Three centuries ago, English pirates may have invented mass culture
BERMUDA The small island of Bermuda, long famous as a resort and tourist destination, has played an important role in the long history of British colonization of the Americas. Lately, a startling reminder of the nearness of the past was discovered beneath the azure waves of Bermuda Lagoon.
In 1693, during the long English conflict with Spain, an English privateer, damaged by a Spanish warship, sought shelter in Bermuda's harbor during a hurricane. The ship was driven onto the reef surrounding the lagoon and sank with a loss of all hands.
Since then, countless treasure seekers have tried to locate the wreck, with little or no success. But last weekend, a California treasure hunter, Dr. Peter Calish, finally found the remains of the ship, eight feet below the sandy lagoon bottom.
The ship, the WARR, contains what is probably the first pirate radio station in the New World. In the ship's stateroom, bronze plaques, engraved 'Ye Transmittere', 'Ye Turne-table', 'Ye On-Aire Signe', and ' Ye Mixing-Plank,' were recovered. In the ship's hold, a wide variety of minuets, hornpipes, and 'jigges' were found, carefully labeled and etched on copper plates.
Dr. Calish is enthusiastic about his find. "Shiver me timbers, matey! The WARR is one of the most important cultural artifacts from this period of human history," he said. "Even now, we have found buggy-bumper stickers, T-shirts with lace and long, flowing sleeves, plumed hats, and other promotional items, all embroidered with the pirates' motto: 'ARR: Rock the Plank!' Arr!"
"The WARR was apparently surprised and damaged by a Spanish warship during the station's fund-raising drives," Calish said. "We recovered a hold full of goblets, tote bags, and the like, all embossed with the ARR call letters in gold leaf - gold stolen at musket-point from the tall-masted plunder ships, long lost in the wide Sargasso Sea - a dreadful place, where seaweed grows on long-abandoned ships, and the bones of the dead bleach under an infernal sun!"
Flipping back his eyepatch, Calish added, "Many of the ship's supply of 'recordes,' 'danse-traques,' and 'seven-inches' were of Spanish make, and we surmise that the ship was illegally playing these discs. Such an act would have enraged the Spanish Chief DJ, Hernando Villacruz de Andujar Sebastian de la Camino Cruz Blanca. He had orders from the King of Spain to keep the scandalous, but popular, song 'She of the Tender Wide Thighs' from the airwaves, which of course the WARR ignored at its peril. She was sunk - sunk by the scurvy dog minions of the Spanish king!"
Additional evidence, corroborated by documents from the official Bermuda archives, suggests that the pirate DJ with the highest ratings was one 'DJ Long J Silva,' who in 1687 coined the catchphrase "Throw ye hands in the aire!" and also invented the concept of "ye home-boys."
Not everyone is impressed with Calish's discovery. "The whole thing is an obvious fraud," said University of Georgia Professor of Radio Science Damien Delacosta. "Radio as we know it wasn't invented until the 1890s by an Italian, Guigelmo Marconi. Calish's assertions are ludicrous. And the way he talks during his lectures drives me batty."
Calish is more than aware of Delacosta's accusations.
"Aye, 'tis true that radio is not more than a century old," said Calish, stooping close to this reporter, leaning on his peg leg, and walking the plank. "Yet that nae stopped the pirates of the good ship WARR! Instead of using electrically generated waves that varied in frequency to transmit sound, these courageous pirates of the 1690s used a complicated system of flags, small children, and pieces-of-eight to the same end."
"Arr!" is all Delacosta had to say in response.