A FAN’S NOTES
If I do not suffer the ignominy of dying abandoned and unmourned, I want Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Old Dan’s Records’ played at my wake. And I hope my friends and relatives will then go through our music collection and share a laugh and a tear spinning the old songs; ones that elated me and ones that depressed me, ones I loved.
There is some musical talent in our family, but like my father’s gift for carpentry, nothing of the sort was bestowed upon me. Recorder classes in grade school were as agonizing as arithmetic and French. Music is one of the great joys of the accident of existence. Every songwriter, singer and musician wants to be heard. I have happily embraced the role of fan.
Fandom is akin to juggling on a high wire: blind love must be tempered by a critical ear and creepy obsession must be tempered by mere blind love. The listener keeps going back to that album, that song even while demanding the artist to grow and evolve yet release more like that. Live performances have become problematic. Concert tickets are expensive. While hardcore fans may be more opened minded regarding an artist’s in person foibles, casual goers want to hear those songs, greatest hits as they were recorded, please; a delicate balance for every involved party.
Last night we saw Gordon Lightfoot in an elegant theatre with incredible acoustics and clean sightlines. Every honourific cliché hangs like a medal from the lapel of his velvet jacket: genius, legend, icon. At 75 he looks at least as cool as Keith Richards, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, in other words, far beyond my own middle aged dreams of hip. There is a frailty too, the deep, rich voice has diminished and certain lyrical phrases sound slack and slightly slurred. ‘Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated,’ he told us although his various and relatively recent health issues were national news.
Lightfoot has written so many great songs that a list of five or even ten seems a discourtesy, a life’s work reduced to arbitrary ascending or descending digits. Canada is a big, empty and diverse country but it’s looking like we may yet make it to the 150th anniversary of Confederation. And you shall know us through Lightfoot’s ‘Canadian Railroad Trilogy.’
The reeling jig of ‘Old Dan’s Records’ was too much to hope for, so why bother. It is the upbeat stranger in the generally down and heavy Lightfoot canon. Walking through the dark to the auditorium I kept thinking: Please, God, please, Gord, play ‘Early Morning Rain.’ If you only do one song about heartbreak, about being alienated by the changing times… We’ve got at least two versions by you and covers by Neil and Bob. Elvis sang it. Gram Parsons should have and I can hear the Stones demolishing it with gusto: piano, Mick on harmonica, ragged acoustic guitars and Charlie gently brushing his drums. Please, Gord… I really love that song.