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GUEST COLUMN: Gordon Lightfoot was the soundtrack of our youth

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By Nadine Wark

When you have a long-term relationship with an old friend, losing that friend is not an easy process. It can even be someone you have never met in person, but feel you have known for decades. In my case, I am speaking of the great Canadian music legend/icon, Gordon Lightfoot who passed away May 1, 2023 at age 84. He was recently given a well-deserved tribute in his hometown of Orillia, Ont.

As with other artists who have entertained us with their melodies and lyrics, he had his own distinct sound and style. He was known as a folk-pop performer, but was so much more: poet, writer, story-teller, singer, guitarist, while appealing to several generations. He sang songs of the heart, lost love, loneliness, shipwrecks, highways, trains and themes which, no doubt, reflect on Canada and how he embraced our country. Hearing the first few chords of his guitar, you knew who it was and the name of the song. For those of a certain age, Gordon Lightfoot was the soundtrack of their youth.

If You Could Read My Mind (what a tale my thoughts could tell) sets the stage for deep thinking, whether good, bad or ugly. Gordon actually wrote the song during his marital split from his wife and how “the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back”. Rainy Day People suggests that all of us suffer many of the same situations in life and can offer a solace and empathy to others as ‘they’ve been down like you’.

A favourite song of mine perhaps not as recognizable as others, is Song for a Winter’s Night; I feel as if I am right there. The lamp is burning low, snow softly falling outside with someone sitting in a chair, sipping from an almost empty glass and wishing his love could be there with him on this winter’s night. He turns the pages of a love letter.

Carefree Highway is about getting away, (let me slip away from you), wanting to see an old flame, and hitting the highway. We never know if a destination was reached; I doubt it. The journey was the point. Black Day In July is about the 1967 Detroit riots. Talking In Your Sleep is about hearing ‘a name I can’t recall’.

The first couple of chords totally ‘gives away’ the haunting, melancholy Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This song gets a fair amount of air-play, but moreso come November. The captain says “fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya.” and after the hatchway caves in, “fellas, it’s been good to know ya.”

Gordon Lightfoot’s musical legacy includes 20 albums, 3 live albums, 16 Greatest Hits albums and 46 singles. One of Canada’s best.

Nadine has been a short-story writer for many years and published in several local magazines and newspapers.

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