The Sault will never forget November of 1975.
On the 10th, at approximately 7:20 pm., The Edmund Fitzgerald, the largest freighter on the Great Lakes, sank during a November hurricane on Lake Superior. All 29 crewmembers were lost. There are many of us who remember that night in much the same way some people remember what they were doing when JFK was shot, or, nearly two decades later, when John Lennon was murdered. Some events just sear into the memory like a brand. But the fate of the Edmund Fitzgerald would take on a life of its own when, nearly a year after the fact, Gordon Lightfoot would record and release his haunting tribute, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” to preserve the memory and the events of that night for posterity.
That night I remember going out with my father into the storm to check on myelderly grandmother living in the seniors’ complex at the top of St. George’s Avenue. What stands out in my memory is the buffering wind, and the dark sky lighting up in great flashes, not from lightning, but from hydro lines slapping and arcing in the gale-force winds. If memory serves, my grandmother was snug and safe, but without power. It wasn’t until the next day when the Sault Star ran its headline story of the sinking of the great freighter that we truly appreciated the potential ferocity of our inland sea, Lake Superior.
We all needed a small ray of sunshine in November of 1975. Then along came A Night at the Opera.
Queen had begun to make its mark on popular music with its 1974 single “Killer Queen,” but nothing really prepared the listener for A Night at the Opera. It defied genre, its songs ranging from hard rock to progressive rock to English music hall. In many ways it was the first album since Sgt. Pepper and Dark Side of the Moon to use the recording studio as an almost fifth member of the band. Both “The Prophet’s Song” and, of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody” attested to this feat. The first time I heard the “Rhapsody,” my naive eighth-grade ears thought it was Kiss! Once I realized it wasn’t, I rushed out to buy the 8-track to hear the rest.
I was not disappointed.
The album sparked a quaint debate in my grade 8 class at St. Mark over who was the better artist: Queen or David Bowie. I steadfastly defended Queen against the Starman, and in the process managed to get myself placed firmly on the classroom toughs’ “get him!” list. Such was the nature of critical debate to 13-year-olds. The album was still going strong in 1992 — strong enough for “Bohemian Rhapsody” to make a brilliant cameo in Wayne’s World, with Wayne Campbell and his buddies rocking out to the song while cruising around in his 1976 AMC Pacer. And let’s not forget Stan Makita Donuts!
After nearly 45 years, A Night at the Opera still holds up. It sounds like nothing that came before or after it. For those of us who viewed the recent Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, we got a glimpse into Freddie Mercury’s genius and creativity. The recent over-exposure of both the group and the song has not diminished the album’s boisterous, strutting attitude and its laborious production. It’s an album I can still crank and enjoy when I’m driving or when I’m writing (even now!) which, in my humble opinion, is the measure of a true masterpiece: it is of a time and for all time.
Oh mama mia indeed!