Friday, November 10, 2006
The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
On this date in 1975, the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald was lost with all hands during a storm on Lake Superior. I was 11 years old, and while I was a faithful newspaper reader even then, and read every back issue of Newsweek that my Aunt Willa May passed me, I don't recall the wreck itself making much of an impression. The Newsweek writeup did, however, make a deep impression on Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, and the song he was inspired to write and perform, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," left me thunderstruck the next year, 1976, whenever I heard it on the radio. I got plenty of opportunity to hear it; the song went to No. 2 on the pop charts. Since then, Lightfoot's bone-chilling six-and-a-half-minute epic has cropped up occasionally on lists of most-hated songs; its critics claim that it's too long, too slow and too maudlin, down there in the depths with "Seasons in the Sun." But I loved the song then, and I love it now, without the slightest irony or distance. I hear the opening, and I'm immediately cold, as if "twas the witch of November come stealin'." And without that song, what are the odds that I would remember the Edmund Fitzgerald at all? This is one of the only examples in my lifetime of a disaster that immediately gets set to music and sung into myth, like the Baltimore fire or the wreck of the Old 97. It's downright bardic, what Lightfoot did in that song.
Posted by Andy Duncan at 10:58 PM