Thursday, November 23, 2006

More on the Edmund Fitzgerald

My post about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald -- the event and the Gordon Lightfoot song -- generated a lot of responses. My friend Katy Miller writes:
Amen, Brother! I LOVE this song. There are a few songs from my childhood that have invaded my psyche, and this is one of them...

My favorite "hair on the back of your neck standing up" lyrics from the song are: Does any one know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?

Oooooohhh... Love it love it love it.

Let the bell ring 29 times!
My hero F. Brett Cox points out, however, that Mariner's Church in Detroit no longer marks the anniversary by ringing the bell 29 times, once for each crew member who went down with the ship; instead, the AP reports, the bell now rings only eight times, "one toll for each of the Great Lakes and the interconnected waterways," in memory not merely of the Edmund Fitzgerald crew but of all the thousands who have died in Great Lakes shipping through the years. I dunno about this; wasn't the wreck observance always about all the deaths, via the symbolic 29?

Brett also writes:
Anyone who would link "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" with meretricious drivel like "Seasons in the Sun" is tone-deaf and tasteless.

Lightfoot also wrote and recorded another long song about a shipwreck: "The Ballad of Yarmouth Castle," which, if memory serves, is about a Caribbean cruise ship that caught fire and sank. Honest.
I haven't heard that one, but I'm glad to know it exists. Here are the lyrics, at the useful Lightfoot! fan site; and here is Wikipedia's extensive account of the disastrous fire, which occurred in 1965 between Miami and Nassau and left 90 people dead.

On the general topic of commemorating news headlines in song, something much more common in earlier centuries, my hero Jeffrey Ford writes:
The only thing similar that I can think of is "Hurricane" by Bob Dylan, although that wasn't an event but the tragedy of a single individual. I really like Gordon Lightfoot's music -- "In the Early Morning Rain," "If You Could Read My Mind," etc. The second of those songs refers to one of my favorite Abbott and Costello movies -- The Time of Their Lives. ... Thanks for helping me remember the Edmund Fitzgerald.
I never before knew there was an Abbott and Costello-Gordon Lightfoot connection, but I'm delighted to know it now!

My Clarion 2004 student Phil ("Dr. Phil") Kaldon writes:
Growing up near the Canadian border, we ran into a young Gordon Lightfoot in Niagara Falls ON while he was filming his first TV special. We asked who this guy we'd ridden on the elevator was, who did take after take of this song about a river flowing by. Our breathless waitress said, "That's Gordon Lightfoot."

Long before "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, us GL fans delighted with "The Canadian Railroad Trilogy," a song WAY too long for radio to play. Oddly, I've always loved really long and complicated songs, including the long "American Pie," and long program pieces by Emerson, Lake & Palmer and the group Renaissance (sigh).

Living in the middle of Lake Superior for 7 1/2 years, and in Michigan since 1984, the Edmund Fitzgerald -- boat, story, song and legend -- are a big news resonance every November. Hell, the wreck date is even on my mother's birthday and I teach about the wreck in my first semester physics classes.
What sort of physics lesson do you haul from the wreck, Phil? I'm curious.

I was always fond of long songs, too, even that hippie epic "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" -- infamous during my undergraduate days at the University of South Carolina for being the first song one half-assed student DJ at WUSC (90.5 FM) invariably played each shift, to give himself 18 minutes and 20 seconds of cover while he did his paperwork and the other chores he should have done already.

And speaking of Alice's restaurant: Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you all had another dinner that couldn't be beat.
Walk right in, it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want
At Alice's restaurant.

1 comment:

Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

Sailors will tell you how to run with or against the waves in the ocean. If storms give you waves from two directions, you can take a course which minimizes the water breaking over the bow and avoid water washing over the sides.

The Edmund Fitzgerald had to contend with waves coming from three directions -- there is no solution which does not involve water breaking over the ship. A forward hatchway gave in and pushed the bow down. The E.F. is longer than Lake Superior is deep at that point -- the engines still at Ahead Full powered it under the surface and drove the nose into the bottom, breaking the ship's back. The sinking probably happened in seconds -- no reaction time.

First Physics principle of boats: The water goes on the outside. When that fails, you're sunk. So to speak. I also do a whole lecture using the DVD for Titanic, pointing out Physics aspects which a Hollywood movie, even a blockbuster, actually worked hard to get RIGHT.

Total geekdom.

Dr. Phil