Fans of Canadian folk music are enduring an immeasurable loss by the passing of Gordon Lightfoot yesterday. With an iconic voice and historical ballads that transport many of us right back to childhood with a few wistful chords, most born and bred Canadians hold a special place for him in their hearts. Of course, the incredibly talented musician had many fans across the globe, but his star shone brightest at home.
Full-body goosebumps and the warmth of nostalgia are flooding my senses since finding out about his passing. We mourn a proud and true Canadian artist who put his entire heart and soul into entertaining this country for decades, refusing to betray his devotion to the music which took centre stage versus superstardom or stacks of money.
Many extraordinary musicians have noted their appreciation for Lightfoot's music and lyrical prowess, with Bob Dylan, his favourite songwriter and close friend having the honour of inducting the folk legend into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame during the 1986 Juno Awards. Lightfoot had been offered the recognition before but refused to accept the award unless Dylan were the one to present it. A man who knows what he wants and doesn't waiver!
I'm a lifelong fan, appreciating the soft lull of his melodies, gorgeous accompanying acoustic guitar, and the classic Canadian instrumental sound that shines through in some of his biggest hits like The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (lyrics below), Canadian Railroad Trilogy, If You Could Read My Mind, and Beautiful.
Lightfoot offers us a slice of Canadiana as we learn about that fatal and final voyage of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior, where 29 crew members lost their lives, with their bodies never to be recovered.
Lightfoot was a perfectionist who painstakingly attempted historical accuracy in his lyrics, although, in the interest of storytelling, he did take some minor liberties.
As a stickler for truth, he even changed a verse per new evidence proving that the crew had no fault or error in the ship's sinking. He obtained the information after being asked to include the epic song in a documentary on The History Channel in 2010. Although he never changed the words officially, he sang it the new way ever since.
Original: "At 7 p.m. a main hatchway caved in; he said...";
Amended: "At 7 p.m. it grew dark, it was then he said...."
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead When the skies of November turn gloomy With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed When the gales of November came early
The ship was the pride of the American side Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most With a crew and good captain well seasoned Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms When they left fully loaded for Cleveland And later that night when the ship's bell rang Could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound And a wave broke over the railing And every man knew, as the captain did too T'was the witch of November come stealin' The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait When the gales of November came slashin' When afternoon came it was freezin' rain In the face of a hurricane west wind
When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin' "Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya" At seven PM, a main hatchway caved in, he said "Fellas, it's been good to know ya" The captain wired in he had water comin' in And the good ship and crew was in peril And later that night when his lights went outta sight Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Does any one know where the love of God goes When the waves turn the minutes to hours? The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay If they'd put fifteen more miles behind her They might have split up or they might have capsized They may have broke deep and took water And all that remains is the faces and the names Of the wives and the sons and the daughters
Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings In the rooms of her ice-water mansion Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams The islands and bays are for sportsmen And farther below Lake Ontario Takes in what Lake Erie can send her And the iron boats go as the mariners all know With the gales of November remembered
In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed In the maritime sailors' cathedral The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee Superior, they said, never gives up her dead When the gales of November come early
As difficult as it is to choose, I would say Sundown is my favourite, which you can listen to here if you're interested: https://youtu.be/kv8zyBi4ZXk
Which of Gordon Lightfoot's songs did you enjoy the most?