Oily Gulf of Mexico: Singer Steve Forbert’s witty warnings—and a grim vision from a ‘polar cities’ artist

Could the Big Slick in the Gulf of Mexico be musician Steve Forbert’s career break, after years of kneejerk comparisons with Bob Dylan?

The two singers both have raspy voices and lyrics with high levels of poignancy and bite. A major difference is that Dylan is a multimillionaire icon, while the sometimes-self-effacing Forbert seems relegated for now to semi-obscurity: a website and occasional mentions in the New York Times.

At 55 Forbert is a bit of a Kilgore Trout of a folksinger-rocker. He’s well regarded by the knowledgeable but overlooked by the masses despite his obvious gifts.

imageWithout saying that Samuel Stephen Forbert is Dylan II—-let Forbert be Forbert, without Dylan’s full vocal powers but with redeeming charm and endless wit—may I at least try to fix his fame deficiency? Psst! Spread the word about The Oil Song, which appeared first on vinyl as a single, years before the latest eco-mess and has recently been updated to mention the Gulf of Mexico disaster. A five-track $4.99 album is downloadable here with two tracks, totaling 18-minutes, devoted just to “The Oil Song 2010.” Excerpt from an earlier version:

There were geese in the marshes out looking for food
They got stuck where they stood in the oncoming crude

And it’s oil, oil
A-driftin’ to the sea

Oil, oil
Don’t buy it at the station, you can have it now for free
Just come on down to the shoreline where the water used to be

imageLovingly cramming in details (“with its 100,000 black tons of the slime, Amoco Cadize spilled the most of all times”), Steve Forbert sings vivid narratives of several oil-caused disasters and wryly documents the greed and sloppiness behind them: “There’s talk of some writing found in the ship’s log saying one of the helmsmen’s unfit for the job, and the ship’s gyro compass was six degrees shy. The charts were outdated, but they tried to get by.”

imageOther oil- or at least energy-related jeremiads come from Deng Chong-hong, a 41-year-old Taiwanese artist, some of whose work showed up at New York’s Chashama Gallergy last month (I don’t know if the above image was part of the exhibit). Chong has depicted “polar cities” that future humans may have to occupy if they must flee to the far North to escape the effects of global warming (thanks to Danny Bloom for the tip). Long term, dead geese and the like might not be the only casualties of our petro-fixation.

Virginia’s oily villains: The word is that humans and Neanderthals mated. Could this explain Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinell’s thuggish efforts to intimidate ex-University of Virginia Prof. Michael Mann, who has warned against climate change? Meanwhile the Gulf of Mexico spill has yet to discourage Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell from advocating drilling operations off our state’s shores despite the fact that “experts” assured us that the Gulf operations were safe. Someday will Virginians find oil on “the shoreline where the water used to be”?

The Solomon Scandals angle: The character Donna Stackelbaum uses her job as a regulator at the Energy Department to audition as a nuclear power lobbyist. She might well have fit in at the Minerals Management Service under the Brush Administration; MMS is the bureaucracy that in theory oversees rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere.

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David Rothman

2 thoughts on “Oily Gulf of Mexico: Singer Steve Forbert’s witty warnings—and a grim vision from a ‘polar cities’ artist

  1. Great post. In his live shows, Steve Forbert has updated the Oil Song with new verses a number of times, such as after the Gulf War oil spill.

  2. Thanks, Steve. Feel free to point to more recent YouTubes that you think might be of special interest to fans of The Oil Song. Meanwhile I’d urge people to buy Steve F’s song, not just listen to it. iTunes has it for 99 cents. Also see SteveForbert.com for CDs and direct downloads.


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