Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Will Smith suggests - albeit through the words of a modern day screenwriter - that Thomas Jefferson (who himself copped the basic ideas from others before him) was right when he slid the phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" into the Declaration of Independence. He also suggests that the most important word in the line is "pursuit," which means that happiness is never a given. Smith's character in the true-life story of man overcoming odds to care for his son and have a good and happy life believes that the pursuit is all that's guaranteed and if happiness comes out of that hunt, all the better. The overriding thought is that happiness should never, ever be expected just because one tries hard to attain it.
Dan Maloney of Death Ships, writes a lot of songs about this pursuit. It's his and it's every man and woman's. It's the idea that there's a life out there free of the cumbrances and sticker bushes of standard issue life that tangle around our ankles, wrap us up, tear us down and leave us tired, uninspired and covered in bloody scratches. Most people find themselves in a fight every single day of their lives - without the bruises, but with all the battering that comes with the territory.
Death Ships songs are ones that brought out the stethoscope, rubbed the end to make it room temperature and then placed in on Maloney's chest to examine the ticking and the motives, the ambitions and the mirrors that were inside at the time.
It should always be noted and remembered where the idea of Death Ships sprung from. It was out of the desire to understand what he wanted out of life and how he wanted it to be when he got it that led to the project growing its legs. A song on the band's debut full-length is titled "Great American" and it's a walking through the end of day, after a big meal one imagines, when the wine's got the protagonist talking and there's no where he would rather be at the moment than there. It's home and it's the choice.
Maloney sings, "You've gotta hold onto what/What you got…It's the great American/Ideology." It's down and it's the very essence of the fluttering of fading light, the wind down of a stressful day of making it and then a major league call and response bridge of, "You can ride with me" catches fire and leaves a dusting of ash and soot on the floor. It's what the ideology is and what that pursuit of happiness Jefferson, Will Smith and seemingly everyone else wants. They'll take the less thrilling times - the grey moments - with the lighter ones as long as they get to pull all of the strings.
Says Maloney, "I suppose the great American idealogy is similar to the American dream of doing what you love and being happy and successful while doing it. For some, it's finding a mate and starting a family filled with mortgages, school board meetings, and Saturday morning soccer tournaments. For others, it's different, but personally I would like a life balanced with solid relationships and family structure while utilizing my creativity as a main source of how I make my living. These days my American ideology is becoming harder and harder to come by, but I remain optimistic in my pursuits."
That optimism, maybe that's the best scene we the people can be blinded by. Without the will to pursue the happiness, maybe it wouldn't even exist, like that infamous sound a tree falling in the forest when no one's around makes. Happiness is nurtured out of the pursuit and there's more than enough of that pursuit in the music of Death Ships. The world may be burning itself to hell and it may be hanging on by a thin thread, but as long as we're foolhardy and brave enough to keep pursuing that distant happiness, there's hope for us. Pursuit can ride with me and you and everyone we know.
*Essay originally published April, 2007