Thursday, February 12, 2009

Canoes and Romance VI - Lyrics and cultural commentary

Here again are the lyrics of the 1916 University of Michigan song "Out In My Old Town Canoe":
"I've nestled down in limousines and heard love's whispered pleas, Tender, true,
In sailing yachts romantic I have skimmed o'er many seas, 'Neath skies so blue,
I've spooned in cozy corners when the lights were low, And always missed my cue;   
It all seemed very pretty, but I surely know, There's no love like the love in my canoe."
"Oh! Out in my Old Town Canoe, boys, Millions of twinkling stars above,
Each little ripple enchants you, Whispering a hint of love.
No heart can long be unyielding, Sweetly 'twill answer and be true,
Float on the shadowy river, Out in my Old Town canoe" 
(There are more verses.)
In my parents' day the canoe on a dark river or lake served the same romantic purpose as the back seat of a Model A Ford did in mine. I could never figure out how such things worked out in a buggy, though.
A digression: One of the great dates of my youth was in the rumble seat of a Ford V8 going up Pike's Peak in the dark to see the sunrise. The song "America the Beautiful" was inspired by that view in case you didn't know. Back to canoe-assisted romance:
A ditty by Richard Emmons (of Ann Arbor I believe).
"A lovely, lazy afternoon
Quite late in May---or early June---
Would place upon the Huron's bosom
Many a gay, canoeing twosome."
From The Canoe: An Illustrated History by Jim Poling
                     The Canoe and the North American Psyche
Today, even with the transition to a mainly urban society, North American culture brims with connections between the canoe and the human experience. Canoes are in our art, music, writing and films. Canoes float in and out of fashions. It is the North American symbol of serenity, independence and romance. Many a love song and movie scene celebrates young love paddling quietly through tranquil waters.
One of Hollywood's most famous canoe scenes has Nelson Eddy, dressed in the scarlet of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, crooning to Jeanette McDonald as he paddles her through the wilderness in the 1936 movieRose Marie. Hollywood also used the canoe to promote Marilyn Monroe with a photograph of her trying out a canoe during a break in filming River of No Return in 1954.
Moonlight and love are common elements in North American songs about canoeing.
"O, come with me in my light canoe...O, come with me and be my love," urges the old tune "Light Canoe".
"Dreams, dreams, do you remember, Love," asks the 1916 song "On Lake Champlain in Our Little Birch Canoe".
Similarly "A Little Birch Canoe and You" from 1918 and "Beautiful Ohio" of the same year extol the wonder of canoes, moonlight and love.
"Beautiful Ohio" was stolen and reworded and became the Official Ohio State Song with turgid verse about mountains (of which there ain't any in Ohio) and skyscrapers and grain fields etc. Here are the original words:
"Long, long time ago
Someone I know
Had a little red canoe
In it room for only two!
Love found its start,
Then in my heart,
And like a flower grew".
"Drifting with the current down a moonlit stream,
While above the heavens in their glories gleam,
And the stars on high,
Twinkle in the sky,
Seeming in paradise divine,
Dreaming of a pair of eyes which looked into mine,
Beautiful Ohio, in dreams again I see. Visions of what used to be".
Canadian author and historian Pierre Berton was somewhat more descriptive about canoes and love when he said in 1973: "A Canadian is somebody who knows how to make love in a canoe."
The Boston Herald remarked on August 24, 1903:
 "It may not be wicked to go canoeing on the Charles River with young women on Sunday, but we continue to be reminded that it is frequently perilous....The canoeist arrested for kissing his sweetheart at Riverside was fined $20. At that rate it is estimated that over a million dollars' worth of kisses are exchanged at that popular canoeing resort every fine Saturday night and Sunday".
From Bill Whalen, Dayton, Ohio 
"The younger members of the Dayton Canoe Club often try to coax the older guys to tell us tales of canoeing adventures in the past. Sometimes this leads to a lot of tall tales, and we end up rolling on the floor, laughing.
The discussion once got around to courting in a canoe. An old timer began by comparing the comforts and atmosphere of a canoe to the horse hair seats of a Model A Ford, adding that the cost was too high for most young men to own a car. He described how they would take all the cushions off the front porch furniture to line their floating love nests--not always from their own front porches! He actually claimed that the song "A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" referred to sparking in a canoe!"

Most of this is from Jim Woodruff's Cultural Anthology of Canoes and Canoeing, Poetry, Humor, Art, Romance and Song. Copies will be available in my booth at the Quiet Water Symposium on March 7. See the link in my "handy links" list at right for more details. (Or you can email me and I'll get one to you)

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