Lightfoot!

August 31, 2008

One of the strongest hooks of the vinyl adventure which Paloma and I have recently set out upon is the affordability of discovering music that had been previously unheard. Or, in the case of Gordon Lightfoot, familiarizing ourselves with the work of an artist with whom our knowledge is middling (although Paloma informs me that, via her grandmother, she has middled more with Gordon than I).

At a previous job, two of my closest friends and I would spontaneously blurt out “Lightfoot!” in a fashion similar to Jerry Seinfeld muttering “Newman!” I don’t think any of us considered Gordon to be an arch-nemesis and I doubt that any of us knew much more of the man’s music aside from his hits.

So, several weeks ago, while browsing for albums, when I came across a copy of his two-LP set Gord’s Gold for a mere dollar, I pounced. It’s proven to be worth several times what I paid, providing a calming effect on me as I commute to work down what can hardly be described as a carefree highway (Sting was more accurate when, in the song Synchronicity II, he referred to “rush hour hell” and drivers “packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes, contestants in a suicidal race.”).

As much as I’ve enjoyed Gord’s Gold, I’ve been hesitant to purchase other titles of his and much of it has to do with the album covers and his appearance which, to me, is a disappointment.

See, maybe it’s because of his signature song The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, but it is difficult for me to picture Lightfoot as anything other than a nautical sort. Note the contrast between the cover for Gord’s Gold and his 1967 album The Way I Feel.

The scallywag on the cover of the former could comfortably sit with Robert Shaw’s Quint in some coastal dive, telling bawdy jokes and recounting tales from the briny deep, punctuating things with a rum-soaked “Aye!”

The freshly-scrubbed, earnest fellow on the cover of the latter would likely risk being reduced to tears by a profanity-laced tirade for failing to double-bag Quint’s groceries at the A&P.

But, as I am greatly enjoying the man’s rich baritone and evocative lyrics and, as Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson have declared themselves to be fans of the Canadian troubadour, maybe I just need to stay focused on the music.

I haven’t spent enough time with Gord’s Gold to know much of it well, but I do quite like Canadian Railroad Trilogy , which reminds me, thematically, of Dire Strait’s epic Telegraph Road (which features some wicked playing by Mark Knopfler).

I know that I’ve come across the song on some music blog and I thought it had appeared on Echoes In The Wind. During a quick search, I couldn’t find it, but whiteray does appear to be in agreement with Dylan and Robertson as there are numerous appearances by Lightfoot, including a really nice entry on The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald.

I also ripped Gord’s Gold from vinyl as album sides, so the four songs which I do have as individual tracks are ones with which even casual music fans are likely familiar.

Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald
I would have to think that even my late grandmother knew this song. Is The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald the Stairway To Heaven of ’70s singer/songwriters? Can I get a ruling?

The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald actually does not appear on Gord’s Gold as it was released the year after Gord’s Gold.

Gordon Lightfoot – If You Could Read My Mind
I’ve read that this song is about the break-up of Lightfoot’s first marriage and it certainly is a somber affair. Of course, it also is a good example of the smooth-talking ways of Lightfoot, so I imagine he was fairly suave when it came to the ladies.

Gordon Lightfoot – Carefree Highway
Gordon loves the open road, apparently as much as I love bacon. If Gordon and I were on a road trip, you can be damned sure that we’d be eating bacon along the way (and likely arguing over what radio station to listen to).

Oh yeah, apparently there is a stretch of interstate in central Arizona which is actually referred to as the Carefree Highway.

Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown
According to Wikipedia, Sundown is about Cathy Smith, Lightfoot’s girlfriend at the time, who even drove his tour bus. She later became a drug dealer and, most infamously, was involved in the death of John Belushi, allegedly selling him the drugs that killed him (and by some accounts being the person who injected him).

On All Music Guide, the reviewer interprets the song as being about the complications of falling in love with a prostitute (are there tour bus-driving hookers?).

Maybe Lightfoot is, indeed, a scallywag.

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