writing about "rock's historical turn" in Retromania and also in the interview with Greil Marcus at LARB, I mention The Band singing about late 19th Century farmers and the Civil War, and Randy Newman singing about the slave trade... but clean forgot about this song by Mountain, "Nantucket Sleigh Ride", the plaint of a whaler leaving behind his sweetheart:
Older Britons will remember an instrumental only segment of this (the good bit, basically) as the theme tune to ITV's Sunday political program Weekend World
info deposited at YouTube:
The term "Nantucket Sleighride" was coined by the whalers to explain what happened after they harpooned a whale. (Nantucket Island was considered the whaling capital of the world during the 19th century.) The first strike of the harpoon was not intended to kill the whale but only to attach it to the whale boat. The whale would take off pulling the whale boat along at speeds of up to 23 mph (37 kmh). The whale would eventually tire itself out, the leading officer in the boat would then use a penetrating lance to kill the whale.
The song "Nantucket Sleighride" is "(Dedicated to Owen Coffin)" who was cabin boy aboard the whaler Essex, which was destroyed by a sperm whale in 1819. Owen ended up in the lifeboat with Captain Pollard, his uncle. Two other lifeboats also put out. During the next 3 - 4 months, the lifeboats separated. One was never seen again, but some of those on the remaining two boats were eventually rescued.
During those long months at sea (and on desert islands), many of the men died. The remainder eventually had to resort to cannibalism to survive. After the dead of natural causes were consumed, the men determined to draw lots to see who would sacrifice his life for the others. Owen Coffin ``won'' the lottery. The Captain tried to take Owen's place, but the youth insisted on his ``right''. The executioner was also drawn by lot. That ``winner'', another young man named Charles Ramsdell, also tried vainly to swap places with Owen. Again he refused. Owen's body kept the others alive for ten days (Captain Pollard refused to eat his nephew). Another man died, and his body kept Pollard and Ramsdell alive a few more days until they were rescued.