deadsongs.vue.221 : Wharf Rat
permalink #51 of 55: David Dodd (ddodd) Tue 2 May 06 08:31
Posted to Deadsongs.vue by David Dodd on behalf of Dave Kristof

In the Annotated "Wharf Rat," a Mr. Walt K wrote in about "Purly
Baker," head of the Anti-Saloon league from 1903 to the early 1920's. 
You [i.e. David Dodd] responded by agreeing with his reference, but
then said, "In the song, of course, Pearly Baker, with the different
spelling, becomes a woman. But the reference has interesting
implications for the song's meaning-which, of course, I leave up to

Rather than assume Hunter made Pearly Baker a woman, I read the poem
as the narrator mistaking August West's statements . . .

My name is August West
and I love my Pearly Baker best
more than my wine
....more than My wine
more than my maker
though he's no friend of mine

Here, rather than assume "he's no friend of mine" applies to "my
maker," I'd argue it applies to Pearly Baker . . . August says I love
Pearly Baker better than wine or God, but Pearly's no friend of mine. 
West knows who the Rev Baker is; and the next verse I think supports
this interpretation (of he's no friend of mine):

Everyone said
I'd come to no good
I knew I would
Pearly believed them

August is complaining here that everyone said the booze would do him
in; he didn't agree, but Pearly (Rev. Baker - the prohibitionist)
agreed with the assessment that booze is bad.

Later, we read this:

Pearly's been true
true to me, true to my dying day he said
I said to him:
I'm sure she's been
I said to him:
I'm sure she's been true to you

August says that Pearly (Rev Baker, the prohibitionist) was correct
(i.e. booze did me in.)  The Narrator (not the author) misinterprets
this, assuming Purly is a woman who wronged West, and responds with
what he believes is sympathy, "I'm sure she's been true to you."

What do you think?

deadsongs.vue.221 : Wharf Rat
permalink #52 of 55: Bryan Miller (bamfinney1) Sat 5 May 07 05:42
"I know she's been
I'm sure she's been true to you..."

This is kind.

He could've said, "That old witch?! Now way! She didn't even believe
in you!"
deadsongs.vue.221 : Wharf Rat
permalink #53 of 55: gravity and gluttony (comet) Sat 5 May 07 21:36
I hear Pearly as a woman. And not just a woman but his love, his muse,
who in his misery he complains has forsaken him. In this hearing the
song works beautifully on a universal level. It's not about any one
person let alone a prohibitionist named Purly but about all of us some
of the time letting down our muse.  
deadsongs.vue.221 : Wharf Rat
permalink #54 of 55: Bryan Miller (bamfinney1) Mon 7 May 07 17:55
But Pearly believed "them" about old Rat not getting very far in life
("come to no good"). She was right apparently. Old Rat thinks, or wants
to bleieve that Pearly's been true. Sometimes our only comfort in life
is a fable we fabricate, even slightly knowing that we've fabricated
it. We still like to "hope against hope." Rat is hoping agaisnt hope
that Pearly is true to him. The singer graciously agrees to bolster old
Rat's faith in this life. 

It's a lesson song to me in some ways. What I say to someone may help
their faith or squash it. I think this song gives us a beautiful
example of helping others faith in this life, believing the solid good
against the possible bad.

This Wharf Rat's faith and hope is so restored by Jerry just spending
a "some time" to hear his story (someone took the time to care) that
old Rat sings out in drunken happy fury, "I'll get up and fly away!"
Oh, yes, narrator would say. "You'll fly alright. You'll forget this
old wharf, your "true" gal, and all those folk that bad talked you.
You'll fly alright. And while you're up there soaring, you might even
meet a few happy folk that left their own wharfs long ago to do some
flying of their own.

I kinda see the narrator adopting this old guy into a freedom of
sorts. And Old Rat's muse? You're right on. We let her down sometimes,
but she knows us and she smiles over us, just waiting for our wings to
get the slightest hint of breeze, and she blows us right into the sky!
deadsongs.vue.221 : Wharf Rat
permalink #55 of 55: Bryan Miller (bamfinney1) Fri 11 May 07 14:36
There are some interesting parallels between Wharf Rat and the story
of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.

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