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duluthdan

Yes. 40 Years ago today

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Hard to believe the Wreck of the Fitzgerald was 40 years ago. I remember Gordon Lighjtfoot sitting alone on an empty stage in Duluth Minnesota, taking a small printed article out of his pocket, reading this story, and then playing this song for the first time in public on a Martin D-18. You could've heard a pin drop, and much of the audience shed tears. I know this song gets poo-pooed sometimes, and I do not know why.Performed well, this is still a helluva song.

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I know this song gets poo-pooed sometimes, and I do not know why.

It gets poo-pooed because, imho, both the music and his voice drone on like a bouy at sea that will never ever stop! Quite likely that was calculated on Gordon's part, but it seriously gets to me - to the point that, if I can do it in a graceful manner, I'll leave the room when I hear it playing.

 

Fortunately I saw Gordon a couple of times in the early '70s before he released that "shipwreck" of a song (although in the second appearance he was noticeably under the influence).

 

I may seem to be dissing on him, but honestly, I still greatly appreciate much of his early work. I know lots of folks love this song - I just happen to hate it.

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Hard to believe the Wreck of the Fitzgerald was 40 years ago. I remember Gordon Lighjtfoot sitting alone on an empty stage in Duluth Minnesota, taking a small printed article out of his pocket, reading this story, and then playing this song for the first time in public on a Martin D-18. You could've heard a pin drop, and much of the audience shed tears. I know this song gets poo-pooed sometimes, and I do not know why.Performed well, this is still a helluva song.

Yes...👍🏻👍🏻

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In the era of R & R, hard rock, psychedelic, etc., ONLY someone of Lightfoot's stature could turn a song about a shipwreck into a multi-million seller. 4-5 chords (depending on what you want to use) and a cloud of dust and that's it. A 7-minute song in an era when 2-3 minutes of catchy phrases was considered the max for a song to hold the attention of the radio listener. My perspective is from someone who listens to the words of songs. If there's a story being told, I want to hear it. I've never been a fan of "bubblegum music" (yummy yummy yummy I've got love in my tummy) and that kind of crap. This song is a true folk song, performed in a solemn and serious manner, as the story demands. The lyrics are a history lesson about a particular ship, business, and the dangers involved. Great story. Rivals all the great train songs and The Great Dust Bowl songs. Lightfoot is a treasure. And keep in mind that he writes and sings from a Canadian perspective. The Edmunds Fitzgerald was a well-known sea story in Canada for several years before the song. Lightfoot is one of those gigantic Cash and Dylan types that make the world a lesser place when they're leave it.......We can all agree and disagree on different styles of music, but Lightfoot's rank among the greats is beyond logical dispute. This song plays an important role in his legacy.

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For those of you also fascinated by things nautical, you need to appreciate the size of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This is the James Barker.... just days ago. The length of the vessel is incomprehensible to me:

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My wife and I took our first trip to the Great Lakes area a few years ago, which we really enjoyed. As we drove around and explored Lake Superior, the words of Edmund Fitzgerald (at least the first verse or two) kept playing in my head, especially on any boat/ferry rides that we took. Since then, I have learned all the words and really enjoy singing the song. But I do find that I have to exercise patience when singing it because it's such a long song that I have a tendency to rush through it. I have heard other perform it, but Gordon's version is the only one that I really care to listen to.

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For those of you also fascinated by things nautical, you need to appreciate the size of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This is the James Barker.... just days ago. The length of the vessel is incomprehensible to me:

Love Gordon Lightfoot and the Great Lakes. Thanks for posting this link, Sal. Just this last June, I left that harbor to cross over to Ludington on the car ferry (a ride my folks took the fam on when I was about four).

 

Fresh out of college, I lived for a number of years in Mikwaukee and got fascinated with the stories of shipwrecks on the Lakes. Checked out every book I could find.

 

"Michigan steams like a young man's dreams; her islands and bays are for sportsmen." Indeed.

 

(And yes, I was one of the people who knew every word of the song...)

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I'm not sure if, for songs like this - but I think you have to have 'contex't to appreciate it. If your musical awakening was in the '60s and you were grooving on "Bubble Gum" songs at the time - you would have formed At That Time - a dislike for songs like this. And a few hundred others: a lot of Dylan's work, Townes Van Zandt, etc. . And, of course the Olde English folk song "Barbara Allen" would drive you to "Whiskey In The Jar".

We all have preferences and biases - I cannot stand rap, nor would I buy any of the 'modern country' put out by groups like FL GA Line and Rascal Flatts. But - I'm obviously in the minority since they are hugely popular.

That said - The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald is one of my all time favorites, and I like to think most who like that 'genre' see it as a classic.

The fact Gordon Lightfoot could write that, and Early Morning Rain - are a testament to his artistic ability.

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Duluth Dan ,you the man. Lightfoots' monumental piece on the life and dangers of those who sail the vast inland sea,the Great Lakes.Indeed.If only one song came from GL,if this was it,you've left your mark to be remembered by,for us to remember others who face a danger we don't even know existed.

 

And yes, it's roll,it's feel,it's rhythm is that of the water.If that affects you as you listen,well that's what the the song IS.What a outstanding compliment to the structure of the words,the song itself.

 

Living in Nova Scotia you can almost feel the Atlantic pushing in ,then releasing gently the land as it rolls back out.No matter where you are. I miss it as I travel inland.Gordon Lightfoots' Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald brings that feeling back as soon as that haunting intro begins.Outstanding,simply outstanding.

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Duluth Dan ,you the man. Lightfoots' monumental piece on the life and dangers of those who sail the vast inland sea,the Great Lakes.Indeed.If only one song came from GL,if this was it,you've left your mark to be remembered by,for us to remember others who face a danger we don't even know existed.

 

And yes, it's roll,it's feel,it's rhythm is that of the water.If that affects you as you listen,well that's what the the song IS.What a outstanding compliment to the structure of the words,the song itself.

 

Living in Nova Scotia you can almost feel the Atlantic pushing in ,then releasing gently the land as it rolls back out.No matter where you are. I miss it as I travel inland.Gordon Lightfoots' Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald brings that feeling back as soon as that haunting intro begins.Outstanding,simply outstanding.

 

Yes, you nailed it here. The feel of the water, the rolling danger of the darkness, is INSIDE of this song in some way that is essential to the genre of story songs and, to some extent I suppose, to all folk-type songs.

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Folk songs are about folks and no one has put that across better than Lightfoot. He's as talented as any of his contemporaries are/were, but sadly perhaps not as widely known. To me he's always been right at the top, but I've always leaned more to the folk-country genre than any others. With Lightfoot, it just gets better and better.

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There have been so many great Canadian musicians; Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn and Gordon Lightfoot were all favorites of mine back in the day. I wasn't as taken by the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald as I was Gordon's Sundown album and the song Sundown itself but it IS a great piece of folk song writing. I read somewhere once that he is/was excruciatingly susceptible to stage fright which would probably somewhat explain his need for liquid courage and being blasted on stage. Forty years goes by pretty fast huh?

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Like this song or not…..he will go down as one of the best singer song-writers ever! AND, I wouldn't do this song either….to long, too many words….lol….like some Dylan songs…..too much work…lol!

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There is a thread on another board I look at with posts by a fellow who was the mate on another ship that was there on that fateful night. They almost went down as well. Fascinating and chilling!

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Dan I can never figure out how one develops that much memory retention to learn that many words to a song. Wow

 

I can play the entire Canadian Railroad Trilogy from start to finish (7.5 minutes long), but the Edmund Fitzgerald has so many similar but shifted phrases, it is a bear to learn. Same with Sundown!

 

Also, to chime in on the discussion about Edmund Fitzgerald, Lightfoot is painting a picture while telling the story. His music and lyrics are always evocative of the story. So you do get the roll and pitch of the waves and the building of the storm in the song. He also places it musically, firmly in the realm of the sound of indigenous North American music. The chordal drone and the native drum beat are clearly musical motifs evoking the mystery of Lake Gitche Gumee.

 

I don't know of many songwriters that can evoke such strong imagery with his music and lyrics as Gordon Lightfoot. Here are some of my favourite examples:

 

"Softly she sighs

Sweetly she lies never sleeping

Her fragrance all in my keeping

Softly she comes in the night"

 

"The fire is dying now, my lamp is growing dim

The shades of night are lifting

The morning light steals across my windowpane

Where webs of snow are drifting "

 

"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"

 

"Reaching for his saddlebag, he takes a tarnished cross into his hand

Then standing like a preacher now, he shouts across the ocean to the shore

Then in a blaze of tangled hooves, he gallops off across the dusty plain

In vain to search again, where no one will hear"

 

"Christmas dawns and the snow lets up

And the sun hits the handle of her heirloom cup

She hides her face in her hands for a while

Says look here child

Your father's pride was his means to provide

And he's serving three years for that reason"

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There is a thread on another board I look at with posts by a fellow who was the mate on another ship that was there on that fateful night. They almost went down as well. Fascinating and chilling!

I grew up on the shore of Lake Superior. The first girl I ever kissed (1st grade under her picnic table) her uncle was on the "Fitz". Everybody I knew, knew somebody on that boat.

 

Fast forward a few years, I produced and booked many acts into the college town where I was, and Lightfoot was one of them. Must've been during his darker days because he was nearly totally bombed on alcohol for the show, and put on a rather miserable performance. He had that 12 string Gibson, I asked to play it in his dressing room and he would have none of that.

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Here's Gordon again singing about water.....and he's using a 12-string again. Looks like the same beast, but with much less wear on it.

 

Here is an excerpt from an issue of Acoustic Guitar about GL's guitars:

 

Gordon Lightfoot plays a pair of 12-string Gibson B-45-12s from the 1960s. He uses two of them on stage: one on standard tuning, the other capoed at the third fret with the lowest pair of strings dropped to D. The instruments appear on Lightfoot album covers stretching back the '60s, although the guitar seen on the Sundown cover was lost on the road many years ago. The cover of Lightfoot's earliest LP, Lightfoot, shows a Martin D-28 that was subsequently stolen. He acquired a later model D-28m which he keeps at home along with an ornate custom Brazilian rosewood dreadnought (seen on the cover of Dream Street Rose) by Ed McGlincy, who has retired from guitar making for health reasons. On stage, Lightfoot also plays A Martin D-18 from the '30s or '40s.

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