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Monday, April 4, 2011

Hey Ahab/Elton John and Leon Russell

Stereo Subversion wrote that the 2010 Elton John-Leon Russell collaboration The Union "could have done without Hey Ahab, which attempts to put the Moby Dick dilemma into song. A large book did the story justice. A short pop song just isn’t enough bandwidth for the epic."

To be fair, we don't think that's what Elton and Leon and lyricist Bernie Taupin were trying to do. Ahab, the monomaniacal whaler from Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick, provides the central image of the song:

Hey Ahab can you tell me where 
I can catch a ride out of here 
Hey Ahab hoist that sail 
You gotta stand up straight 
When you ride that whale

And the object of Ahab's vengeful fury, the albino whale Moby Dick, puts in an appearance:

When you're clinging onto a driftwood boat 
You pray a great white whale might come your way

But the Old Testament prophet Jonah also appears--he who was swallowed by a whale (OK, a "big fish" for you biblical sticklers)--and there are also references to "freeway traffic" and "a chain link fence" that are anachronistic in the context of Moby-Dick. So while the lyrics use the novel as a point of reference, this was never an attempt to encompass all the themes and action of the book in a five-and-a-half-minute pop song.

Besides, it's hard to quibble when a song rocks like this one. We think the Financial Times (of all places) got it right when it described "Hey Ahab" as "a boogie-woogie tribute to Moby-Dick with superb lyrics by Elton’s long-term collaborator Bernie Taupin and a storming momentum, like Captain Ahab’s mad pursuit of the great whale."

Moby-Dick (Kindle Edition)

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