Monday, March 23, 2020

I have too much time on my hands...

In this time of social distancing, I’ve pondered on the AM network and the radio show the greatest, if obscure, guitar and keyboard solos and the Carpenters, but my random thoughts now lead me to a one-hit-wonder: Looking Glass and the 1972 track that everyone knows, "Brandy." It's a song of the high seas in an unspecified time and place about sailors who find themselves living from port to port.
Where: No real information here, indeed the "port on a western bay" is problematic; an eastern bay seems more likely, Rockport or Cape May, the bustling whaling towns of yesteryear.
When: We don’t get many pieces to the puzzle here, either. "He came on a summer's day, bringing gifts from far away." So, summer it is. I'm imagining the late 19th Century.
Our story so far: "But he made it clear, he couldn't stay. No harbor was his home." He's a man who cannot settle down. Indeed, one cannot be a good sailor on the open seas by settling down. Picture the widow’s walks on the Victorian homes that dot the eastern shoreline. Captains built these manors for their wives who lived there alone (renamed widows walks because the captains were often lost at sea). But this is just a sailor. No wife, no home; instead, "My life, my lover, my lady, is the sea."
"But there's a girl in this harbor town, and she works laying whiskey down. They say, 'Brandy, fetch another round.' She serves them whiskey and wine." In these lines, we meet our heroine and learn her name. In the chorus that follows, the sailors talk of her, awed by her looks and saying, "Your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea."
Back to the where and when: We get some detail here, if not about the place, but about where the sailor has sailed. It seems, "Brandy wears a braided chain, made of finest silver from the north of Spain." Between 1500 and the late 1800s, the finest silver came from mines in Peru, Bolivia and the American West and was crafted in Cantabria, Spain. Lockets were particularly popular in the 19th century, and Brandy's bears the name of the sailor, the man that Brandy loves. If there was a photograph of the man inside, we would guess the late-1800s, but before the practicality of photography, "lockets" would hold "locks" of hair. Here we can speculate that the relationship was frivolous, as well. There is no mention of either a lock of hair or a photograph. Brandy’s love is aloof at best.
The fact that Brandy is a woman serving whiskey and wine suggests that the locale is one of the "western" ports of the Mediterranean where women were able to hold this type of position, but interestingly, Brandy is a name that points to Holland for its roots and so, Brandy's story is one of intrigue as well. How did she find herself in the western Mediterranean?
What, then, is the story? Does the sailor revisit time and again? Did he visit just once having a brief though loving relationship with a local barmaid? Is the sailor the memory of a loved one deceased? Indeed, too much time on my hands; I have asked more questions than I answered.

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