Thursday, January 1, 2009

GMVW # 52: "Natural Wonders"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 52: Natural Wonders
Song: Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot
(Songwriter: Gordon Lightfoot)
January 1, 2009

Musical taste covers the gambit, so I’m sure nobody has agreed with every single one (or even a majority) of the gem choices I made over the past year (if I were to guess, I would think Mac comes closest).  Most of the gems have been rock-n-roll songs, and I know at least several on this email list who would much rather listen to classical, jazz, country, or blues.  Others seem more inclined to listen to music more for the dance beat than the lyrical content.  I also know a few who turn to music more often as a temporary reprieve from the daily dose of negative news that floods the airways…this would be the soft-rock/easy listeners among us. 

Kinder, gentler musicians certainly have an appeal in this dog-eat-dog world.  Personally, if a musician has a soft side, they also need to throw a reality check at me every so often.  Neil Young does a masterful job of this, composing a wide range of music, from easy listening to hard edge rock and a plethora of great heavy-subject-matter songs.  This is a rare feat, though.  Most musicians are allied to either one camp or the other.  Easy-listen musicians rarely break the mold.  One of the kindest, gentlest souls in the easy-listen music world had to have been John Denver.  Yes, I can appreciate to a degree, but there’s nothing in his catalog that rises to the level of Gem for me.  A shame, because this week’s theme is about the grandeurs of the natural world, and if any acclaimed musician can be associated with the great outdoors it’s John Denver.  However, one of John Denver’s favorite places to sing about was the Rocky Mountains, which is a wonderful thing because this helps me segue into the next paragraph.

This week’s Gem has two stories behind it.  The first took place in the Canadian Rockies, where Fred, Mac, John, Kurt and I (and other Franklin-ites) went on a ski trip in the winter of 1988.  Most of the trip was spent on the slopes, including Lake Louise and Banff (Sunshine).  There was one day during the week, however, when we rented a car and took the 3 hour drive north to Jasper through the Canadian wilderness.  It was an amazing journey through valleys surrounded by high peaks, and on a picture-perfect day to boot.  Mountain goats, big horn sheep, bison, moose, eagles and elk were all common sightings along the park road.  It was also along this route where an uncommon event occurred:  Kurt belted out a song.  There was no music playing on the radio.  No accompaniment whatsoever.  This would have been standard fare for me, but Kurt is generally more reserved.  What could have caused this momentary lapse of reason?  I have to give all the credit to the scenery around us.  It was the most unique aspect of that moment. I don’t believe I had witnessed Kurt singing a-cappella before, and I have yet to see it again. 

Anyhow, the song Kurt sang, from beginning to end, was this week’s Gem:  Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’.  Go figure!  Here we were surrounded by some of the Rocky Mountain’s highest peaks, and Kurt was singing about a sinking ship.  Looking back, though, there was a correlation, because as much as Lightfoot’s gem of a song is about a sinking-ship disaster at “sea”, it’s also about the majesty of the Great Lake it sank in.  Driving through the Canadian Rockies gave Kurt (and the rest of us) the same sense of wonderment one can get from viewing the Pacific Ocean, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Yosemite, a glacier, an iceberg, giant sequoia trees, or …..a Great Lake.

So it was, several summers later (1992), that Nancy and I took an actual Great Lakes trip.  Perhaps it was inspired by Kurt’s rendition of the Ed Fitz.  Whatever the reason, our 2-week trip included visits to all of the Great Lakes, most notably a circumvention of Lake Superior, the largest of the five, and the geographic heart of Lightfoot’s tale.  The Great Lakes region is extremely underrated as a vacation destination.  There are so many natural wonders, including the Bruce Peninsula, the Apostle Islands, Niagara Falls, Mackinac Island,  Sault St Marie, Pukaskwa National Park (Canada), Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (Canada), Georgian Bay (including Parry Sound, Bobby Orr’s hometown, where Nancy and I met Orr’s brother at his clothing store, and when I told him we were from Boston, he took us in the back room and gave us a handful of Orr/Bruins memorabilia), and so much more.

A long-standing memory I have of this trip was when we pulled into Duluth, Minnesota, bordering the west coast of Lake Superior.  This was the farthest western point of our trip, which called for a reward of sorts.  We walked thru town and into an old record store, where we purchased a Gordon Lightfoot tape, which included ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’.  We must have played the song 40 times over the next week as we drove north and east around the greatest of the Great Lakes.  The drive made it abundantly clear how a ship as large and solidly built as the Edmund Fitzgerald could have sunk:  Lake Superior (or as the Chippewa call it “Gitche Gumme”) had all the characteristics of the open ocean.  A natural wonder if there ever was one.

A nice live version of Gordon Lightfoot singing the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is below as this week’s Gem.

Happy New Year!  Here’s a resolution: Get out and enjoy the natural world.    There’s plenty of it here in the Pepperell area. If you want a guide, give me a call.

You can even sing about it if you feel the urge.

- Pete

“Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the ruins 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.”

About the video: I never found the ideal Edmund Fitzgerald video.  This one was a little grainy, so the video is still up in the air.

Video Rating: 2

Best Feedback: Tina

dear peter,
thank you so much for keeping me in your music loop. even though i seldome write, i am always delighted with stories and your musical selections. you are like a music encyclopedia and i like the way your brain ties everything together.
happy new year and love to all,

Also: John

Wow.  That was a shocking video.  I used to tape his music from the vinyl onto cassettes, because his was good music to listen to on long drives (
Carefree Highway
?), especially if you were by yourself or with a young lady in a tank top.  I remember his album covers and him being a robust, good looking dude with that curly blonde hair, not a gray haired, gaunt and sickly looking old man.  So first, I must be getting old, and second, thank the Lord I never was a smoker. 

And third, what ever happened to that young lady in the tank top?

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