PBS.org
PBS.org

"Calypso"

PBS.org
PBS.org

“Calypso”
Written by John Denver (1975)
Performed by John Denver

The Music

In 1974, John Denver was invited to sail with Jacques Cousteau aboard the famed oceanographer's boat Calypso. Denver said, “The first few moments I had on my own, I was walking around the deck of the ship and in the time it takes to sing it—Aye, Calypso, the places you've been to, the things that you've shown us, the stories you tell—I had the chorus of the song.”

While the chorus came easily, Denver struggled for months to find the verses for the song. One day, in frustration, he gave up and went skiing. After three runs down the mountain, he felt a creative tension building and raced home. In another burst of creativity, the verses poured out in a flood.

Recorded with a full orchestra, “Calypso” is a rousing sea shanty-style ballad with splashes of yodeling and cinematic flourishes. Originally released as a B-side to Denver's single “I'm Sorry,” it soon gained its own momentum on radio and ended up as a #2 hit.

Here's Denver talking about the song, along with a video that incorporates undersea footage from Cousteau:

The History

Built in 1941, the vessel that became Calypso was originally called BYMS-26, a wooden-hulled minesweeper for the British Royal Navy. Launched in 1942, she saw active duty in the Mediterranean Sea through World War II, before being struck from the Naval Register in 1947.

After the war, she was renamed Calypso, for a sea nymph from Homer's Odyssey. For the next three years, she ferried tourists and locals between Malta and the island of Gozo. In 1950, Calypso was purchased by an Irish millionaire named Thomas Guinness, who in turn leased it to Jacques Cousteau for the symbolic fee of one franc a year. Guinness wanted to see the boat used for oceanographic research and conservation. And as a condition of the deal, he asked that Cousteau never reveal his identity. It wasn't until after Cousteau's death in 1997 that Guinness's name came out.

Diver Down

While the boat that became Calypso had been sweeping for mines during the war, lifelong ocean lover and former French navy man Jacques-Yves Cousteau was forging his career as the century's most renowned mariner. In 1943, he won the Congress of Documentary Film top prize for the first French underwater film,18 Meters Deep. The same year, he shot another movie, Shipwrecks, in which he helped design and test the first Aqua-Lung, the prototype of the SCUBA tank (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) that became the standard for all deep sea divers. Cousteau also went on to develop such innovations as the underwater scooter, the diving saucer, and “Conshelf,” an underwater research base. For the duration of WWII, he worked with the French Navy both as an undercover agent assembling commando missions against the Axis forces and helping to rescue sunken vessels.

The Undersea World

In 1950, after leasing the Calypso from Guinness, Cousteau refitted the boat as a mobile laboratory and it became the home for his deep sea adventures over the next thirty years.

While he captured the imagination of millions with his books, short films, an Academy award-winning documentary and a classic TV series (which aired from 1966 to 1976), Cousteau's achievements ran even deeper. He played a big part in stopping the dumping of radioactive waste in the ocean, helped refine ideas about porpoises and their echolocation sonar abilities, and was one of the first to explore the waters of Antarctica. But his most lasting contribution was to reveal the splendor of the undersea world with a wide-eyed wonder, while raising awareness of ocean ecology and conservation. Long before it was a fashionable cause, Cousteau was enlightening us about the interconnectivity of species and environmental issues.

In 1996, Calypso was accidentally rammed by a barge and sunk in the port of Singapore. The boat was raised and towed to Marseille, France. After Cousteau's death in 1997, there were years of legal battles over the boat's ownership between his family and members of the Guinness family.

Finally, in 2010, a new Calypso was relaunched by the Cousteau Society as a touring educational exhibition.

View all Music History posts here.

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
iStock
iStock

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize in Poetry Is Up for Auction
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

A Pulitzer Prize in Poetry that was awarded posthumously to Sylvia Plath in 1982 for her book The Collected Poems will be auctioned on June 28. The Los Angeles-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions says bidding for the literary document will start at $40,000.

The complete book of Plath’s poetry was published in 1981—18 years after her death—and was edited by her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes. The Pulitzer Prize was presented to Hughes on Plath’s behalf, and one of two telegrams sent by Pulitzer President Michael Sovern to Hughes read, “We’ve just heard that the Collected Plath has won the Pulitzer Prize. Congratulations to you for making it possible.” The telegrams will also be included in the lot, in addition to an official congratulatory letter from Sovern.

The Pultizer’s jury report from 1982 called The Collected Poems an “extraordinary literary event.” It went on to write, “Plath won no major prizes in her lifetime, and most of her work has been posthumously published … The combination of metaphorical brilliance with an effortless formal structure makes this a striking volume.”

Ted Hughes penned an introduction to the poetry collection describing how Plath had “never scrapped any of her poetic efforts,” even if they weren’t all masterpieces. He wrote:

“Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity. So this book contains not merely what verse she saved, but—after 1956—all she wrote.”

Also up for auction is Plath’s Massachusetts driver’s license from 1958, at which time she went by the name Sylvia P. Hughes. Bidding for the license will begin at $8000.

Plath's driver's license
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

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