Good evening Mr. Coffin, I need a place to stay
To rest my weary structure and chase the rain away
I have a restless spirit that often goes astray
Thank you Mr. Coffin - I believe that I will stay.
I dare not snuff the candle as darkness fills the room
A dark and erie figure entering the gloom
He smokes a tomahawk and holds a shrunken head
Help me Mr. Coffin - there’s a cannibal in my bed!
Music and lyrics by Tony Garone © 2010
Produced by Anthony Garone and William Brown
recorded at Cow Pilot Studios (AZ) and First Wave Digital (NY)
Tony Garone - vocals, acoustic guitar
Anthony Garone Jr. - keyboards, bass guitar, electric guitars
Annmarie Garone - vocals
Casey Carney - drums and percussion
PJ Cardinal - keyboards
Johnny Monkey - tin whistle
Rex Lorganthrip - steel drums
What is this song about?
When Ishmael arrived in Nantucket he needed a place to stay. He came upon a place called, "The Spouter Inn," whose owner was Peter Coffin. Ishmael did not pay any heed to Mr. Coffin when he was told he would be sharing his bunk with a harpooneer, as he assumed this person would be from Nantucket. As part of the terms of his stay, Ishmael was given the choice of sleeping on a wooden bench or sharing his bunk. After trying the uncomfortable wooden bench he realized he had no choice in the matter if he wanted to sleep:
"No man prefers to sleep two in a bed. In fact, you would a good deal rather not sleep with your own brother. I don't know how it is, but people like to be private when they are sleeping. And when it comes to sleeping with an unknown stranger, in a strange inn, in a strange town, and that stranger a harpooneer, then your objections indefinitely multiply."
As the night grew on, Ishmael began to worry about sharing a bed with a stranger. Mr. Coffin began to let on a bit more about Queequeg, telling Ishmael that he was out trying to sell his shrunken heads. Ishmael failed to see the humor in Coffin’s expose:
"The landlord chuckled again with his lean chuckle, and seemed to be mightily tickled at something beyond my comprehension. "No," he answered, "generally he's an early bird- airley to bed and airley to rise- yea, he's the bird what catches the worm. But to-night he went out a peddling, you see, and I don't see what on airth keeps him so late, unless, may be, he can't sell his head."
Overwhelmed with disbelief, Ishmael began to wonder if he made the right choice:
"The more I pondered over this harpooneer, the more I abominated the thought of sleeping with him. It was fair to presume that being a harpooneer, his linen or woolen, as the case might be, would not be of the tidiest, certainly none of the finest. I began to twitch all over. Besides, it was getting late, and my decent harpooneer ought to be home and going bedwards. Suppose now, he should tumble in upon me at midnight- how could I tell from what vile hole he had been coming?" -- Chapter 3, The Spouter Inn
When Queequeg arrived later on in the evening Ishmael was terrified. As Ishmael watched, Queequeg carefully removed his wooden totem from his overcoat and set him upon a tiny alter:
"It was now quite plain that he must be some abominable savage or other shipped aboard of a whaleman in the South Seas, and so landed in this Christian country. I quaked to think of it. A peddler of heads too- perhaps the heads of his own brothers. He might take a fancy to mine- heavens! look at that tomahawk! But there was no time for shuddering, for now the savage went about something that completely fascinated my attention, and convinced me that he must indeed be a heathen. Going to his heavy grego, or wrapall, or dreadnaught, which he had previously hung on a chair, he fumbled in the pockets, and produced at length a curious little deformed image with a hunch on its back, and exactly the color of a three days' old Congo baby." --
As Queequeg got into bed he was startled by Ishmael's presence:
"Landlord, for God's sake, Peter Coffin!" shouted I. "Landlord! Watch! Coffin! Angels! save me!"
"Speak-e! tell-ee me who-ee be, or dam-me, I kill-e!" again growled the cannibal, while his horrid flourishings of the tomahawk scattered the hot tobacco ashes about me till I thought my linen would get on fire. But thank heaven, at that moment the landlord came into the room light in hand, and leaping from the bed I ran up to him.
"Don't be afraid now," said he, grinning again, "Queequeg here wouldn't harm a hair of your head."
"Stop your grinning," shouted I, "and why didn't you tell me that that infernal harpooneer was a cannibal?"
I'm not sure if this was Melville's intent, but interestingly, it is Peter Coffin who saves Ishmael when Queequeg threatens to behead him (Queequeg was unaware that Mr. Coffin had given Ishmael the room for the night and thought Ishmael was a transient) and it is Queequeg's coffin that again saves Ishmael at the end of the story. Ishmael's life was spared by...