Thursday, December 13, 2018

Otis Redding Pours Out His Soul: More than a Musician

Even though a plane crash took his life at 26, Otis Redding still is considered one of the best American Musicians of all time. In his song "The Dock Of The Bay," on the the album that shared its name, he makes it clear why he has received this title by making a song with greatly poetic lyrics.

Contrary to what I personally like in most things I listen to, a fun, happy and exciting vibe, this songs flips that on its head with a very relaxed and semi-melancholy sound. The song is about Redding leaving his home town of Macon Georgia, and "Heading for the 'Frisco [San Francisco] bay." Redding tries to escape his feelings in California:

               Cause I've had nothing to live for
               And look like nothin's gonna come my way.

However once he arrives, nothing has changed. He still is not feeling renewed, he is still feeling stuck with no drive and loneliness. I think that Redding and his co-writer and guitarist Steve Cropper are trying to get across that sometimes, no matter what, there is a feeling that you cannot seem to shake.

The passing of Otis was at a bad time, not only because of his very young age, but because he was currently working on this song. Before his death, together with Cropper, Redding wrote

               Sittin' here resting my bones
               And this loneliness won't leave me alone. 

This line sadly made a double meaning after this event. Not only was Redding tired and feeling lonely, but his living band mates, like Cropper were also feeling this. Now a half a century after its original release, this adds so much to the poems meaning. This poem expresses the ongoing feelings of sadness that never seem to fade, not only loneliness, but death. To someone who has lost loved ones, like Cropper, this poem has much more depth if the reader knows the backstory. Repeating and rephrasing the thoughts "wastin' time," "loneliness won't leave me alone," and "Look like nothing's gonna change," brings forth again the feelings of seemingly never ending melancholy this song is about. 

Usually a moral would have a caveat to this, like "with time all will be better." For Redding and Cropper, this holds true, however they do not tell that the light at the end of the tunnel is a clear one. The first hint of positivity is in the whistled outro. The last verse continues to express their strife and goes, 

               Now, I'm just gonna sit at the dock of the bay
               Watching the tide roll away
               Oooo-wee, sittin' on the dock of the bay
               Wastin' time

This chorus paints a vivid picture, for me, of Redding, on the San Francisco bay, a place I visited and completely fell in love with, watching the docks fill up and empty, and whistling a tune. This whistling juxtaposes most of the song, because whistling usually is a content mans time passer. After expressing these negative feelings, Redding and Cropper seem to maybe ween back on the expressed unending of these thoughts with a semi-content expression.

One last thing that helps show the possibility of a better time ahead is the symbolism of the dock. Docks have boats constantly leaving and coming, and the tides on the water, coming in and go back out. This points to the idea that just like the boats and tide, this feeling of loneliness may go in due time. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree, I believe this song is almost more poetry than music. The lyrics are so deep and strong, and there is an abundance of multi-dimensional words.