When I was a girl, my family had a collection of records and a pair of enormous cushioned headphones with a curly cord to connect them to the stereo. I used to lie on the floor for hours, lifting the needle like a junkie to replay my favorite songs, over and over and over and over, hundreds of times in some cases. I’ve always had strange taste in music, strange addictions to songs that caught my attention and refused to let go until the song and the images it evoked had played out so many times that they finally failed to move me. Only then, exhausted and dissatisfied at losing the high, would I be able to move on.
These compulsions are still with me. I read things—passages and whole books, blog posts and comments and emails and articles—over and over, for no productive reason except to satisfy the deepest imaginable itch. Some words, some collections of words, have such a rhythm and fluidity, such a dizzying rightness, that I can’t let them go. I often feel as if I’m dancing a reel, spinning first with one partner and then the next, caught in the centrifugal force of some mysterious reaction that to this day I can’t explain.
This song was on a record I saved up my allowance to purchase: The Storytellers, a double album by various artists, which I ordered from a magazine insert. It had songs like Ode to Billie Joe, Shannon, Killing Me Softly, and Daniel. But this song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot, is the one that haunted me, the one I played again and again. And again. And again…
Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her.
And the iron boats go, as the mariners all know,
With the gales of November remembered.
That I listened to this song, (such a repetitive melody, like a prayer or a meditation) at least four hundred times tells you as much about my childhood as it’s possible to know.
How obsessive are you, really?