Gordon Lightfoot : The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Exactly one year after the Great Lakes freighter, SS Edmund Fitzgerald, sank in a Lake Superior storm, with losses of all 29 crewman aboard, Gordon Lightfoot's ballad was riding high in US charts at #3 on its way to #2, blocked from the top by Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night".
Lightfoot says he was inspired to write the song after noting Newsweek magazine had misspelled the name as "Edmond Fitzgerald". He felt the dead deserved better than that. Lightfoot's tribute is six minutes long and full of lyrics that put your right alongside the ill-fated sailors:
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'
When you write a song about a true life tragedy, you inherit a great deal of responsibility. Lightfoot has changed some of the lyrics in live performances.
From the original:
sayin' Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya
At seven pm a main hatchway caved in,
he said Fellas, it's been good t'know ya
"At 7 p.m. it grew dark, it was then he said...".
It absolves some of the deckhands who were in charge of those hatch covers because I've been in touch with these people for years. The mother and daughter of two of the deck guys who would have been in charge of that have always cringed every time they've heard the line. And they will be very pleased. And they know about it and they're happy about it.