Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Cold Missouri Waters, from James Keelaghan's 1995 album A Recent Future, is a folk song about the Mann Gulch fire, which occurred in the Helena National Forest of Montana in 1949. Ignited by lightning, the fire ultimately burned out of control and claimed the lives of 13 smoke jumpers who parachuted in to try to control the blaze. The song takes the point of view of Wagner Dodge, who led the effort to fight the fire and survived unharmed, only to die a few years later. In the liner notes to the album, Keelaghan says: "This song is inspired by Norman Maclean's book Young Men and Fire about the Mann Gulch fire, August 1949. When reading I kept coming back to the image of Dodge, who survived the inferno, dying of Hodgkin's disease. Fate, which had saved him at 33, took him at 38." Maclean's book was published posthumously, having been edited by his son John Norman Maclean, and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction in 1992. Keelaghan's song has been covered by other performers, most notably Cry Cry Cry. The Black Irish Band recorded the song for their 2007 album Into the Fire, which also features their own take on the Mann Gulch fire called "Montana Skies," though this song is unrelated to Maclean's book.