Monday, November 24, 2014

A Canadian National Treasure | random thoughts from lorne

The once rich baritone voice is a little thinner now as time has taken its toll. Some of the notes have gone wherever it is notes go when you age. The memory is no longer perfect, which means sometimes the lyrics aren’t quite right. But it is still the same voice and these are still the songs that have in many ways defined Canada for more than half a century.

The audience too has aged; mostly grey hair with a smattering of younger folk who want to experience the legend while it is still possible. He may not be the singer he used to be, but he is still Gordon Lightfoot, and any performance is an iconic one.

I went to see Gordon Lightfoot this past Saturday night. A friend had an extra ticket and asked if I would be interested in seeing the show.

I saw Gordon a year ago, and also two years before that. He’s definitely showing his age (he’s 76). I remember hearing him perform back in the 1970s (and meeting him after the show) and being enthralled. This time not as much, but…

Once again I got to see Gordon Lightfoot perform. That is a privilege I may not have again. The man is a giant of Canadian music – his songs have been covered by everyone from Bob Dylan to Elvis Presley to Neil Young. He’s been around a long time.

I knew of Gordon Lightfoot before I started listening to his music. As a Canadian, how could I not? The “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” is practically a second national anthem – amazing that it was a commissioned piece, written to order. I remember when he first made it big on the U.S pop charts in 1970. I still have an album titled Sit Down Young Stranger, which was quickly retitled If You Could Read My Mind to capitalize on the hit single from the album.

Saturday’s show was like others I have attended over the years. My biggest complaint is that with such a wealth of material to draw on, inevitably some of my favourite songs get left out. This time out there was no “Don Quixote,” “Did She Mention My Name,” “Bitter Green” or “Black Day in July,” songs I was kind of hoping to hear. That’s okay though, because he did play, among others, “Ribbon of Darkness,” “Sundown,” “Cotton Jenny,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.” The backing band was tight, which not surprising as some of them have been with Lightfoot for a long time (bassist Rick Haynes started with Gord in 1970).

There have been many tributes to Lightfoot over the years, but my favourite remains the first one I ever heard. On the second side of the Guess Who’s Wheatfield Soul record, their breakthrough album that included “These Eyes,” there is a song titled “Lightfoot.” Recorded in 1968, the song not only was a tribute to Lightfoot in words but in style, as writers Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings channeled their inner Gordon Lightfoot to compose the song.

A hockey player knows when to hang up his skates. It’s tougher for a musician. Gordon Lightfoot knows he doesn’t sound like he did in the sixties and seventies. But people want to see him perform; hear him sing the old songs, even if they don’t sound quite the way they did on the old vinyl records. The hit machine dried up decades ago as radio changed, there hasn’t been an album of new material in a decade, but thousands of people are still willing to pay eighty, a hundred dollars or more for a concert.

So each night Gordon Lightfoot metaphorically laces on his skates and glides out on to the stage, his 12-string guitar in hand. I suspect he doesn’t know what else he would do with his time if he weren’t doing this. And we would miss him if he stopped.


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