trivial transgression, like coiling the halyard “the wrong way,” well, “perhaps I’d better kill the captain before he kills me.” There’s a little more edge to these lyrics than the others (“all that it would take is a timely little shove”), enough to give you the creeps, if only because you know that once in awhile someone does indeed push his — or her — partner over the side. After sailing away, listening to the screams, how does one atone? This song gives the impression that Eileen will worry about that later. At the moment, she’s ripped. “I mistook him for the lonely singlehanding sort, but there seems to be an ex-first mate in every single port.”
Occasionally Eileen unleashes a deeper, more soulful and melodic voice that reminds of Cheryl Wheeler. It’s as if this strong and beautiful other voice is half-captive inside her, yearning to get out. Maybe we’d hear it more often were she not so dependent on clever lyrics. (Hey, whatever sells!) Be that as it may, she is a talented songwriter with a sharp wit, a songstress who knows her audience and understands her material, perhaps too well (watch your backside!).
Mean Low Water by Eileen Quinn (Eileen Quinn, 2002; 42 Min., Music CD)