CROSSING BONES
THE ULTIMATE PIRATE ARRRRRTICLE

 

I’ve often been asked about my fascination with skulls & crossbones, buried treasure, wenches, grog, island atmosphere, sailing the high seas, and of course, pirates—and I suppose my natural reaction has always been surprise. What do you mean—you don’t like bloody swords and peg legs? What’s not to love? However, I believe popular culture has reflected back to us that we, both children and adults, do by and large, have a longstanding adoration for at least the “golden era” of piracy—where all those wonderful (and often true) clichés come from.

The pirate at Halloween is a standard, a classic. What man wouldn’t want to drink rum with a right curvy lady in a sexy pirate costume?

The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland is hands down the best amusement park ride ever—and a kick-booty movie to boot, yes?

Anyway, the easy answer to the question of: “Why pirates?” is that the fantasy of piracy seduces us with its apparent landscape lacking “rules.” Ironically, that’s the same excuse I give for: “Why do so many people write poetry?” They think poetry doesn’t include a set of laws, so they scribble out a bunch of nonsense and think they’ve reinvented genius. Obviously we can’t rob, pillage, and plunder (all of these words basically mean the same thing) openly in society—or we’ll be punished. But in the fantasy world of the pirate—these things are normal and even expected.

You do what you want; you take what you want.

Sound horrible?

Maybe that’s why so many people are in pirate denial.

But truly, this sort of pirate envy is no different than the idolization of movie “slasher” psychos. You may love to hate the bad guy in a slasher flick, but you ain’t going to that movie to see the bad acting performed by the other players.

Primarily, you’re there to get your fix of murder.

So, what’s wrong with us?

Nothing. Not really. I believe it’s healthy to vicariously relate to horror, rather than say, use a fright flick as a learning manual of mayhem. Of course this love of witnessing the kill goes back to the premise of “doing what you want.” The psychotic killer is fascinating because he or she just doesn’t give a shit for the rules of society. If they want to kill somebody, it’s hello, here’s an ax in your face.

Let’s face it, somewhere inside all of us is one of those monsters wanting to get out and take a whack at somebody. The fact that these internal (hopefully not so external) feelings can be portrayed in a creative medium is a good thing and not a destructive thing. But what about those skulls & crossbones? Do pirate lovers have a death wish as well?

Consider this. Inside all of us is in fact one of those real monsters that represents the big sleep itself, death in form of: the skeleton. We wake up with a skeleton. We walk around with our crossbones all day, and we go to bed with our very own personal Grim Reaper. So, again, acknowledging the existence of this creature inside us, and not suppressing that acquaintance, seems healthy to me. When you’re waving your Jolly Roger—death becomes an adventure, rather than just a cruel fate pressed against us all from birth, with the scythe falling against our necks, when? We don’t know.

That’s some scary data to roam around with everyday.

Isn’t it better to collect your gold coins and look at life with at least one eye open, while the other of course is patched, because ye were fighting with a demonic crocodile, arrrrr. Or a bottle of groggy grog. Ye must live, me hearties (friends, shipmates). Ye must gather your plunder while ye may—because Grim is out there—and he’ll punch your ticket just as soon as steal your girlfriend.

So, you say, I haven’t learned dick about pirates reading thus far. What’s the gag? What’s with all this psychological mumbo?


THE COMPLETE COVER GALLERY of EC COMICS' SHORT LIVED "PIRACY" COMIC BOOK

All right, well, for those of you too lazy to look up pirates in your local library. Here be some pirate facts for ye:
Motley attire: Pirates often wore some pretty crazy clothing. Why? They used a lot of different types of garments stolen from a variety of ships, therefore, they often had mix-matched outfits. Besides, Nordstrom was closed to most pirates due to that whole plundering thing, and a serious lack of washing in most cases.

Pirate weapons of the lesser-known variety!

Stink pots: A stink pot is a clay pot filled with stinky tidbits like sulfur, fish heads, garbage, and Celine Dion cds. Pirates would throw these stench bombs on the deck of a ship to mortify and freak out their victims.

Grape shot: You take a handful of cast iron balls, wrap them in canvas, and throw them in the face of your victim. Arrr, that smarts!

Tomahawks: Yep, pirates loved to throw tomahawks at people! Now you don’t have to exclusively and prejudicially associate this weapon with those guys wearing feathers in their hair on TV.

Grenades: Pirates liked to throw an early type of grenade or bomb. You take a hallowed-out cast iron ball, (or clay if your Captain’s cheap), add gunpowder and a fuse, light it, and throw it at your boss.

Crossbows: Thunk! Aiiieeee!

Ball & chain shot: Two cannonballs connected with an iron chain, used to shoot holes in ship’s rigging. A favorite of Martha Stewart.

Aside from the above, of course pirates loved flint-lock pistols, other guns and rifles of all kinds, cutlasses, other swords and knives of all kinds, axes, spears, and insults such as: scalawag, and your mama wears combat boots.

Cool pirate lingo!

Booty: Dat’s yer pirate treasure. My pirate treasure’s called Nicky’s booty.

Broadside: When you simultaneously fire all your guns (preferably cannons) at the side of a ship you’re attacking—you are “broadsiding” that ship.

Buccaneer: Hunters of oxen and wild pigs! These guys from the West Indies were so wild, when they became pirates, the term “buccaneer” became synonymous with “pirating.”

Bumboo: Rum, water, sugar, and nutmeg. Beware mateys, causes hangovers.

Davy Jones’s Locker: Davy Jones is an evil spirit, living at the bottom of the sea—waiting for you! He is also that cute little English guy from The Monkees.

Grog: Rum and water! Serve chilled in a carved out coconut with party umbrella. Yum!

Land ho!: A traditional term for a streetwalking hooker—or that’s what pirates said when they were out to sea and saw land.

Salmagundi or Solomon Grundy: Basically a salad made of fish, turtle meat, herbs, and spiced wine. Note: Be sure to consume a goodly portion of grog first.

Well, enough of that scurrilous banter, here’s one of me favorite sea shanties entitled:

DRUNKEN SAILOR
Way, hay up she rises,
Way, hay, up she rises,
Way, hay, up she rises,
Early in the morning!
What will we do with the drunken sailor?
What will we do with the drunken sailor?
What will we do with the drunken sailor?
Early in the morning?
Put him in the scuppers with the hosepipe on him
Hoist him aboard with a running bowline
Put him in the brig until he’s sober.
Make him turn to at shining bright work.

I could always relate to “Drunken Sailor” while sailing the grand ocean of the early 1980s in the United States Navy, but “Blow the Man Down” I had issues with.

Here be some famous pirates for ye!

Blackbeard (Edward Teach): The most famous of the Caribbean pirates! He liked to light his beard on fire, etc. Look ‘im up, kiddies. Look ‘im up!

Captain Kidd (William Kidd): This scurvy dog was what is known as a “privateer.” Privateers were hired by the English government to go out and capture or kill other pirates.

Eddie Crossbones: Eddie Crossbones is a pirate who became cursed to live the life immortal as a walking, talking skeleton. In the 21st century he joined Mystery Island’s Secret Society as a metaphysical crime fighter known as: Eddie Crossbones the Living Skeleton!

Edward England: This bilge rat was the pirate most famous for flying an actual skull & crossbones Jolly Roger. There were many variations on this theme, but his is essentially the classic bone flag we associate with pirates.

Jack Sparrow: Captain of the Black Pearl and one of the ugliest pirates west of the Mississippi delta.

Well, fellow travelers, I fear I’m all out of grog and bumboo and me wife is about to make me walk the plank. Fare thee well, and don’t forget, when you’re feeling bluer than the ocean’s bottom belly, you can always sing this little ditty from 1967. I think it’ll make ya feel better. I know it helps me.

“We pillage, we plunder, we rifle and loot.
Drink up me ‘earties, Yo Ho!
We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot.
Drink up me ‘earties, Yo Ho!
Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me.”

Well, I reckon you can look up (and pirate) the rest of the lyrics your own self, so we don’t run into a broadside of copyright infringement.

“A Pirate’s Life For Me” was written by Xavier Atencio and composer George Bruns in 1967 exclusively for the Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Avast mateys. I got nothing else to say. I’m dead tired and as they say, dead men tell no tales.

Bradley X marks the spot: June 1, 2006
brad@retrocrush.com

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