I’m in the process of reading VANOC CEO John Furlong’s memoir of the 2010 Olympics, Patriot Hearts, and certainly one of the central events in the book — and in my own memories of the games — was the tragic death of a young Georgian luge racer by the name of Nodar Kumaritashvili. A year after his death, we’re only now learning details about what FIL (the International Luge Federation) knew and didn’t know about the safety of the track and how it related to a similar track being constructed for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
Last year, when Kumaritashvili’s tragic death first occurred, I compiled the following playlist on the topic of tragedy, noting that one of the most unfortunate aspects was that because of the difficulty in pronouncing his name, news reports were simply calling Nodar the “Georgian luge racer.” A little over a year to the day of his death and it would seem that he’s still referred to in this way (as he was on CBC’s Information Radio last week). His name was Nodar Kumaritashvili and I hope you’ll remember that.
Patricia Barber —
“Miss Otis Regrets”
[from The Cole Porter Mix]
I don’t quite know why this was the first song that came to mind when thinking of tragedy, but Cole Porter’s story of why “Miss Otis regrets / she’s unable to lunch today / madam” slowly reveals a tragic tale in verse that sneaks up on you.
Dave Alvin –
“Everett Ruess” [from Ashgrove]
Long before Christopher McCandless’ disappearance and death in the wilderness was chronicled in Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild, another young wanderer with a connection to the wilderness vanished — though unlike McCandless, 20-year-old artist and writer Everett Ruess was never found. Alvin’s sympathetic telling from Ruess’ perspective is a beautiful song about a tragic adventurer.
Rheostatics — “Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” [from Melville]
Most folks have heard Gordon Lightfoot’s original version of this tale of the sinking of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior, but the ’Statics turned it into an eight-minute plus epic for their 1991 album. Twenty-nine men lost their lives when the Fitzgerald sank, and from 1975 to 2006, each were remembered by the tolling of the bell at the Mariner’s Church of Detroit in a November service, though the church has apparently changed the practice to eight tolls for the lakes and seaways that surround Detroit.
Furry Lewis —
“Kassie Jones” [from the Anthology of American Folk Music]
If you want tragic songs, Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music is a treasure chest of tragedy, including this tale of train engineer Casey Jones (which here is written as “Kassie” but has also been recorded as “Cayce”) who died near Canton, Mississippi when a passenger train crashed into a local freight in April 1900. Jones real name was John Luther Jones, but his nickname came from his hometown in Kentucky.
J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers — “Last Kiss”
[from the Last Kiss Sessions]
In the late ’50s and early ’60s, there was a brief craze for teenage death songs — also known as “splatter platters” — which chronicled young lovers separated by tragic deaths. I guess they were the vampire stories of their time . . . “Last Kiss” wasn’t the first (that would be “Teen Angel”), but it’s certainly one of the most famous with its “where oh where can my baby be / the lord took her away from me” chorus.
Hank Snow —
“There’s A Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere” [from Songs of Tragedy]
Well, with a title like Songs of Tragedy, this playlist could have been entirely written by country singer Snow (who, it should be pointed out — despite the American perspective of this song — was from Nova Scotia). Told from the perspective of a dying soldier in the Vietnam War, this one’s a real three-hankie affair.
Live — “Lightning Crashes” [from Throwing Copper]
Here’s a blast from my own past — 1994 to be precise. I didn’t know it at the time, but “Lightning Crashes” is about a friend of the band who was killed by a drunk driver when they were 19.
Kronos Quartet —
“Lux Aeterna” [from Requiem for a Dream: OST]
During the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, I counted two separate figure skating routines that used this Clint Mansell penned, Kronos Quartet performed pieced from the soundtrack to Requiem for a Dream, plus a Molson Canadian ad using it as a music bed. Two things strike me as odd about this: (1) for some reason it reached critical mass despite being a decade old, and (2) the movie is a tragic depiction of drug addiction, which makes it a strange fit for jingoistic beer commercials and triple lutzes.
Bee Gees — “Tragedy”
[from Spirits Having Flown]
Spirits Having Flown was the follow-up to their gigantic smash hit soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, and instead of revelling in the coked-out debauchery that likely followed, the brothers Gibb wrote about tragic love (though their definition of tragedy was a little like Alanis Morrissette’s ironic).
Stompin’ Tom Connors —
“How The Mountain Came Down” [from Sings Canadian History]
I think it’s been a little while since the playlist provided a mini history lesson, but here’s one for you. In 1903, the mining town of Frank, Alta. (in the Crowsnest Pass) was buried in a rockslide when Turtle Mountain crumbled. Canada’s best historian (sorry Pierre Berton) recounted this episode on Sings Canadian History, and more recently the event provided the setting for part of Gil Adamson’s acclaimed novel The Outlander.