When the Beach Boys submitted the original version of Holland to Warner Brothers in October 1972, the album was rejected by the company for lacking a potential hit single. After discussion among Warner executives, an associate, Van Dyke Parks, said that he had a tape of a song that he had co-written with Brian Wilson entitled "Sail On, Sailor." Warner then told the Beach Boys to drop what the company perceived as the weakest track, "We Got Love," and replace it with the Wilson-Parks tune. The song eventually featured contributions (some dating back from 1971) from Ray Kennedy and Tandyn Almer, and underwent some lyrical revision from Beach Boys manager Jack Rieley.
Vocals for "Sail On, Sailor" were recorded in late October 1972, some time after the Beach Boys had left Holland. However, Brian Wilson was not involved at all with the song's recording sessions, leaving the basic track to be recorded by Brian's brother Carl and ex-Flame and then-Beach Boys members Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin. The lead vocal was first attempted by Dennis Wilson, who sang the vocal once before leaving to go surfing. Carl was the next to attempt a vocal, but he then suggested that Chaplin make an attempt. After two takes, Carl decided that Chaplin's vocal would feature as the lead.
Sail On Sailor
I sailed an ocean, unsettled ocean
Through restful waters and deep commotion
Often frightened, unenlightened
Sail on, sail on sailor
I wrest the waters, fight Neptune's waters
Sail through the sorrows of life's marauders
Unrepenting, often empty
Sail on, sail on sailor
Caught like a sewer rat alone but I sail
Bought like a crust of bread, but oh do I wail
Seldom stumble, never crumble
Try to tumble, life's a rumble
Feel the stinging I've been given
Never ending, unrelenting
Heartbreak searing, always fearing
Never caring, persevering
Sail on, sail on, sailor
I work the seaways, the gale-swept seaways
Past shipwrecked daughters of wicked waters
Uninspired, drenched and tired
Wail on, wail on, sailor
Always needing, even bleeding
Never feeding all my feelings
Damn the thunder, must I blunder
There's no wonder all I'm under
Stop the crying and the lying
And the sighing and my dying
Sail on, sail on sailor
Sail on, sail on sailor
Aye aye. It was just like that. Especially on the bad ships. Like the SS Bordeaux "death ship" captained by Bad Billy Johnston. Wolf Larsen had nothing on him. It was a tossup whether the skipper was worse than his First Mate Heinie who looked worse than he smelled. Not a pretty sight, while as a bonus giving off the malodorous stinks & stenches of diseased swine manure. O happy day!
We worked like mules & were treated like dirty dogs. We ate like pigs & slept like babies. It was a hard working hard drinking ship. It held a slops chest for booze-hounds & chain-smokers.
I was the focus of a mini-mutiny in Alexandria. We landed a month previous on the very day Anwar Sadat was blown away by fanatical Islamists for some crime against propriety or other.
We had taken on a load of grain in California after a return empty from Inchon. I had time to see my girlfriend in San Francisco & plow the living daylights out of her. M. is just a pornographic memory to me now but what a woman. We did everything again & again & again. She was all for allowing me to experiment. We had no shame. Some might've called us perverse but we called it honoring the Goddess. I was gladly her suffering slave. She would dance naked bringing me to ultimate arousal. She made me stay my orgasm & drove me mad. She admitted I made her wild. She'd slap my face in frenzy as we pumped away for dear life. Then we exploded in lust!
She drove me to Stockton to catch the ship. Then it was a slow boat to Panama, through the canal, then into the Caribbean & across the Atlantic. A near collision one night as we passed through the Strait of Gibraltar. My watch-partner semi-literate psycho but bighearted nutty goofy Tom from Oklahoma saved us. Good show, old boy. He could've been Roy Rogers's illegitimate brother.
The US consul came down to the ship & warned against spending too much time on shore or veering off to Cairo & environs to see the pyramids Sphinx & other ruins of the ancient world. Qaddafi was threatening to invade. The Egyptians blew off submarine concussion grenades every night to discourage enemy underwater demolition teams.
I too wanted out. Drunk & stoned on the best hashish I'm ever likely to find ever again one night courtesy of Nefer the Pirate our friendly neighborhood guide guardian & mountebank. You had to go to the Cecil Hotel or the Spitfire Bar to get good European beer in cans. I hit the Orangaboom pretty hard after all the local camel piss.
Coming back to the ship in the wee hours of the morning while offloading was going on I fell down a ladder as the ship unexpectedly shifted & thought I'd broken my right arm. It seemed like & was a long way down to the below-deck. However, I only bruised my bones.
My buddy Hollywood Pete (screenwriter & pimp) bandaged my arm so tight it swelled up. Made to order.
Then all Hell broke loose.
When letting go at Alex the deck dept. was ordered to turn-to but II was nowhere in sight. Heinie came down looking for me with a vengeance, jacked me up out of my rack & wouldn't let go even after I showed him my unfit for duty report. Hollywood came rushing in, broke Heinie's hold on me: "You get your stinking hands off him!" He walloped the Mate who staggered backward. Pete--according to his legend--had been a boxer in his time too. Or at least a barroom brawler. Heinie went dejectedly out of the picture. Pete repaired to the Engine Room. (His big Black bunk-mate & fellow wiper brought me a 6-pack)
Just after this incident the drunken little homesteading bosun shows up & demands I go up on deck. My partner Tom comes in roaring drunk. "You let this man alone!" he grabbed the little guy & threw him to the ground. Everybody was drunk & crazy that night, after a month plus of day-work & no (or little) female companionship (some countries are just like that...my hat's off to those who found any between Suez & Port Said...) & kept throwing him to the deck. "I'll put your dick in it!" "No Tom just leave the guy alone..." I said as I ran after him. The bosun shook his head & was trying real hard to get to his feet. He wasn't quite down for the count but almost.
Tom then turned to me as I grabbed his arm his sunburned Okie face all contorted. He pointed between my eyes. "You leave me alone & get the hell out of here & back to quarters!" I knew he could bury me had he been in the mood but then who else would've filled out his overtime sheet?
The bosun lived. Or so I've been told. The only one of the crew I ever came across again was Hollywood Pete. We hung out together periodically in San Francisco. He visited my digs. Met my old lady. We went out drinking a few times in the Tenderloin & elsewhere. I met Pete's young masseuse-girlfriend. Very nice but spacey. On first impression the phrase: Tu es pulchre sed tarde...kept going thru my head. (Any Latin scholars out there...?)
The company agent sent me to the local hospital when we reached Cagliari, Sardinia where I was shot up with plenty of painkillers & well-wrapped by a beautiful Italian lady dottoressa. If I had been in my right mind instead of grooving high on dilaudid & beer I should've asked her out on a date. She looked very very pretty & interested. I might've helped her relax. Massaged her naked body. Kissed every inch of her. Worshiped her. Wherever you are my dear sweet lady, thank you for being you. You healed my body & my soul. I think of your beautiful countenance even today many decades later. I can only hope you had a wonderful beautiful life filled with love.
And so I left them--my fellow shipmates-- to their sorry fate on that damnable ship of fools.
I sat at a cafe as night came on & the SS Bordeaux cast off & sailed out of the harbor loaded with oil this time.
Sail on, sail on, sailor...
I did. They do. The stars have mercy on them.
After being paid off in the presence of the deck department delegate before a captain I neither liked nor trusted-- "You are no longer a member of the crew of this ship!"-- I disembarked at the port of Cagliari with $10,000 more or less & an airline ticket to the good ol' USA. First Mate Heinie shocked me by shaking my hand & telling me: "Good sailing with you." Then he stormed off shouting the traditional profanities at the remains of the AB's & Ordinaries on deck. No doubt he headed for his quarters to resume his balanced diet, a drink in each hand...Force fluids...!
I was flown to Rome with another American seaman from another ship. He was a happy wisecracking dipsomaniac. He was heading directly home. However, I was intent on touring Rome which I did for 2 weeks, staying at a first class hotel the first week & the cheaper YMCA the next. I walked all over the Eternal City picking up some of the lingo, hiking all over the Forum & Palatine picking up a shard of marble. A piece of Caligula's palace where unspeakably bloody misdeeds & atrocities took place? When I brought the subject up with some locals who invited me to their place for a little taste of cocaine said I should throw the piece away, that it was bad luck.
I'd go to Harry's Bar on the Via Veneto almost every night after my daily sojourns about the city. I smoked Camels & Pall Mall straights in those days, among other brands. "Hmmmph! Humphrey Bogart...!" some smart-ass Italian remarked. I was too sh!tfaced to respond.
As I dressed in a funky denim work-jacket until I bought a nice brown corduroy sports coat I aroused suspicion in some minds. This was in the days of rage & the Red Brigades. Whispers & gasps could be heard coming from the cheap seats: "Terroriste! Anarchiste! Revolutionario...!"
On another occasion I was standing at the rail downing a beer chaser after imbibing a substantial glass of grappa--wearing more conservative garb this time--when I noticed a few dark-skinned North African types at the other end of the bar making their way towards me. One of them was brandishing a stiletto blade. Just in the nick of time two older guys, one with a heroic looking facial scar--both appearing highly capable of handling themselves with aplomb--interceded, setting themselves up like a firewall as it were between myself & the would-be assailants who turned tail & left the premises never to return.
The event didn't exactly sink in until a few minutes later. The guy with the scar turned to me & smiled & asked in accented English whether I was all right. "Why shouldn't I be?" Dumb kid..."What business are you in?" he asked. His companion--a chubbier sort with a big smile--looked affably on. "I'm a journalist," I said. "Why do you say that?" "Because I am," I told him. "Or was. But I've still a nose for news...What business are you in?" "Business," he said. "L'Chaim!" We clinked glasses & drank deep.
Resorting to what I assumed was their native tongue it was clear to see they were finished with me for the evening. Sounded familiar lingo. Could it be what, Hebrew? "Si, ebreo..." The Mossad to the rescue? They had apparently saved some stupid Americano from being sliced & diced by a squad of Libyan assassins.
A day or so later they returned to Harry's--where they were obviously known as the barman instantly produced special hors d'oeuvres for them--asked how I was doing, then just as quickly ignored me, carrying on their conversation in the language of their never forgotten ancestors.
Some days later it became plain to me what the score was. It was common knowledge--except to poor poor pitiful me--that the Via Veneto was filled with airline offices that were in effect fronts for the clandestine intelligence services of various nations. The good the bad & the ugly. The Libyans were looking for victims. The Israelis were having none of their nonsense. Sadat was gone. That would have to do. Of course eventually that putz Qaddafi would finally get his well-earned comeuppance.
I might be well to the left of the love-bead but that don't mean I have to go along with every idiotic unreasonable line of party poop ground out by some 10th-rate opportunistic agitpropper. I reserve the right to think for myself. How diabolical...!
Furthermore, I'm no friend to anybody who is looking to off or severely injure me. That's what is called burning your last bridgehead. Its how you get on my permanent Sh!t-List.
Aum Shalom Salaam Ciao ciao Hasta la fasta...!
From the Beach Boys 'Holland' album.