Jack-Knifes For You All

I remember all of the swimming times, and so do you. You remember the way the water hits you and where it hits you and why it hits you: on holiday with your parents; camp trip as a teen; wandering the shorelines of the world after completing school; business convention off day; sunshine journey to warm the bones; a last dip in the ocean before time is eclipsed. There are lots of great water songs and a few great swimming songs and, in books and poems more than music, water is played as birth, rebirth, death and all states in between. It’s way the story gets from here to there: from river to lake to ocean to bay: from raft to ship to canoe to tanker to battleship to outboard motor. Water is the divine and supreme and perpetual traveller and we race and swim and kick and paddle to keep up, to explore, to sink and search and see, but it’s a fruitless and inexhaustible pursuit. Still, we go in and we go down and we explore, and if Loudon Wainwright’s song seems like merely a list of strokes, it’s not. Because we’ve done these things across time– paddling and kicking at first, then a breast-stroke and butterfly during the blush of youth, and then a comic cannonball as a way of using our old man belly tires– the story of swimming becomes the story of a life, and while this song could have just been a major key banjo yokel about being in the water, the verses end on minor chords as if to suggest something dark and heavy in the celebration of being in the water because being in the water is dark and heavy, too. We are animals, there, kicking and thrashing and celebrating the sheer joy of trying to stay alive. We move to major chords– we swim to major chords– but getting in and getting out of the water is dramatic, and that’s where the minor chords go. Loudon sings: “That summer I might have drowned. But I held my breath and I kicked my feet, and I moved my arms around. I moved my arms around.” It’s only middle of April, but we’ll be in there soon.

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