Thirst for Knowledge

April 27th, 2008 by Rainey

My husband might have you believe that he has a general interest in most things…history, food, beer, music.

My friends, I am here to tell you tonight, that though he professes to have a “thirst for knowledge,” really he just wants to drink. This evening, after cleaning the kitchen, he cracked open a bottle of Edmund Fitzgerald Porter from the Great Lakes Brewing Company, based in Cleveland. According to the brewery, it is “A complex, roasty porter with a bittersweet, chocolate-coffee taste and bold hop presence.” It was, the brewers say, named after “the ship that frequently docked in Cleveland and sunk in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975 with many Northeast Ohioans on board. ” My mother brought us a six pack after visiting my grandparents who live in Perrysburg, outside Toledo, and who generally have interesting brews available to them that we might not otherwise see down here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  It was, in many ways, we would soon learn, a gift of not only beer, but also a gift of history.

After commenting on how good a brew it was, I asked him to remind me of its name. “The Edmund Fitzgerald” he said. I then began humming that strange Gordon Lightfood ballad in my head…and then outloud when I reached the words “The Edmund FITZgerAALLLLD”…

Now, as I have blogged before, my husband does not particularly LIKE when I sing. Exceptions are made for songs sung to our child, but as a general rule non sequitur ditties aren’t really valued or appreciated. And truly, this wasn’t a non sequitur at all! It had basis in our conversation, making it, at least in my mind, allowable. You should know, however–and maybe this is the real problem my husband has with my singing– once I have a tune stuck in my head, I can only release it by singing it outloud…perhaps repeatedly.

In an effort to combat that reflex, I decided to instead let Mr. Lightfoot speak (or sing) for himself, by looking the song up on YouTube. I then played part of it for Conan, so he could get the general feel for the song. Its melodic balladry. Its minor key. The funny, lilting way Lightfoot enunciated as he sang “Gitche Gumme.” Conan had never heard the song. I thought he would appreciate it on at least an intellectual/historical interest level. Perhaps as a music lover? Friends, I was wrong.

Ever the persistent wife, I decided that perhaps he had not been able to adequately appreciate the song because of the bad sound quality of the recording. So I then proceeded to find the lyrics to the ballad and read them aloud. At this point, Conan was actively trying to block out the sound of my voice. He not only had turned back to his book, but was also, alternately, watching a basketball game on mute and playing with the cat. But I couldn’t let it go. He needed to know! He needed to understand the great story of the Edmund Fitzgerald, dammit! Maybe I hadn’t cared five minutes earlier. But now, I knew it was imperative to shed light on his woeful ignorance of this maritime tragedy. And what better way to enlighten him than by reading the lyrics to a Gordon Lightfoot song aloud. I mean, COME ON!

Well, after my dramatic reading was finished, interspersed, as it was, by snippets of the song sung aloud, I looked up at Conan, pleased with my performance. Now, I didn’t expect applause, necessarily. But I did expect, at the very least, for him to have felt enlightened. Interested. Wanting to know more about this heroic ship’s crew that died, tragically, in the “gales of November.” Again, I was wrong.

“So…” he said slowly, “It is like ‘The Hurricane’ only about a boat?” And turned, once again to his book and his beer.

Do not let my husband fool you. He has a thirst, but it ain’t for useless knowledge. Mainly, he just wants to drink his beer in peace.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
in the “Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.”
The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they call “Gitche Gumee.”
“Superior,” they said, “never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early!”

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