A song for ‘Sludgie’: Slope band’s ballad honors whale that perished in Gowanus Canal

A sad song: The Tiki Brothers performed “A Dirge for Sludgie” at the after-party for the Gowanus Dredgers’ Gowanus Challenge race Oct. 7.
Amalya Silverblatt

It’s a lyrical tribute to a whale’s tragic tale.

The young calf that died after accidentally swimming into the toxic Gowanus Canal was immortalized in song by a Park Slope band whose members said crowds go wild for the track because they see themselves in the deceased mammal that admirers dubbed Sludgie for its dire predicament.

“It cuts something inside of the audience,” said Barrett Heaton, a member of the Tiki Brothers, a group that Councilman Brad Lander (D–Cobble Hill) dubbed “the house band of the Gowanus Canal.” “I think people are starting to identify with the plight of Sludgie, who was caught up in a world that has gone awry and has become toxic.”

“A Dirge for Sludgie” tells the devastating story of the 12-foot Minke whale that, after being separated from its mother during a 2007 storm, likely wandered into the fetid waterway in search of food, according to Coast-Guard officials’ reports at the time.

“Have you heard about Sludgie?/They say she swam down here/Not far from this pier where you’re standing/Quaffing multiple Samuel Adams beers,” goes the tune, which Heaton said “Can at times be like a heavy-metal ballad, with an almost Black-Sabbath feel to it.”

The musician said he wrote the ode, which only has three chords, as a teenager after being struck by Sludgie’s predicament.

“It was inspiring,” he said. “I thought it was a poignant image of the clash between more natural elements and the industrialization of the area.”

The ballad became an instant classic, and when the Tiki Brothers recently performed it at the after-party for boating group the Gowanus Dredgers’ annual race on the canal, the song hit the audience so hard that people demanded an encore, to which the band of course obliged.

And Sludgie isn’t the only marine life lost to the murky waters of Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory that provided fodder for the musicians. The group also wrote a track called “Superfunded” about the dolphin who met its end in the notoriously polluted waterway in 2013.

Listen to the Tiki Brothers perform yourself at (506 Fifth Ave. at 12th Street in Park Slope, www.salzybar.com). Oct. 20 at 8 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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