by Bob Sparrow
My most recent ‘road trip’ took me off the road and on the water, to Santa Catalina Island. It is a very interesting island, to say the least.
- It has a casino where gambling is banned
- It has a herd of Bison left behind after a film was shot
- The main town, Avalon has a 3rd Street, but no 1st or 2nd Street
- The local post office doesn’t deliver the mail
- But the local cabs deliver pizzas
You may know the island from the song ’26 Miles’, made famous by the Four Preps in 1958. I’m warning you right now, if you remember the song and you go to Catalina, that song will be playing in your head – THE WHOLE TIME YOU’RE THERE! I believe that’s called an ‘earworm’ – it felt more like ringworm. Like most people my age, I remember some of the lyrics to the song, but not all of them, so I ended up humming the words I didn’t know. Out of frustration of this song being on ‘replay’ in my head for three days, I decided to look up the real lyrics. It is said that the cure for earworm is to finish the song and I couldn’t finish the song until I looked up the actual lyrics. So I did. I was not surprised to find that these 1950 classically banal lyrics were . . . well, classically banal as well as factually inaccurate, starting with the title.
Catalina Island is 22 miles from Los Angeles, 33 miles from Long Beach and 34 miles from Newport Beach – it is not 26 miles from any port.
‘Water all around it everywhere’ – Isn’t this a little superfluous? Isn’t an island, by definition, a land mass that has water all around it – everywhere?
‘I’d swim with just some water wings and my guitar’ – The song was written by Four Prep members, Bruce Belland and Glen Larson, two mature Southern California young men. I think we get a clue to their desperation when they suggest that they’ll swim 26 miles (or whatever) to find romance and that they’ll use water wings to do so. Two men swimming to Catalina with water wings really doesn’t call up an image of the kind of men women would be looking to hook up with, even in the 50s. But if for some reason they were not able to navigate the 26 miles in water wings . . .
I can leave the wings but I’ll need the guitar for romance. This seems to suggest that if their little sister had borrowed their water wings for the weekend, they could leave them and use a guitar to get over to the island. Acoustical guitars are made of wood and can be fairly buoyant, and perhaps even act as a floatation device, but the guitar would have been rendered unplayable after upwards of 8-10 hours in salt water. So these ‘Preps’, who apparently were striking out with women at home, were probably not going to have much better luck on Catalina.
I’d work for anyone even the Navy, who would float me to my island dream . . . This plan seems a bit half-baked and completely irrational, but that really doesn’t surprise us at this point, does it? Joining the navy would probably mean a four-year commitment and training who knows where. After basic training their chances of getting deployed to Catalina would have been non-existent.
Forty kilometers in a leaky old boat, any old thing that will stay afloat Finally the boys have the right idea here by looking into a boat; the fact that they’d settle for one that is old and leaky speaks volumes about their nautical acumen. Why they’ve switched to the metric system for measurement here I’m not sure, but forty kilometers is equal to a little more than 24 miles, still leaving them far short of their chosen destination.
While looking at the logic of the lyrics was a bit unsettling, finishing the song did indeed rid me of my earworm. How was Catalina? Very enjoyable, so enjoyable in fact that I’m headed back there to spend the New Year’s weekend – at that time I’ll try to give you more of a flavor for the island itself, assuming I can get that damn song out of my head.
PS: I actually like the song and The Four Preps