RIP, Gordon Lightfoot

The legends of music are falling like autumn leaves now. Each one a gut punch of nostalgia and loss. I’d hoped to see Gordon Lightfoot this year, but he cancelled his tour just a few weeks before passing away last night. It felt like the end was near for him, and here we are. It’s a lesson to each of us—never postpone for tomorrow what you might do now. I passed on many opportunities to see Lightfoot in concert, I just put it off for another day that will never come. So it is.

Lightfoot got me through a few dark days in my 20’s, back when a relationship was falling apart and I was figuring out what to do with myself next. He could make you feel like he’d written the song with you in mind, with a silky smooth voice to sooth the most restless spirit. Here are just four of Gordon Lightfoot’s songs that have meant a lot to me in my life:

If You Could Read My Mind
If you could read my mind, love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like an old time movie
‘Bout a ghost from a wishing well
In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
But stories always end
And if you read between the lines
You’ll know that I’m just trying to understand
The feelings that you lack

The breakup song to end all breakup songs. The anthem of the jilted. And one of the most beautiful songs ever written. This is the song that everyone will reference when they talk of the loss of Gordon Lightfoot. It’s the song that made his career, and it will always be the entry point for so many into his catalog of songs.

Wherefore And Why
Then all at once it came to me
I saw the wherefore
And you can see it if you try
It’s in the sun above
It’s in the one you love
You’ll never know the reason why

Deeper into Gord’s catalog, we find this amazing song of hope, resilience and purpose. Sometimes the answer isn’t out there on the road, it’s right at home. I think of this song sometimes as the sun rises and I greet the new day.

Song For A Winter’s Night
If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you

When those we love are absent from our lives, what are we to do with ourselves? This is a song of longing framed within beautiful lyrics and melody. We’ve all felt this way, alone and missing someone. Wishing it weren’t so.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters

A song that memorialized the lives of a crew caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, like so many sailors before and since. It’s timeless and epic and a bigger sound than anything else in Lightfoot’s catalog. You turn this one up loud and sing along, and appreciate that it wasn’t you on that ship as everything went wrong.

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for this brief but thoughtful memoir. I think of Gordon Lightfoot first when the Folk style of music is mentioned. (Of course, the seventies are my favorite anyway!)

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