Physician and TV producer records ‘By the Risin’ of the Sea’ to address environmental issues
Dr. James Kahn was there when the alien from “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial” needed him.
The real-life emergency room physician played a doctor in the movie as he and his colleagues wore haz-mat suits and, under instructions from director Steven Spielberg, ad-libbed realistic dialogue as they worked frantically to save the alien’s life.
Dr. Kahn, 74, was also there when the crew of the USS Voyager was stranded in the Delta Quadrant. As a producer and writer on “Star Trek: Voyager,” he was among the creative forces helping to guide Capt. Janeway and her fearless crew.
Today, Dr. Kahn is there for the ocean.
The Emmy-nominated TV writer and producer, who lives in Santa Barbara, is addressing environmental issues, but not with a TV script.
Instead, he’s written and sung sea shanties.
He’s recorded them on his album “By the Risin’ of the Sea,” which was released in early April and is available on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and Chaucer’s Books on upper State Street in Santa Barbara.
Dr. Kahn said climate change is the biggest existential crisis facing humanity and noted it is resulting in drought, fires, floods, species die-offs, crop failures and rising seas.
“Maybe we can mitigate some of the ruin,” he said. “ ‘The Risin’ of the Sea’ is the core song on the album and lays the problem out in a plaintive, melancholy shanty that comes from — and speaks to — the heart.”
The song comes complete with a hallmark of sea shanties — an accordion accompaniment. This one is by Brian Mann.
“I’ve been a huge fan of sea shanties for a long time,” Dr. Kahn told the News-Press this week.
In fact, sea shanties became a tradition in his house, and his wife had something to do with that.
“My wife, Jill (Littlewood), never wanted to get a dishwasher. She wanted our kids to wash our dishes,” Dr. Kahn said. (They have two sons and a daughter.)
So as the family washed dishes together, they sang sea shanties. Seemed like the thing to do.
A video of the album’s first song, “Risin’ by the Sea,” was filmed at Goleta Beach, with a four-part a capella harmony. “I interspersed that with a montage of icebergs, storms rising in the sea. It’s four minutes, the length of the song.
Dr. Kahn wrote about saving whales with his song, “No More a ‘Whalin.’”
“It’s a sad ode to the fate of the whales and how we’ve treated them over the centuries,” Dr. Kahn said. “Why are we killing them when we no longer need them for food and oil? There’s a music video about that one as well.
“One dark, funny song is a rousing, drunken sea shanty about COVID-19 and how it decimated us over the course of 2020,” he said, referring to “In the Covid Times.” “There’s a range of songs that cover contemporary dilemmas.”
The song “Cast of the Water,” David West, the album’s producer, played the hammer dulcimer.
“ ‘Cast on the Water’ is actually the song that is the least shanty-like. It’s a beautiful seafaring fantasy song,” Dr. Kahn said.
And the album’s closing song, “Sundown,” is a five-part a cappella song warning about the danger of gradual increases in the world’s temperatures.
Dr. Kahn said as the earth becomes warmer, species such as bees could become at risk.
“I’m a big supporter of the environmental movement, and I get involved with debates with people, debating with people who still don’t believe in climate change,” Dr. Kahn said. “Rather than resorting to the same political arguments to people whose minds are not going to change, I can possibly appeal to them in an emotional way.
“Music in particular strikes a deep personal chord, more than logical reasoning might.”
“Risin’ of the Sea,” the album recorded by Dr. James Kahn of Santa Barbara, is available at Spotify, iTunes and Amazon and Chaucer’s Books, 3321 State St., Santa Barbara. The album cost $10. (You also can download the individuals songs for 99 cents each.)