Most songwriters use their early songs and albums as a way of finding their voice, but some arrive on the scene seemingly fully-formed. Kasey Chambers belonged to the latter category when she released her debut album The Captain in 1999. Only 23 at the time of the album’s release, she displayed talent and wisdom well beyond her years on that acclaimed debut.
It probably helped that Chambers had been performing in a band with her family in their native Australia for about a decade before going out on her own. But the insight and heart of the songwriting were what impressed the most, especially on the instant classic title track.
With a refrain that goes, “And you’ll be the captain/ And I’ll be no one,” the song was misconstrued by some as an example of a young girl trying to solve her problems by subordinating herself to a guy. Chambers told Billboard that was far from the song’s truth. “Lots of women come up to me saying, ‘That’s so sexist,’” she said. “I wrote it … for someone who’s really special to me. It’s kind of through the eyes of myself in about 10 years’ time, when I want to settle down and take it easy and just be no one for a day.”
The verses show a protagonist who’s aware of her faults but also resilient and prepared to make a change in her life for the better. The opening lines are almost bracing in their honesty: “Well I don’t have as many friends because/ I’m not as pretty as I was/ I’ve kicked myself at times because I’ve lied.” Instead of wallowing, she shows self-awareness and turns the page: “So I will have to learn to stand my ground/ I’ll tell ‘em I won’t be around/ I’ll move on over to your town and hide.”
In the second verse, the story starts to become less about her dependence on “The Captain” and more about her need to escape the stifling, unforgiving atmosphere of her previous situation. “I searched here for my second wind/ Is there somewhere here to let me in I asked,” Chambers sings. Her next lines not only reveal the cold answers she received but also her defiant response: “So I slammed the doors they slammed at me/ I found the place I’m meant to be/ I figured out my destiny at last.”
Considering the context provided by the verses, “The Captain” to whom she turns in the chorus is less a savior than a merciful friend. If the protagonist seems a bit meek and yielding in her dealings with this character, it’s understandable considering what she’s left behind.
Speaking of context, you wouldn’t have thought this little boom-chicka country song, which features guest backing vocals by Julie Miller, would ever fit into a show like The Sopranos. But creator David Chase’s must have sensed that “The Captain” could also work with the “capos,” and the song made a memorable end-credits appearance in the show’s third season.
It shows that great music works anywhere. More than that though, “The Captain” demonstrates that Kasey Chambers came into her own as a songwriter and performer much sooner than most.