Thursday, February 02, 2006

Good Morning, Captain (1991) – Slint

“Good Morning, Captain” is one of the finest moments in music—an exercise in purposeful dynamics and poetic storytelling cloaked in barely audible murmurs. The prevailing opinion is that the lyrics are a tribute to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem, The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. However, if one wishes to fit the lyrics into some sort of logical framework, liberties must be taken to expand upon The Rime to enter the world of, say, The Sixth Sense, The WB/CW’s Supernatural, or CBS’s Ghost Whisperer. In that this song has assumed legendary proportions, a possible reading follows:

[Out of the silence, a lonely guitar materializes, plinking out eerie intervals. Suddenly, a second guitar adds to the dissonance, a bass guitar drones in discord with itself, and impeccably recorded drums—all sizzling hi-hats, cutting brass snare, bellowing tom-toms and cymbal washes—slog an unearthly procession through the darkness.]

A violent storm has shipwrecked a trade vessel. The entire crew has perished, save for the captain, who has washed ashore upon a desolate beach. When he comes to, it is dawn. He notices a solitary house not far from where he lays, its windows dimly illuminated. He drags himself across the sand toward the house and stumbles onto the doorstep, whimpering to be let inside as the morning chill bites into him.

[The procession stops momentarily for a brief salvo of guitar and drums. The guitars join the cadence of the bass in a distinctly ominous refrain as supernatural forces converge.]

No one answers the door. The excruciating pain in his head is relentless, causing him to lose consciousness. He awakens to find the waves lapping upon the foot of the porch. A rustling sound at the window catches his attention.

[Shortly, amid an eruption of guitars and drums, thunderous toms roll and cymbals crash like lightning across a blustery sky. Suddenly, in the eye of the storm, a guitar pick plinks muted tones as if an extinguished spirit is re-materializing.]

The captain sees a child peeking at him through the window, apprehensively, knowingly. The boy has been withdrawn and reclusive since his father, the captain of a trade vessel, was lost at sea a year ago. On occasion, as now, the boy hears a voice from outside that asks to be let in. He recoils from the window, withdrawing from the murmured plea.

[The instruments recede, leaving the plaintive strains of a lone guitar.]

A glimmer of recognition flashes through the captain’s mind. There is a strange familiarity about these waterlogged steps, the weatherbeaten door, the boarded window on the second floor. Although disoriented, the captain now recalls the tears of the son he left behind the day he set sail. He whispers a remorseful apology through the door.

[Suddenly, distorted guitars, roiling bass and hammering drums consolidate and swell, as if a rogue wave is preparing to swallow a ship in its fury.]

The boy knows the voice well. He responds in kind: he misses his father; he’s grown since then.

The captain promises to make up for lost time. The boy struggles to overcome the grip of his fear, longing, and regret, knowing full well what happens next . . . every time.

Finally mustering the courage, he flings open the front door. Alas, he is greeted by the sound of waves crashing upon the shore, a frigid wind . . . and an empty doorstep.


An anguished howl peals from the doorway into the salty air, as the boy cries out: “I MISS YOU!!!”

The wails fuel a torrent of churning guitars, which cast off overdriven harmonic overtones amid explosions of snare and cymbals. The ocean shatters the ship to pieces, engulfing the crew in the maelstrom, discarding flotsam, and the captain, upon the shore. As the whitewash of guitars ebbs, the captain lies motionless on the sand.

When he comes to, it is dawn. He notices a solitary house not far from where he lays. . . . Good morning, Captain.

* [Lyrics from the song are italicized.]

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