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Old 11-23-2010, 11:34 PM
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Join Date: Aug 1999
Posts: 16,451
The downeaster Alexa

Inspired by comments in this thread
I love this song, but have a question about it.
Is the singer alive or dead?
Full lyrics here
the first two verses make him sound alive
With the third I am not sure
And I go where the ocean is deep
There are giants out there in the canyons
And a good captain can't fall asleep
I assume the giants refer to large cargo ships that could run over a fishing boat and not notice it. This could easily happen if the fishing boat captain fell asleep.
But the 5th verse is where I really think the guy might be dead
So if you see my Downeaster Alexa
And if you work with the rod and the reel
Tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis
And I still have my hands on the wheel
Tell his wife he is trolling Atlantis? The sunken lost city? Still has his hands on the wheel? Why doesn't he tell her himself, after all if he is alive he will be home in a week or so.
Sounds like he is dead and gone to me.
Am I right or am I all wet here?
Old 11-23-2010, 11:39 PM
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: Elsewhere
Posts: 1,753
I don't think the singer is dead. The line about 'tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis' is a metaphor for what being a fisherman means to the singer.
Old 11-23-2010, 11:52 PM
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: St. Petersburg, Russia
Posts: 1,243
Originally Posted by Electric Warrior View Post
I don't think the singer is dead. The line about 'tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis' is a metaphor for what being a fisherman means to the singer.
Agreed. He sings most of the song in present tense.

A "down easter" is a small lobster fishing boat. And the song is about how difficult it's become to work in the local waters, and he has to go further away to even have a chance at making a living; i.e. even to far-off places like Atlantis.

BTW, Billy Joel owned/owns(?) a "down easter" called Alexa. And named his daughter (born sometime in the 1980's) after it (well, her). He just opened a motorcycle shop in Oyster Bay, which he name drops in his songs too.

The boat Billy owns is called Alexa Ray. And it was named after his daughter. Of course.

Last edited by Coriolanus; 11-23-2010 at 11:57 PM. Reason: correction, typo
Old 11-23-2010, 11:53 PM
Join Date: Jun 1999
Location: Vero Beach, FL
Posts: 2,457
And I always took "Tell my wife that I still have my hands on the wheel" to be like, "Tell my wife I'm being safe and following the rules, and everything is fine." I definitely don't think he's dead, especially since it's not like Billy's writing style to do that.
Old 11-23-2010, 11:58 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Manor Farm
Posts: 17,902
"...trolling Atlantis" just means that he's having to fish further out and deeper, coming home more rarely, and going out to sea more frequently for a smaller haul. The entire song is a lament about how difficult it is to maintain the lifestyle of the fisherman:
Now I drive my Downeaster "Alexa"
More and more miles from shore every year
Since they tell me I can't sell no stripers
And there's no luck in swordfishing here.

I was a bayman like my father was before
Can't make a living as a bayman anymore
There ain't much future for a man who works the sea
But there ain't no island left for islanders like me

Not dead, just having to "work my fingers to the bone" to make ends meet. As Corbomite notes, Joel owns a lobster boat (and a couple of other converted fishing vessels) and at one time after he stopped recording retreated to them in a near hermit-like existence.

Old 11-24-2010, 12:43 AM
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Port Jefferson Sta, NY
Posts: 7,875
I saw it as

"Giants" = bigger fish further out and down, to make up for no longer being able to fish closer to home

"Trolling Atlantis" = having to go farther and farther away, and use more extreme measures, and spend less and less time at home with the family

Although I take that as the literal meaning, "Giants" always makes me picture whales or rare obscure sealife, and combined with "Atlantis" does make it seem like he's gone so far off the map that he's entering some mystical sea realm

Last edited by jackdavinci; 11-24-2010 at 12:44 AM.
Old 11-24-2010, 04:37 AM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: London
Posts: 2,344
I always thought it sounded like he was going off to commit suicide in despair, but that might just have been the mournful tone of the song. However, the fact that it's all in the present tense and that he refers to people who depend on him puts the kibosh on that idea to some extent.
Old 04-18-2012, 10:48 PM
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 1
Atlantis canyon is an actual fishing area off the east coast. Its not a fricken metaphor.
Old 04-18-2012, 11:00 PM
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Join Date: Aug 1999
Posts: 16,451
Thanks you learn something new every day.
Old 04-18-2012, 11:03 PM
Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: Houston, Texas
Posts: 8,757
Even if it's 2 years after your original question!

Love Billy Joel and this is one of this best songs.
Old 04-20-2012, 09:14 AM
Join Date: May 1999
Location: NJ
Posts: 7,736
The crazy thing is the song was mentioned in the thread about accordions so I just assumed this was a new thread (didn't click link in OP because I thought it was that one).

I also love the song. While it is about a very specific and waning profession, it is a great anthem for the working class and a good song in general.
Old 04-20-2012, 09:34 AM
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Southern ontario
Posts: 6,588
I got a real kick out of this link - It looks like a lesson outline for an oceanography class (or something of the sort) based on the song.

According to the author of the lesson, 'giants' is a reference to bluefin tuna.
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Old 04-20-2012, 10:01 AM
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: I am Queens Boulevard
Posts: 14,142
I've always found it somewhat depressing/ironic that the narrarator makes no connection that he is trying to fish species which were overfished by people exactly like him, and the fact that he can't find any fish. The mean ol' gubmint told him he can't sell no stripers, BECAUSE THEY WERE ALMOST GONE MORON.

Aside from this I've always liked the song a lot.

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