#31 Brides of Neptune-Cracker. Did the ferry sink? Is this the underworld? Or is it just another gig in Victoria BC.


01 Brides of Neptune
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In summer of 2009, Cracker was doing a Northwest run with our sister band McCabe and Mrs Miller (Victor krummenacher). It was 4th of July Weekend. A terrible time to play anywhere in the US except right before a fireworks display. So as we weren’t booked at any fireworks displays our agent sent us up in to Canada for the Weekend.
It had been at least 13 years since I’d been to Victoria with Cracker or Camper Van Beethoven. So we didn’t really know what to expect. Victoria (which is confusingly on Vancouver Island and Vancouver City is not) can be an insular place. It’s a college town/government town. It’s only reachable by ferry and aside from  provincial government types and college students, the only visitors it gets are those peculiar weird tourists that visit the islands of washington.

The Northern part of the island is also very wild still. Parts of it can be very Northern Exposure. Our promoter was from somewhere up north on the island. It may or may not be a giant hydroponic pot growing operation.  Which is especially weird cause there is seems to be some kind of police training centre on the island as well.

But when you are downtown in Victoria,  it’s a fairly cosmopolitan place. which by nortwestern or Cascadia standards that means there are some Fluevogs mixed in with the Birkenstocks.  The couple times we played there when i was in Camper Van Beethoven it reminded us favorably of 1980’s Santa Cruz.

But back to our story. The ride on the ferry from the mainland was spectacular.  We all sat out on the deck took pictures of each other , it was hot by BC standards,  75,  and i realized i probably should be wearing sunscreen.  How do people get to live in this part of the world?  They must have done something very good in a past life: Pushed a pram of quadruplets out of the path of an oncoming bus.  damn.  Victor Krummenacher and I reminisced about doing this same trip with The Catheads in 1986 or 1987.  Mark Zanadreas and I were so hungover we quickly became seasick and ended up vomiting over the railings in tandem.  Much to the horror of our Canadian hosts.  We were young so i’m sure by 7:00pm we felt completely normal.

But back to our story. When we arrived at the venue  in Victoria July 4th 2009 we were a little surprised. It wasn’t really in the quaint victorian downtown but on the outskirts of town.  It was a pretty weird place. Just a gigantic cinderblock box.  It was a combination venue,  hotel, and liquor store on the ground floor. Around back in the basement it also had a strip club and a chinese restaurant.  We were pretty early so we all checked into our rooms.  About and hour after we got to the hotel,  the local promoter called jason our tour manager.

“I just drove down the Island, hey do you mind if i come to your room and take a shower”

And then it started to get weird.  There was also some sort of event center in the hotel and it appeared to be preparation for a wedding.  And not just any wedding.

I’ve always marveled at how multi-cultural is Canada.  Toronto Ottowa and Montreal are of course famous for this.  But the west also has it’s own pan-commonwealth queens dominion polyculture.  I can not think of any proper way to say this that is politically correct.  It appeared that preparations were underway for an Indian-dot/Indian-feather wedding.  Or at least the two largest pluralities at the wedding appeared to come from these two subsets of Canadians.  It was like a Fellini movie, paper mache elephants, people painted blue , heavily embroidered vests and many variations on the bear claw pendent.  Cowboy boots and Saris.

hmm interesting.



And when we went into the club it appeared to have a model of the Parthenon for a stage except there were multiple television sets in the walls between the columns.  The overall effect was that of a Russian mobster nightclub in Azerbaijan.  That night as we began to play to the handful of people who had shown up, I noticed at the door that one of the doorman had some kind of bulldog or pitbull mix on a leash.

It was then that the devastating reality sunk in. We were in the underworld.  While crossing the Strait of Georgia clearly the ferry had sunk and we had all drowned. For some bizarre reason in my minds eye i briefly saw us being accidentally torpedoed by the USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23). ( I’d recently seen a clip of it being launched or something.) And now like the crew in the song Brides of Neptune we had drowned but did not realize that we were dead.

The dog at the door? Well that was Cerberus.  Greek underworld. Remember the greek Parthenon behind us?  Also it seemed that the greek underworld shared space with the Indian-dot afterlife, as i was sure that at some point i’d seen Shiva walking around the hotel.  It wasn’t a wedding after all!

And now for eternity we would be playing this nightclub every night. Well nearly every night. When Shiva needed more room for a special holiday or  if there was a sudden influx of visitors due to a  disaster up  on the Indian subcontinent: Move over greek underworld!  And Hades would summon the ferry.  And that ferry would take us to the usual Russian-Azerbaijani nightclub only this time in Elysium, the Asphodel Meadows or  Tartarus.


And the reason the ferry had sunk was all my fault.  I had not remembered to play the song Brides of Neptune in Vancouver and Vancouver is a port city.   This was a superstition that I had  developed. Or maybe it was more like an OCD tic: Touch the doorknob twice with my left hand before opening it with my right or there will be a axe murderer in my hotel room when I open the door.  That’s more of a tic right?

My superstition went something like this. If we don’t play Brides of Neptune in a port city, then one of the ships that leaves the next day will sink, or a sailor will drown.  I developed this superstition as Johnny,  and I stood in front of the Seafarers Memorial in Homer Alaska sometime in 2001 or 2002.  I felt so stupid.  Some showbiz know-it-all writing about sailors lost at sea. There were over 100 names on the bricks and the population of Homer AK at that point was about 5,000.  What did i know about the sea? and the lost seafarers.

Nothing except that i seem to mention the sea and sailors a lot in my songs.  And the english side of my family were mostly sailors.  And my grandfather was torpedoed either 2 or 3 times in WWII.  I suppose that is the reason i mention sailors and the sea so often:

I want everything

Saint Cajetan

Take me down to the infirmary

Dr. Bernice


Be my love

there must be more right?

I also have the sneaking suspicion that i was a sailor in a past life and drowned at sea.

Alas the sea is also some kind of allegory for me.  A great and immense sadness. The place where all things are eventually lost.  We crawled from the sea in the distant past.  But it waits for us in the quick and near future.  And now I’ve mixed Hades with Poseidon. When you die you become a Bride of Neptune.  Neptune is just the Roman name for Poseidon.

But i can’t help thinking of the sea as the immense sadness when i hear this song.  For this is one of the songs that i worked up with Mark Linkous.  This is a song that he plucked from a pile of small unfinished ideas i kept on cassette tapes.  each titled something like “work tape oct 1997″.  These were snippets of song about 30 seconds to 3 minutes long. I’d record them onto an old cassette recorder I always kept handy.  We were listening in the basement of my studio when we came across this one.  ” I like that one, let’s make that a song”.  So we did.  The only words i had were “brides of neptune cross the waters bring us your sons and bring us your daughter”.  We created the music first and then eventually the story came to me.  And you can totally tell that this is Mark Linkous playing the bubbling gurgling keys and guitars.  It’s his signature sound.


I think of the sea as this immense sadness in this song because  March 8th 2010 Mark shot himself in the heart.  He had an immense sea of sadness in his soul.

I don’t have that. That darkness. I understand it mind you.  But it isn’t me. We are all lost at sea, but it’s not a tragedy.  It’s a black comedy. A giant clown cemetery with The Catheads just too damn hungover to dance on our clown graves.  While i don’t exactly dance around the seafarers memorial in the video,  I talk to the lost and dead seafarers.  I send them on a inscrutable voyage with monkeys and pot head mermaids.  I send the dead out with a mysterious cargo that they can never get near because it’s “guarded by monkeys”  (see post  #3 guarded by monkeys).  But they aren’t really sad.  They are lost but not sad.  Understand the distinction?

In the US and many other navies there is an ancient traditon known as The Line Crossing Ceremony. It is a complex ritual in which the sailors (regardless of rank) who have crossed the equator before (shellbacks),  ritually abuse and mistreat the sailors who have not crossed the equator before (pollywogs).  The simple chorus of Brides of Neptune came to me after my ex-brother in law who was a young US navy officer related to me his ordeal during his first crossing of the Equator.  It is too complex to explain here. But your best hope is that you become a Bride of Neptune.

Finally we come to the Horse and Cow.  I am not far from the Horse and Cow Bremerton WA as i write this.  The Horse and Cow is a bar frequented by Submariners. Neptune is often portrayed followed by a Horse and Cow.  In superstition sailors would sometimes tattoo a horse and cow on each ankle.  So they wouldn’t be sunk at sea.  In WWII this was especially common.  The fear was very high that they would be sunk by a submarine.  Somehow the submariners adopted the Horse and Cow as their symbol.  Both of the related  artists i have mentioned in this post,  Sparklehorse and the Catheads  worked Submarine into their album titles.  Both albums I produced.

Also I distinctly remember Mark Linkous telling me that the spanish flotillas would throw there horses and livestock overboard if they thought they were in danger of sinking.  And consequently spanish sailors believed the sea to be haunted by ghost horses. (see reference in the song Be My Love)  I’ve googled this but to no avail.

However I am superstitious. A clear indication I must have been a sailor in a past life.  I am going out now to get a horse and cow tattooed on each ankle.

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[C] [G] [C] [G]

[C] She says this is my movie, [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] so you’ll do what i tell you. [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] There’s a mixup in Bali – [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] you get chased by a monkey. [G] [Gmaj7] [Em]

[D] Brides of Nep-[Em]-tune cross the wa-[C]-ter,
bring us your [G] sons and bring us your daughters.
I won’t forsake [Em] thee deep in the blue [C] sea;
I’ll take you home. [G]

[C] I tried dating a mermaid; [G]
[C] she buys pot from the first mate. [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] That mysterious cargo [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] is still guarded by monkeys. [G] [Gmaj7] [Em]


[INSTRUMENTAL SECTION: (Chords as intro)]


Brides of nep-[Em]-tune [Cm]
Brides of Nep-[G]-tune [Gmaj7]
Brides of Neptune
Guarded by monkeys

44 Responses to “#31 Brides of Neptune-Cracker. Did the ferry sink? Is this the underworld? Or is it just another gig in Victoria BC.”

  1. I find comfort in this song when I am “lost but not sad.”

  2. Dave Webb Says:

    More like Robert Heinlein’s ancestor in a past life. You both write like I think. God help you.

  3. I’m 38 years old. I fell in love with CVB after seeing a chick I dug wearing the old CVB pitch-a-tent shirt back when I was 15 or 16. CVB/Monks of Doom/JES projects became my mini obsession long after I forgot about that girl and I was lucky enough to see CVB twice back in the day, and even “David Lowery and his Last Dollar Band” once in Chapel Hill after the CVB split.

    Living in Japan since ’94 I didn’t get to see any of the post CVB bands, and never saw Cracker live. Lucky enough to be in SF in 2002 for the first reunion shows I caught the Great American Music Hall gig and CVB played Brides of Neptune during the encore. First I’d heard the song, and I clearly remember being blown away by this “new CVB” song that I’d never heard until I picked up on some people mumbling about it.

    Clearly there were some CVB fans pissed off that David would choose a Cracker song at a CVB show. Luckily it seems as if this CVB vs. Cracker can’t-like-one-if-you-like-the-other bullshit has largely disappeared, and to this day I remember that encore of Brides of Neptune as one of the coolest ways to end a show I’ve seen.

  4. I spent some time in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2004. Nice place. A bit dusty. Smells like petrol.

  5. best write-up yet.

    mark linkous will be missed. his influence can not be overstated. fruitful collaboration.

  6. brides stands out for a number of reasons so, i am not surprised to learn that mark had something to do with it. the best performance of the song, to me, was when cracker played at a charlotte dive called amos’ south end. it was one of the old line ups with brandy on bass and kenny on keys. don’t get me wrong, the current line up is fine. there was just something sort of soulful about that group of musicians. anyway, kenny took this real nice solo on brides that night and i don’t think anyone recorded it. the song remains one our (jan & i) favorite tunes to hear live.
    this all makes me wonder what other shards of song are hiding on those old tapes.

  7. Love that we heard you tell this story, almost verbatim, in Spokane the other night.

    So…did you get the tattoos?

  8. jan switzer Says:

    Really glad Mark picked that snippet! Post pix of the ankles……..

  9. I think it is your ability to capture the ‘Black Comedy’ of the human condition that really makes your songs work for me. The association between this song and Mark Linkous’ suicide will stick with me, I believe. While I have thoroughly enjoyed this blog, this is the first post that changed the way I listen to any of the songs. Thank you for writing.

  10. John Tinkelenberg Says:

    Lol I just read a review of Forever that says “‘Brides of Neptune’ is a gorgeous track that features the best Lowery nonsense lyrics since 1994’s Kerosene Hat.”

    Since this was the opening track of Forever, I always thought it was a song pining for the arrival of a muse (the Brides) to help bring you to the song in the distance (mysterious cargo). Almost as if your circling that great idea in a ship. Ah the ambiguity of metaphors.

  11. Joe Rossi Says:

    Hey David. Thanks so much for expounding on this, my favorite Cracker track of all time, hands down. There’s a lot more to this song than I imagined. I almost get a tear in my eye at the breakdown and build up in the middle of the song. So hauntingly beautiful.

  12. Ethical Paul Says:

    One of the 5 greatest Cracker songs that appear on Forever (IMO). Dreamily beautiful. My favorite kind of song with a story that only gives you hints and dusky shadows of notions of its plot

  13. Forever is an amazing album. Love the blog Davd, thanks. Looking forward to Ms SC County’s story ( I haven’t missed it have I?).

      • Damn, and I had somehow missed “Low” also. I need to get my priorities straight.

        I discovered Cracker almost 2 years after acquiring Kerosene Hat. I had found a tape case laying in the middle of the road in Tallahassee. It had all kinds of “new music”, the type I didn’t listen too – Toad the Wet Sprocket, Cracker, and others I can no longer remember. This was 1993. Fast forward 2 years, Chattanooga. The college radio station plays the most amazing song I had heard in a while – Sweet Thisle Pie by Cracker. Wait a minute, I have a tape of theirs. I play myself Kerosene Hat and am totally blown away – by just about every song. Then I get the Golden Age immediately the next day. I barely have those 2 under my belt and Gentleman’s Blues comes out. Oh my God, these guys are amazing is what I am thinking. Each album is just better than the last. And it continues. I love every album Cracker has put out. I have seen them at least 20 times in about as many different cities – Atlanta and Nashville on multiple occasions though. Most memorable was Philly around 2005. Bouncer incident in bathroom stall….wasn’t pretty, but coulda been a lot worse. The bouncer had a good time that night though!

      • bouncer in bathroom stall? TMI

  14. Ethical Paul Says:

    Yes, you missed Miss SC County! I know this because it’s my favorite. Look back in the blog.

  15. So I don’t recall having heard of the fields of asphodel before and then this was the first of 2 occurrences of the term today. That’s a good sign, right?

  16. In other parts of Canada, Victoria is looked upon as a retirement community. Glad you found it more … lively … than the stereotype. (Not that I’ve ever been there.)

    As a landlubber who has lived by the (other) ocean for a number of years, I don’t think I would want to live away from a coast. (I just spent two days helping dissect the carcass of a 45-foot endangered whale that probably died a traumatic death – a sad intersection of the wild and the industrial. What a weird juxtaposition, that tragedy with the horror of the disgusting, physically difficult work of taking a 60-ton whale apart piece by piece. And it will be buried on land, to haunt the land as the horses haunt the sea.)

  17. Dr. F Zen Hinkopf Says:

    [Well damn. Because I staked a claim to pissy academician nitpicking, I guess I should ask why you didn’t play ‘Brides’ in Richmond at your holiday party show circa 2006 or 2007. I mean, it ain’t Balmer, but what with the tobacco leaving and the African humans and European goods coming in, it’s a port. Please make this up by playing it in Glacier tomorrow (kindof a stretch, but I’m sure pelts made their way down the Nooksack and into the global trade).]

    But mostly, this song is incredibly beautiful. Drew me into Forever.

    Normally I’d offer condolences for taking the Bremerton route, but if submariner aura is what you are after, I guess it’s good. Everett, on the other side of the Sound, offers the Anchor bar, which may be less romantic but has decent Hawaiian food next door. Polynesians sailed circles around everyone else.

    But I digress. Or divarigate, or whatever.

  18. I’m not awake yet, but Kerosene Hat (life’s a scream when you’re submarine) and Deep Oblivion immediately sprung to mind…

  19. this all makes sense

    plus i actually got to mix cracker not long after the 4th of july last year which really meant make the vocals as loud as they could be before feedback the show promoter owned a record store (where the show was) and wanted to go dance so asked me to run the board

    here’s to Neptune and his bride’s guarded by monkeys having a good time for sures

  20. Now I know about the horse and cow. Cheers.

  21. Hi David, you cannot imagine how eager every morning I am when I arrive at work to check what you are going to tell today ( maybe my boss is not that eager),thanks for your stories..they help me a lot to better understand your music and to spend my August boring mornings in my office.
    I really loved this one, “brides” is an amazing song …it should be guarded by monkeys too..
    I’m desperately waiting for “Bicycle Spaniard” history.
    Thanks for the small things today
    Greetings from a spanish sailor…

  22. Love the Indo-European connections in this post — move over Greek underworld, Shiva’s on holiday! Awesome. The seafaring imagery evokes the Indian myth about Vaḍabā, the horsehead submerged in the Indian Ocean who expels the forever burning “mare’s fire” (vāḍaba) from her mouth.

  23. Dr. F Zen Hinkopf Says:

    The bar at Graham’s is guarded by a monkey. He wants to hear a song with that phrase.

  24. Dr. F Zen Hinkopf Says:

    Oh, and Shiva me timbers, I’m psyched to see Cracker tonight. Arr.

  25. Great show last night BECAUSE of this song….Vancouver thanks you

  26. Thanks for forging ahead and retelling most of the story last night, even if some of the crowd was getting restless.

    Oh – and Johnny’s b/u vocals on Sweet Thistle Pie – nice!

    (And playing the song finally shut that one guy up for awhile – at least until he decided he needed to hear Everybody Gets One For Free).

  27. Fascinated by the line crossing ceremony, I went off to read all about it. How horrific and continuing even into the 1990’s. For those who did not read the Wikipedia article, here is a snippet:

    In 1995, a notorious line-crossing ceremony took place on an Australian submarine, HMAS Onslow. Sailors undergoing the ceremony were physically and verbally abused before being subjected to an act called “sump on the rump”, where a dark liquid was daubed over each sailor’s anus and genitalia. One sailor was then sexually assaulted with a long stick before all sailors undergoing the ceremony were forced to jump overboard until permitted to climb back aboard the submarine.

    I am still trying to determine what/who/how to become a Bride of Neptune wrt the line crossing.

  28. lynn marie Says:

    wow I was laughing right along until I read about your friend. sorry to hear. but then I read some more and laughed some more. I’m sure your friend would have enjoyed this post.

    thanks for another great read.

  29. We were living in Jakarta when this album came out. I took the family on a weekend trip to Bali and, go figure, my son got chased by monkeys in the Monkey Forest at Ubud. Tried to take back a piece of fruit he’d thrown at them.

  30. Man, I’m sorry to hear about your friend Mark’s suicide. I truly feel for those people that are possessed/subjected by that much darkness. I just can’t imagine the pain of that kind of existence. my sincere condolences.

  31. bobbyjjames Says:

    I know I’m a little behind, but I’ve been fishing up at Bishop Creek. Anyway, being an ex-submariner, I love all of your songs that reference that sort of stuff. Also, I have a special love/hate relationship with the horse and cow. Spent a lot of paychecks there. (when it was in Mare Island by the shipyards). Have you heard about guys earning their dolphins there? That’s a sight. I’ve been a fan of CVB, (and subsequently Cracker), since I saw you, at I believe, some sort of Legion Hall or something, in 86-87 in San Diego. Does that ring a bell? My memory aint what it used to be. Anyway, thanks for all the great music. I seem to relate to almost all of it. I enjoy seeing you guys, when you swing through the OC area, or as I like to say, “Behind The Orange Curtain”. Thanks again,
    bob j

  32. bobbyjjames Says:

    Oh ya, don’t forget the Golden Dragon ceremony for crossing the Prime Merridian, (International Date Line)

  33. Just crossed my mind while working on my bus, listening to Forever on my shitty, tinny-sounding CD player from Target…

    It got me thinking about this post.

    “David Lowery’s had a shitty year.”

    Vic Chestnutt died on Christmas day. Weren’t y’all neighbors?

    Later on, in March, I guess, Mark Linkous–another friend of yours–died.

    I hope your year improves. Just sayin.’

  34. bryndubois Says:

    As a long time sailor (of the non-military variety; I’ve been a racer and a tall ship sailor at various times) I have always enjoyed your references to the sea, David. But then, I tend to associate a lot with it myself.

    Also, Poseidon himself was not just the god of the sea — he also was the god of earthquakes and horses, according to the Greeks. Maybe that had something to do with the tattoos also?

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