The Hull with it all!

I became fascinated with The Titanic in the early 1990's. I can't say exactly why, except, perhaps, because of my job substitute teaching in, shall we say, some of the less than studious parts of the inner cities of New York, Oakland and Richmond, California. You see, I had learned after thousands of hours trying to establish some classroom decorum (in which something called education could take place) that the best thing for my students and dare say myself, was to set a steady, studied example by sitting at my desk, not unlike a captain of a ship, in front of the classroom while reading voraciously with great intent and focus.

For some reason, this would quiet the little buggers down enough to distract them from their usual proclivity to raise hell....which they would do with great regularity had I actually tried to divert them with some sort of 'education.' Interestingly, the sight of a person, even with a modicum of power, entrenched in the actuality of reading acted as some kind of hypnotic impediment to their predictable impatience and vitriolic exchanges of insults, as well as flying objects that generally characterized any given day on the job.

The more I read, the less they seemed to need to express their adolescent cacophonies and the more willing they became to actually complete an assignment, or, at the very least, just sit there staring into space...which was far preferable to me than their tossing chairs haphazardly across the room, or turning the lights off and forcing the entire classroom into a take cover drill. What I needed was something that would absorb me so completely that there would be no lull in the momentum of sanity that I was beginning to establish.

I think I started with Sir Walter Lord's succinct 1955 account of the sinking of The Titanic: 'A Night to Remember' and went on from there to just about every book, movie, article, coffee table photo-book and countless articles, interpretations and commentaries of this signature event of the 20th century. After almost 25 years of part-time teaching and dealing with the daily grind of discipline problems, chaos and outright nihilism, I had finally found my redemption in the endlessly fascinating story of the unsinkable lady of the North Atlantic, that went down to the bottom of the sea just five days into her maiden voyage.

As I write, we are now upon the 100th anniversary of Titanic's fate and the books, films, documentaries, and articles keep on coming... dead ahead. And like many, I still can't get enough of it either. Off just a yard to my left is a 3 foot long, exquisitely detailed model of the ship. I have written a couple of songs about the disaster and even performed one at The Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, California back in 1992 on April 14th (PDT) at 8:20PM...the approximate time the great ship made her final plunge into the North Atlantic.

A few years ago I visited an exhibit in San Francisco where a sizable piece of Titanic's hull was on display, along with various retrieved items (china, clothing, jewelry, etc.). As I, and those around me, gazed at the salvaged wreckage it was clear that what we all were quietly clamoring to do was to 'touch' this relic from the gilded age. Fortunately, the presenters of the exhibit were way ahead of us, and had prepared a well sealed, transparent, plastic encampment in which a much smaller piece of the hull was embedded. At the top of the container was a small hole, just deep enough so that one could place a finger within, and actually embrace the hallowed hull, skin to steel. If one chose, (depending on the line behind) you could actually wiggle your finger against it in a odd, yet intimate, and stimulating recapitulation of history. How much satisfaction each of us received from such an experience is a bit hard to determine, but I can say with certainty that it was something I shall not regret, nor forget.

There is so much written, documented, spoken and speculated about The Titanic that I would only sink myself in the minutiae of detail and the vortex of its labyrinthine metaphors to steer myself into that shipping lane. But for those not fully acquainted with the reasons the ship went down, here are a few of them, as tersely put as possible.

1) The Iceberg, which had travelled for 2 years from Greenland, had taken an unusually circuitous and uncommonly southern direction. (Today icebergs can be found in latitudes as far south as Philadelphia!)

2) The less than cautious speed of the ship.

3) The fact that the water was dead wind...making it virtually impossible to discern water slapping onto the berg.

4) The lack of binoculars in the crow's nest, and the fact that they were missing not being reported to the captain.

5) The compromised height of the bulkheads.

6) The fact that the ship sliced the iceberg, rather than hitting it head on.

7) The use of lower grade wrought iron rivets that did not ultimately hold the hull plates together.

8) The wireless operators were overwhelmed sending frivolous messages from passengers to the point that they could not keep up with many iceberg warnings that were sent by ships in the area.

-Had any of these factors not existed as they did, The Titanic may have very well made its way to New York.

But of all the factors contributing to the great ship's demise complacency has to be the overriding and definitive principle that brought it down. Today, on its 100th anniversary, it appears that the world in 2012, is about to collide with an object far greater in size than the iceberg that sank The Titanic...namely itself.

Meanwhile, we seem myopically prone to insist seeing the glass half empty as some kind of personality disorder, and there is no 'app' to alert us to our innate drift toward technological vanity. At the same time, our propensities to outsource the gadflies of the world to the fringes of our conversation, head us in the same direction as The Titanic...
full speed ahead!

~Marc Twang

To listen and view Marc Twang's songs and videos about the Titanic click on the links below.

1992 Studio Recording of "Titanic":
Titanic / Marc Twang - YouTube

1996 House Concert: Marc Twang performs "Titanic" on a 12 string guitar:
Twang's Titanic - YouTube

Hangin' on The Deck An Oratorio (of sorts) on metaphorical implications today:
Hangin' On The Deck - YouTube

drawing of The Titanic


See Marc Twang’s Essays Archive by clicking here.