When I was a kid in the mid-1970s, my dad used to sing this song from the radio. The refrain went:
“Sundown, you’d better take care
If I find you’ve been creepin’ round my back stair.”
This was Gordon Lightfoot’s hit song, “Sundown”, of course. In the year the song climbed the charts, 1974, I was but six years old. I therefore didn’t grasp its meaning. But the song still brings back memories of that time.
And now that I’m old enough to understand “Sundown”, I find it an unusual take on the familiar romantic love triangle: that of the cuckolded male.
Fast-forward to 1986. My high school English teacher, wanting to demonstrate how stories could be told in poems and song lyrics, played “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” for us on one of the AV department’s record players. Yet another of Gordon Lightfoot’s songs.
I immediately connected with this song, even though I was unaware of the historical reference behind it. My teacher told our class about the November 1975 shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior. That gave the song even more weight. It was a work of imagination and art…but also something real.
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was released in 1976, to commemorate the shipwreck of the previous year. It remains one of my favorite songs from a musical era that I was too young to appreciate as it was taking place.
Last November marked the 47th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This got me thinking about the song, and about Gordon Lightfoot. According to Google, Lightfoot was still touring in his eighties.
But all tours, and all lives, must come to an end. Gordon Lightfoot passed away on May 1, of natural causes.
While Lightfoot and his music were a little before my time, I always appreciated his work. There are few songs quite as haunting and memorable as “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. And whenever I hear “Sundown”, I always hear my dad singing along with the radio in the mid-1970s.
A brilliant musician, and an artistic life well-lived. Gordon Lightfoot, 84, RIP.