Friday, 9th July 1999
Lightfoot: He says so little, you have to be a mind-reader
The reticent balladeer talks on MuchMoreMusic
Dan Brown, from the National
He'd rather sing than chat: Gordon Lightfoot peforms on Intimate
All those stories you've heard about Gordon Lightfoot being a man of
few words, they're true.
On Wednesday night the mellow-voiced guitarist known for hits like
Carefree Highway and Sundown re-earned his reputation for reticence
with an appearance on MuchMoreMusic's Intimate & Interactive. The
live broadcast -- a cross between MTV's Unplugged and a Clintonesque
electronic town hall meeting -- allows those in the studio audience to
quiz their favourite performer between songs. It's the ideal format to
prove there isn't a glib bone in Lightfoot's body.
"I have been a fan of yours for a good 30 years and I always
thought you were one of the finest singer/songwriters this country has
ever produced," said John Gilley, a fan sitting in the front row.
"I have been listening to the new boxed set [the just-released
Songbook] for the last couple of weeks and I'm knocked out by the 18
unreleased tracks that you have put on it. The quality is just
"I would like to ask you this question: When you were going
through that stuff -- after not having heard it for a good few years,
I would imagine -- did you have any regrets in not putting those
particular songs on the certain albums they were recorded for?"
Earlier in the 90-minute show, Pat, from Winnipeg, had phoned in to
talk to Lightfoot about the one experience in his long recording
career (which started with a session in Nashville in 1962) that stands
out above all the rest.
"I guess the time we went to Mount Rushmore was about the best of
all," he replied.
"You played Mount Rushmore?" Intimate & Interactive host
Jana Lynn White asked breathlessly.
"No. We had the day off, so we went there."
Each time a question was thrown his way, the small crowd would laugh
as Lightfoot paused thoughtfully, drew a deep breath as if to answer,
then . . . paused again. Was Song for a Winter's Night written with
anyone specific in mind, an e-mailer from Halifax wanted to know.
"That song was written during a thunderstorm in Cleveland,
Ohio." Pause. "Probably."
The onlookers knew the man well enough not to expect him to give away
much. They didn't have words to hang on, so they hung on his songs:
chestnuts like Alberta Bound, If You Could Read My Mind and Rainy Day
Staring at a point just above their heads, folk's elder statesman
stepped forward, sang a line or two, then knocked his own head back.
He didn't sing into the microphone so much as take swigs from it. His
four bandmates sat around him, arranged like points on a compass.
The look of painfully intense concentration that crosses Lightfoot's
weathered face when he sings is in contrast to the gentle lilt that
comes out of his mouth. His voice is "a cool drink of
water," fan Tova Kronick said after the show.
Photos of Lightfoot (young, clean-shaven Gord; 1970s Gord in too-cool
sunglasses) were hung on wooden panels around the Intimate &
The panels suggested barn beams; the photos reinforced Lightfoot's
longevity. "The mandatory retirement age is coming up now,"
he joked at one point. "Oh, can I call you Gord and stuff?"
asked Mick, a young caller from Edmonton who wasn't born when The
Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald became a radio mainstay.
"It's a very emotional thing," Jim Cuddy said after
Lightfoot left the set. Cuddy is the co-frontman for Blue Rodeo and
one of ol' Gord's musical heirs.
"I think it's also who he is. He's such a shy guy" who talks
so little, but when he sings he speaks for so many people.
Just don't expect any long-winded stories.