I have often heard that mixing English and Irish blood can create unrest. And I believe it. For I was born with a restless heart.
Because of that fact, I have chosen the easy way out: the life of a singer/songwriter. It allows me the freedom to throw myself continuously into a revolving landscape of places, styles, history and topics. Although I dearly love the balladry of the Maritime world (and spend a great deal of time writing and researching it), I consider almost any story to be ‘fair game.’
As an explanation for my predisposition for the music of the sea, I would point to the fact that my father was a career naval officer whose family hailed from Cork, Ireland’s biggest seaport. My mother’s family is from the south coast of Cornwall, the place where the British hand-picked their first navy, due to their deep affinity with the sea (it is said that the Cornish can construct a sea-worthy vessel from loose planks and boards while treading water).
Somehow they all sailed and steamed across the Atlantic for the Americas in the early years of this country’s growth. Some stayed in the east and some followed the copper mines to Montana, and then the gold fields to California. By a twist of fate, World War II brought the two sides together on the west coast, and I was born in the Navy town of San Diego.
I grew up there, absorbing the sea air and the salt water and always having my world framed by that beautiful ocean. I knew I would travel the world’s oceans as soon as I was able. And so I did. Many on-board visits to ‘ships of the line’ due to my father’s chosen profession only deepened my love and passion for the sea.
On Christmas Day when I was six, I received a gift that would change my life forever: a guitar. I had been begging for a toy version that was in a store window. But when I opened my gift it was a real, 3/4 size spanish guitar. I almost immediately began learning to tune it and wrote a couple of ‘songs’ that first week. I’m sure they were very simple, but I do remember having a sense of timing and making the words rhyme. And having a strong need to tell a story that has never stopped.
In my adult years I traveled the seven seas with the Navy. Later, I lived in diverse places, sometimes far from the ocean. I spent twenty-one years on the northern prairies of this great land, feeling and breathing the history and struggle of what is left of the Native Americans since the European whites swept across the landscape, claiming everything in sight. I lived daily with the towns that were named after the military men who drove and ultimately contained the Natives on reservations. Names like Standing Rock, Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee and the Killdeer Mountains all became places that I cared about and had some personal knowledge of. I walked my dog on sunday mornings across the parade grounds in front of General George Custer’s house, up to Fort Abraham Lincoln where many of Custer’s 7th cavalry were buried. Now mostly peaceful, the beautiful prairie covered in green, golden or white, depending upon the season, continues to hold many mysteries.
But for now I am back at the edge of the sea, a little north of where I began, at a place where the unfathomably powerful Pacific Ocean crashes headlong into the unyielding outpouring of the Columbia River. A collision of such magnitude and constancy that it forms a continually shifting underwater landscape that can destroy even the most seaworthy of ships. Even modern ships. A place where more than 3,000 ships have been sunk: The Graveyard of the Pacific. Ah, so many more stories yet to be told!