What the hell is a Sea Lion Woman??
February 19, 2010
I’ve always found the words to that Nina Simone song infuriating. What the hell is a Sea Lion Woman?? Sea Lions are hardly attractive, no matter how you look at them. Does she bark like a Sea Lion? Maybe it’s See-Line Woman – the song mentions silk stockings with golden seams. Maybe she’s referring to the line, or seam, on the back of her stockings… Or is it C-Line Woman? Is there a train in Chicago called the C-Line, where she hangs out, waiting for Johns? She Lyin’ Woman?
Wikipedia lists the possibilities as: “Sea-Line Woman”, “See [the] Lyin’ Woman”, “She Lyin’ Woman”, “See-Line Woman”, or “C-Line Woman.” Lyin’ makes more sense, but that doesn’t sound like it’s what Simone is saying in the song.
So, being the curious researcher I am, I did some digging on the interwebs. It turns out the very first recording of the song (pre-Nina) is from 1939. Folklore researcher Herbert Halpert had set out to record American folk songs for the Library of Congress (awesome job!) and found two teenage sisters, daughters of a minister and a choir director in Mississippi. The girls said it was just something they would sing while jumping rope. The brief track mostly references drinking coffee and drinking tea – no mention of the wailing or moaning going on in Nina Simone’s version.
http://odeo.com/episodes/11268763-See-Line-Sea-Lion-Woman (not sure if this link is working anymore).
However, the history of the song, and the lyrics of the original, still don’t help to explain what the song means. Other than ruling out the fact that they’re not referencing a train in Chicago.
Finally, I found a blog that mentions a biblical word, Selah.
Wiki says the word Selah is used frequently in the Hebrew bible, esp in Psalms. The meaning is difficult to translate, but in the bible (and in MUSIC) it’s used to mean “stop and listen.” OR that there’s a musical interlude in that point of the Psalm.
Check this: “The Psalms were sung accompanied by musical instruments and there are references to this in many chapters. Thirty-one of the thirty-nine psalms with the caption “To the choir-master” include the word “Selah”. Selah notes a break in the song and as such is similar in purpose to Amen in that it stresses the importance of the preceding passage.”
And, the most compelling reason that I think Sea Lion Woman is actually Selah Woman:
“Selah” is used in Iyaric Rastafarian vocabulary. It can be heard at the end of spoken-word segments of some reggae songs. Its usage here, again, is to accentuate the magnitude and importance of what has been said, and often is a sort of substitute for Amen.“
Considering that the girl’s father was a minister and their mother a choir director, I’m pretty sure this is what the girls were really singing. I don’t know about you but I feel relieved. I’d rather not picture a Sea Lion in a dress ever again.