Thirty-five years ago, on Nov. 10, 1975, a ship called the Edmund Fitzgerald sank on Lake Superior during a brutal storm (mhsd.org). She was 17 years old when she went down, taking all crewmembers with her. The anniversary is marked each year by the illumination of the Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbours, Minn. (washingtonpost.com). However, the world may remember the event best by the song that Gordon Lightfoot wrote, called “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The musical immortalization of that dreadful day reminds me of a song that touched my life after a different American tragedy.
Although I am familiar with Lightfoot’s song, I am too young to remember the sinking of the ship. An event that is much more poignant for me is, of course, September 11, 2001. There were a lot of songs written about that fateful day, but the one that stood out the most for me was Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”. The song is not about reiterating facts or seeking revenge. It’s about the reactions and emotions that people felt upon hearing of the attacks on our nation. Jackson performed the song for the first time at the CMA Awards in November 2001 (gactv.com).
The lyrics immediately take me back to where I was on that day. I was away at college and had been watching the news as I prepared for class. I remember telling my classmates that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center (this was before I knew of the second plane). Class continued as usual. Afterward, I went back to my dorm room to find that the crash was not a freak accident. Classes were canceled the rest of the day. I sat with two of my friends in their dorm room, watching the news, shaking my head, talking about why this happened and what it would mean for our country. It was a somber day.
I can relate to Jackson’s song in so many ways. He talks about all of the emotions that many Americans went through: sorrow, guilt, fear. He speaks to the fact that he’s not “a real political man,” and that’s exactly how I feel. I watch the news like everybody else, but I don’t understand a lot of the political drama that unfolds. Perhaps the most interesting part of Jackson’s song refers to his Christian beliefs about faith, hope, and love. Religious extremists were behind the terror attacks on 9/11/01, but Jackson reminds us to hold strong to the values that we know to be true.
Alan Jackson’s song went on to win the “Song of the Year” award at the 2002 CMAs (gactv.com). It captured precisely the feelings of the American people at a time in our nation when no one knew what to think or do. No matter how much time passes, the words of that song will always bring back the memory of that day.
Melissa Bell, “The Edmund Fitzgerald story lives on in Gordon Lightfoot’s song”, Washington Post