Literary Mixtape: Captain Ahab


If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: the tyrannical sea captain of all our dreams, Captain Ahab.

Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab may be one of the most distressed characters in the canon. Obsessed with killing Moby Dick, megalomaniacal to the extreme, he can think of nothing but revenge against the creature who took his leg. Or, as Melville writes, “the White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung.” In the end, his obsession dooms him to a watery grave, tethered to his would-be prey, but we don’t think he’d have it any other way. He’s a weathered, gruff, man’s man to be sure, so no airy music for Ahab, only manly beats, we imagine. But whatever he listens to, it’s a pretty good bet that he listens to it over and over and over and over again. Here’s what we think Captain Ahab would hunt the whale, hunt the whale, and hunt the whale to.

“Do the Evolution” — Pearl Jam

The ultimate song glorifying species-specific megalomania. “I’m ahead, I’m a man/ I’m the first mammal to wear pants/ I am at peace with my lust/ I can kill cause in god I trust/ It’s evolution baby.” Also, we think Ahab would dig all the screaming.

“The Dictator” — The Clash

When Ahab sings along to this song, he just grumbles over the “people” with his own “whale”: “Yes I am the dictator, the more guns I got the better/ Yes I am the liquidator, I carry the old Beretta/ You know there once was freedom/ You know how dangerous that can be/ The people used to dance and sing/ And they used to run wild in the streets”

“We Carry On” — Portishead

The ominous, obsessive beat that backs this track is the closest thing Ahab can find to the sound of his own mind.

“Sea Ghost” — The Unicorns

The Unicorns might be a little on the hip side for Captain Ahab, but we imagine some of his crewmen read Pitchfork in 2003 and could have clued him in. But he’d definitely be into this song, because if anyone dove into a freezing sea with a parasite attached to him, it’s our Ahab.

“Paranoid Android” — Radiohead

Hey Moby Dick, remember that sailor you savaged? That was Ahab, and now he is insane with revenge. “You don’t remember, you don’t remember/ Why don’t you remember my name?/ Off with his head, man, off with his head, man/ Why don’t you remember my name?/ I guess he does” Off with his head, indeed.

“Warrior’s Anthem” — Wyclef Jean

Death before dishonor.

“Ocean Breathes Salty” — Modest Mouse

The same kid that turned his Captain on to the Unicorns probably gave him this CD too, but how could we make a mixtape for the saltiest sailor of all without this classic Modest Mouse track? Its gruff desperation and winding melodies are perfect to soundtrack the epic search of Ahab’s life.

“Negative Creep” — Nirvana

We think Ahab would probably have Nirvana’s whole collection on rotation, but this stormy, obsessive track would be one of his favorites.

“Stranglehold” — Ted Nugent

Revenge music at its best. This may be a song about a woman, but that’s not how Ahab hears it. It’s someone else entirely whose face he wants to crush.

“Redemption Song” — Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros

In the end, through all the madness, this is what everyone needs.