Punk legend David Johansen issues a mayday call in the video for his cover of Winston Edward Peters’ “Sinking Ship”: Vote before it’s too late.
The New York Dolls frontman gets straight to the point in the clip directed by his daughter Leah Hennessey. The calypso rhythms belie the deep ramifications Johansen addresses in the song: What will happen if the ship that is our country does not right itself.
“He’s unhinged,” he says to open the visual. “He’s gonna kill us all.” That sets the tone for the protest song, which takes aim at “scoundrel” President Trump and compares him to Obama, whose presidency was “smooth and free.”
“Captain, this ship is sinking/Captain, these seas are rough/Lockin’ children up in cages/Dog whistlin’ your racists/How low can we go?/Shall we abandon ship?” Johansen sings on the chorus. “Or should we sit on it, and perish slow?/We don’t know, we don’t know/Captain, you tell me what to do.”
Brian Koonin arranged and added instruments to the song, while his wife and daughter added vocals. Johansen’s wife, Mara Hennessey, also sang backup and Bill Halloman played all the horn parts.
Johansen reworked the lyrics to address the current contentious climate. “It was an old calypso that was a favorite of mine and I thought was appropriate for now,” he tells Rolling Stone. “The original song Winston Peters wrote in 1986, trying to get a guy named Chambers out of office in Trinidad. As far as the lyrics, I made them applicable to this current situation.”