A great song keeps the Fitz alive

Today is the 35th anniversary of the sinking of the massive ore ship Edmund Fitzgerald in a terrible November storm on Lake Superior. This tragedy remains recent enough to affect the lives of some people still living in the Great Lakes region. Nevertheless, one gets the feeling that Gordon Lightfoot’s song about “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” will forever be the dominant remembrance of this occasion. Considering that the sinking happened before I was born and involved no families I knew and that I’m thinking about this and pasting YouTube code for it, yeah, I’d say so.

There are so many great lines in this song. Among my favorite in the description of each Great Lake, “Superior sings in the ruins of her ice water mansion.” Stand on the hills overlooking the Minnesota side of Lake Superior, particularly this time of year, and something about that line just feels right.

And then there’s this:

Does anyone 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.

Great lyric, almost like an old bluegrass song, but colder.

More songwriters should commemorate events of our times in this style. And I don’t mean preachy stuff with a “message.” Just the facts, Jack. This is what it is to be human.


  1. Russell Hess says

    Thanks for posting that. Being born and raised in NE Iowa and now living and working in SE MN, I seem to have faint memories of this event from tv news or remembering my parents talking about it. A true working class tragedy.

    As for other songs that tell the stories of our times, I like “Boom Boom Mancini” by Warren Zevon. My family were fans of boxing and I remember seeing the Duk Koo Kim fight on TV and its effect on my dad who had boxed in the Air Force.

    I also like the Hurricane by Dylan but that may be a little preachy too some.

  2. Yeah, for some reason boxing is well represented in the story songs. I don’t know how accurate it is, but something about “The Wreck of the Old 97” always gets me thinking about people who worked a particular job in a particular time. Songs like this are so valuable in understanding the way people talked and what they actually did during their moment in history.


  3. It’s a wonderful song, but there’s an even better video version that you might want to post on next year’s anniversary –


    It’s a remix of the Lightfoot song with archival news footage.

    enjoy –

  4. Thanks for that! I know you had posted something about this song in the last month or so too. I’m going to set this link aside for next year, because the anniversary isn’t going anywhere.

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