Sunday, May 07, 2023


Gordon Lightfoot - Don Quixote

It isn't every day I have to write an obituary tribute to possibly the single greatest cultural export of a whole country, but I'll use my 30th anniversary on the West Coast of the North American continent to try.

As I watched the documentary about his life last night, I kept poring over my memory banks to see if I could come up with a more universal symbol of Canada, who embodies the essence of that place with the molecular accuracy that he did and does.

I could think of no one else with his longevity and gravitas. All the ones that spring to mind came after him, and are on record saying it was he they were imitating. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are, as everyone even mildly cognitive agrees, impossibly brilliant, standard-setting artists without doubt. But even they came up looking up to this guy.

Bob Dylan -- not a Canadian, but close -- once famously opined that the only bad part of a Gordon Lightfoot song is that it ends. I'd add that the only part of Gordon Lightfoot's astonishing lifetime that sucked was that it had to, as all of ours must, end... as it did this past Monday, after a career that can only be described as indescribably impactful.

In the 1960s Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot seemed to have a little friendly competition going on, kinda like The Beatles and The Beach Boys did.
At the 1965 Newport Folk festival, where Dylan famously blew up the spot by going electric, legend has it he was last seen with Gordon Lightfoot before taking the stage.

These people's mutually motivational attempts at musical one-upmanship, in the anything-goes cultural milieu of the 1960s, did much to determine the future of modern songwriting as we have now come to know it.

Speaking of the Sixties, he began showbiz life in the early part of them, as part of a Canadian TV show that was half hootenanny and half hoedown.

It wasn't long before he passed through a few groups on his way to a solo career that established him in Toronto's boho Yorkville district as the rising star to watch, with other musos stopping off in Canada to witness his ascent.

Shortly before, he'd been inspired by Dylan and others to begin to write his own material, it wasn't long before he had tunes other singers and songsmiths were falling over each other to cover.

His progress to absolute iconhood may have started when he was asked, on almost no notice, to compose a song for the Canadian Centennial in 1967.

His answer, Canadian Railroad Trilogy, became almost the alternative national anthem upon its nationwide TV premiere.

From that point on through the end of the 1970s, he had a string of barnburning global hits that will always be on someone's playlist, long after all of us are gone from this world.
He never stopped playing, writing and touring until he passed last week.

And now he is gone from this world, that he did so much to enrich with his style of infinitely melodic storytelling, at the age of 84. W
ell, physically, anyway, because figures like this never really die as long as we remember them as they were when they were here, leaving their indelible impression.

It will take time to remember and appreciate this monumental life of unprecedented, world-altering accomplishment, and nothing we could say can add much... save the odd (yet kinda cool) memorial design line. But let's let the music talk with two of his most beloved TV performances -- distilled to the audio format and made all nice (or at least nicer) by me and my pals Sound Forge & Audacity -- as a beginning.

Gordon Lightfoot
"BBC In Concert"
BBC Studios
London, UK

01 Summer Side of Life
02 Saturday Clothes
03 For Lovin’ Me/Did She Mention My Name
04 Affair On Eighth Avenue
05 If You Could Read My Mind
06 Steel Rail Blues
07 Your Love's Return
08 Ten Degrees and Getting Colder
09 Early Morning Rain
10 Farewell Nova Scotia
11 Miguel
12 Me and Bobby McGee
13 Nous Vivons Ensemble
14 Minstrel of the Dawn
15 Talking In Your Sleep
16 Canadian Railroad Trilogy

Total time: 1:04:28

Gordon Lightfoot - guitar & vocals
Rick Haynes - bass
Red Shea - guitar

256/48k audio from a 2011 BBC-4 TV rebroadcast
extracted, edited and tracked by EN, May 2023 

Gordon Lightfoot
WTTW-TV Studios
Chicago, Illinois USA

01 WTTW-TV introduction
02 Cotton Jenny
03 The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
04 Endless Wire
05 Summertime Dream
06 Don Quixote
07 If You Could Read My Mind
08 Ghosts of Cape Horn
10 Hangdog Hotel Room
11 Sundown
12 band interviews
13 Early Morning Rain
14 Whisper My Name
15 On the TV
16 Old Dan's Records
17 Canadian Railroad Trilogy 

Total time: 58:22

Gordon Lightfoot - guitar & vocals
Rick Haynes - bass & vocals
Terry Clements - guitars & vocals
Berry Keane - drums & percussion
Pee-Wee Charles - steel guitar 

pre-broadcast audio of indeterminate origin, sourced from the 2018 boot silver CD "The Legendary FM Broadcasts"
Track 15, which was erroneously omitted from that CD, is patched from the 2022 digital download "PBS Soundstage," 
which seems sourced from an off-air capture of the FM simulcast, broadcast over WIOQ-FM in Philadelphia PA
retracked, edited, denoised & slightly remastered by EN, May 2023
316 & 352 MB FLAC respectively/direct link

So we say goodbye and thank you to this Northerly bard of song. A writer so skilled he took a sea shanty, in 3/4 time, with no chorus, at 6 minutes and 26 seconds long -- which begins with a hurricane, proceeds to a shipwreck and ends with a mass funeral -- to the top of a chart festooned with Kiss, Grand Funk Railroad and five million disposable disco hits about cocaine, alcohol and girls.
Who does that? Who could do that? Only songwriting deities for the ages -- with whom we're all immeasurably lucky to overlap lifetimes -- like Gordon Lightfoot could. And you don't have to be able to read minds to know that.--J.

11.17.1938 - 5.1.2023

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