Longer Boats


“Longer than what?” is what I’ve always wanted to ask. That’s a dumb question, I know. Obviously it’s a reference to Greek mythology, wherein the Tillerman ferries souls across the river Styx and into the underworld. The Greeks did not consider the underworld either a good or a bad place; it was simply a place for souls to go, where they would be neither punished nor rewarded. The boat would take you there regardless of your earthly behavior, though paying the tillerman would help assure your arrival. Thus, families buried their dead with a few coins or valuables to pay the toll. No word on whether throwing a tea party worked just as well. Another guess would be it’s a reference to long boats, which were used by the ancient Greeks, the Vikings, and many, many other cultures up to the present day. The phrase “longer boats are coming to win us” could be a warning of a Viking attack or a pirate raid. Cat Stevens, being Greek, would have at least a passing interest in the mythology of the long boat and the tillerman, and knowing him, it sounds like he’s trying to make a point about appreciating life before the inevitable boat journey takes you away. According to Stevens himself, though, he was inspired by an alien abduction he experienced, presumably while tripping balls.

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