Sink the Bismarck

#931: Our Arsenal

A prequel to #796:  Improvisation

RECORD STORE TALES #931: Our Arsenal

One of the greatest joys of youth was improvising.  What continues today with music and tech, started back then with toys.  We made our own games with what we had.  Bored with the toys already sitting in the basement, we simply invented new ones of our own.  Board games using army men as the pieces, or Star Wars playsets made of shoeboxes.  We did it out of boredom and necessity.  Kenner didn’t make a Cloud City playset, and even if they did it would be too large and expensive.  Instead we made one ourselves, complete with sliding carboard pocket doors.  It had multiple levels and was scaled to work with Kenner figures.

At the cottage, the need to improvise was multiplied.  We couldn’t count on TV for entertainment, with only two channels.  We could not bring all our toys and games with us to the lake.  Therefore we had to have fun with what we had.  For the first 10 years or so, the cottage was under constant construction.  Rooms were not finished all at once, but a little bit each year.  Same with exterior elements like porches and sheds.  That meant there was always scrap wood, nails and a hammer available.

I recently dug up some of our cottage improvisations.  They date back 35-40 years.  These haven’t seen the light of day in so long, that there was also an abandoned nest of some kind in the box.  Unsurprisingly, given my early penchant for being a Tony-Stark like arms dealer, all these home-made toys are built for war!

First up are my weapons.  My dad made me a bow and arrow when I was a kid.  The bow broke but he kept it along with one of my arrows.  I can see where I taped a little fin on the arrow.  The arrows were not sharpened; there were no tips.  It was just to see how far I could shoot them.  Not far!  You couldn’t really hurt anyone.

Also in the weapons locker was my old tomahawk.  I found the perfect stone and branch, lashed them together, and voila!  35 years later my tomahawk is still intact.  I can’t believe this stuff wasn’t burned up for firewood ages ago.

Next, and ripe for a tetanus infection, is our little flotilla of battleships.  We always had offcuts hanging around.  These look to be made of tongue-and-groove panelling.  Decent toy boats were always hard to find.  They were either super fragile, or leaked and sank.  Our boats always floated and were armed to the teeth.  Look at the all the guns!  Rotating turrets too.  My sister’s boats weren’t as sophisticated as mine.  She got into the boat making game too, adding her own graphics and designs.  We brought these boats down to the water and had some pretty fun adventures.  And nobody got hurt on the rusty nails.

Finally, we had some plastic beach cars and trucks that we always had a blast with in the sand.  We built roads and bridges.  I found plain old cars a little more boring than my sister did, so I took things into my own hands.  I got my favourite yellow pickup truck, and armor plated it.  My mom gave me hell for using too much tinfoil.  “Expensive!” she would always remind me.   But I had to take my time and get it right.  I had to do it twice.  The idea was to leave no Scotch tape visible on the outside.  At the end I had a shiny silver armored pickup truck.  And amazingly enough, some of that armor plate is still on the truck.   It was combat ready.  I always thought it would be cool if I could find a little helicopter to hang out in the truck bed, but I never did.

I found these old toys sitting in a cardboard box in the shed when I was looking for dry firewood.  Of course there was no way I could burn these up.  The battleship, which I have now dubbed Bismarck, might even float again one day.  They’ll never sink the Bismarck!

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REVIEW: Johnny Horton – Battle of New Orleans (1981/1990)

JOHNNY HORTON – Battle of New Orleans (1981/1990 CBS Select)

I grew up with my father’s cassette of this compilation album, which only had the first eight songs.  Each one was a keeper, and we rarely skipped any songs (though side one was stronger than side two).  We played that tape every Saturday night in the car, when we were up at the cottage.  When it was released on CD in 1990, it was expanded to 12 tracks of Johnny Horton’s greatest hits.

The banjo and marching drums of “The Battle of New Orleans” set the stage for an irresistible tune.  I used it myself for a highschool project on the War of 1812.  I learned that many Canadian historians do not consider the Battle of New Orleans to have been a part of the War of 1812, since it was a raid that took place after the Treaty of Ghent was signed.  When reading American historical accounts of the war, I discovered that they included New Orleans in their books.  Why?  Because it was one of the few decisive American victories in that war, which is considered by Canucks to have been won by us and the British Empire.  Neither here nor there:  This song is unforgettable musically and lyrically.

Yeah, they ran through the briars,
And they ran through the brambles,
And they ran through the bushes,
Where a rabbit couldn’t go.
They ran so fast,
That the hounds couldn’t catch ’em,
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

The British retreat enabled the United States to put a happy ending to their part in this war of empires.

The marching drums return for “Sink the Bismarck”, another story of history and victory, this time the Second World War.  The Bismarck was the biggest battleship the world had seen yet, and when it sunk the British ship the Hood, the Royal Navy went in pursuit.

We’ll find that German battleship that’s makin’ such a fuss,
We gotta sink the Bismarck ’cause the world depends on us,
Hit the decks a-runnin’ boys and spin those guns around,
When we find the Bismarck we gotta cut her down.

The song is ambiguous about how the ship went down.  Filmmaker James Cameron and experts discovered that after a British torpedo (fired from a Swordfish biplane) damaged the ship’s rudder (jamming it and rendering it useless), the Bismarck was scuttled by her own crew.

The Great Sioux War of 1876 is the setting for “Comanche (The Brave Horse)”.  Comanche was one of only three American horses to be given a full military funeral.  Johnny does the horse proud with a sad but beautiful tune and minimal accompaniment.

Picking up the tempo, “Honky Tonk Man” is purely fun.  When I think of country music, it sounds like “Honky Tonk Man”.  I remember flipping the tape here as a kid, and hitting play on side two.  “North to Alaska” tells of the gold rush with a catchy tune, but not quite as good as to those on side one.  “Whispering Pines” is a pretty ballad that we didn’t have patience for as kids, but is a flawless song for grown ups.  Marching drums and banjo returns as we visit the Civil War.  “Johnny Reb” is a symbol of the south, a controversial subject in 2017, but a good song regardless.  Our childhood cassette copy ended with “Rock Island Line”, a fun fast-talkin’ song performed live.

Four more songs included on the CD act like a “third side”, all a little less familiar.  “When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s 40 Below)” is a actually ballad of love and murder.  “All Grown Up” is a rock and roll tune, and unfortunately a skipper.  “Sleepy Eyed John” is back to banjos and better for it.  “I’m a One Woman Man” is a fine song to end the CD on, upbeat and easy to remember.

There are a few different Johnny Horton hits CDs to choose from, but for nostalgia and quality, Battle of New Orleans is still recommended.

4/5 stars