An Everyman Ode to Pachelbel's Canon In our occasional series "What's in a Song," produced by the Western Folklife Center, Alaska fisherman and songwriter John Palmes has Johann Pachelbel's "Canon in D" running through his head along with the noise of his motorboat.
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An Everyman Ode to Pachelbel's Canon

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An Everyman Ode to Pachelbel's Canon

An Everyman Ode to Pachelbel's Canon

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Andrea Seabrook sitting in for Liane Hansen.

Imagine a lone fisherman at the helm of his boat, methodically dragging his net over open waters. How might he occupy his time during those lonely hours? How would you? For What's in a Song, our occasional series from the Western Folklife Center, Alaska fisherman and songwriter John Palmes explains how he passes the time at sea.

Mr. JOHN PALMES (Fisherman and Songwriter): When I'm out in the boat, I'm trolling and the engine is going low pitch, mmmm, the whole time. So it has this droning tone. And inside my head, I've got these little thoughts that are going on. You can't think without words, and the words just come and eventually you've got a song.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. PALMES: (Singing) Oh, my name is Rambling Jack Pachelbel. I was born in Germany, somewhere not far from Stuttgart in 1653.

Mr. PALMES: What started me on the Pachelbel Canon was a friend of mine gave me a kalimba. And kalimbas are tuned every other note. Like do will be on the right side, re is on the left. And it goes, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, up to the top. And if you start at the top and work your way down, it goes...

(Soundbite of kalimba)

Mr. PALMES: There's the Pachelbel Canon just sitting there.

(Soundbite of Pachelbel's Canon)

Mr. PALMES: The reason, really, that I came up with the song, I loved the canon and I realized that we probably owe a lot of our musical underpinnings of modern music to Pachelbel.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. PALMES: (Singing) It's a canon, it's so clever. There are four parts; they all go on forever and forever, and forever, and forever...

(Speaking) Pachelbel was one of the first people that started using chords and melodies this way.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. PALMES: And if you think about it, the chord progressions in rock and roll, and blues are pretty similar to the chord progressions in the Pachelbel Canon.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. PALMES: (Singing) Peter, Paul and Mary ripped off this line from me, and made a million dollars in 1963.

(Soundbite of song "Puff the Magic Dragon")

PETER, PAUL and MARY (Folk Singers): (Singing) Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. PALMES: I started singing when I was really little. I've always been rewarded for it. I have met a lot of people that feel that they're not musical. And the biggest problem is that someplace along the line, they were not rewarded, they were hurt. And I was one of those people that hurt somebody.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. PALMES: We were all singing on the school bus and he was just singing out of tune, I guess, and I said something like, gosh, that sounds bad, or - I don't know what I said. But it was enough to make him go home crying to his mother. And I realized how important music is to your self-image. And I've been trying to make that more right. I want to support other people and give them songs that they can sing.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. PALMES: (singing) And whenever I try to find the words to express what I'm feeling at the time and then to have to make them rhyme, well I might as well sing dee, dee, dee, dee. It says it all, at least it does to me. Dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee.

SEABROOK: What's In a Song is produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telenitis(ph) of the Western Folklife Center.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. PALMES: Dee, dee, dee, dee, dee...

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