In my memoir I recount how Doug and I sang “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as we paddled about on Lake Superior in a canoe on the weekend we met. Those two crooning young people still live in our memory, even if they have passed into middle age! And can you believe that Gordon Lightfoot is still performing at age 78, even after life-threatening illnesses?
I cancelled our plans for a night in the Northern Neck and bought the tickets. The Birchmere is an unusual place, for true music fans. The seating is general admission so you have to arrive early. Once you’re in the venue, you’re seated at tables and can order food and drink, so there’s the conviviality of eating a meal together. I loved meeting the people around us.
One father was there with his 19 year old son, who was the Lightfoot fan — which seemed unlikely. Dad had taken the day off work to stand in line. What fun to see the two of them together, glowing in the light from the stage. Another man told me he came because he likes to be “in the presence of greatness.” Which is a great way to put it — to recognize the sheer staying power of a performer, and the astounding output of a lifetime of creativity.
Another long-married couple explained that they both loved music, but very different kinds. “When we got married we had 2,000 CDs between us, and only 3 of them overlapped.” He was the rocker and she loved folk. But I saw him enjoying her enjoyment of the music — and if that isn’t a picture of marriage, I don’t know what is.
The question people asked each other was usually: “Where have you heard Gordon play before?” Almost everyone mentioned Wolftrap. My write-ups about those concerts are here and here. We’ve also heard him in Canandaigua, NY in the early 90s, and in Maryland just last October. Doug was an early fan — hearing him in multiple venues in Minnesota in the late 70s.
Maybe it’s because our marriage has made it to age 33 after a difficult year, but I find longevity impressive. Any year can be a hard year. And any year can be the last year. Sometimes the hard year is the last year. But sometimes it isn’t, simply because a person decides it’s not going to be.
Our seats were front row, not because we arrived first but because my husband (uncharacteristically) had been quite bold in pursuing some open seats. We were close enough to watch Gordon’s fingers on the 12 string guitar. Of course his finger picking isn’t what it used to be after a stroke. But he never forgot a lyric or fumbled. His band members never missed a note. Their professionalism made it all look easy. I know enough about the creative life to know this — apparent ease is a tribute to lots of hard work. And I love that Gordon says: We love the work! I have adopted his motto for writing, but it is not an easy one to live up to.
And let me tell you this — he did sing “Edmund Fitzgerald.” Do you know it? It’s a ballad that sounds like an ancient tale, but isn’t. In 1975 a freighter went down in Lake Superior and the entire crew of 29 perished. The ship was from Cleveland, where Doug was born, and the memorial is on Whitefish Bay, Michigan, where we visited last summer. “Does any one know where the love of God goes When the waves turn the minutes to hours?” Maybe the song of a shipwreck seems an unusual sort of anthem for a marriage. Consider it a testimony to the fact that marriage is not always smooth sailing. Sometimes it feels like a gift to see the morning.