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Old 01-23-2020, 07:55 PM   #6
Join Date: May 2000
Posts: 15,852
Default Re: Analysis of Lightfoot career - long read.

In 2002, at age 63, Lightfoot suffered an abdominal aortic aneurysm that entailed a tracheotomy, three other surgeries, and three months of hospitalization, during six weeks of which the singer was comatose. In 2006 he had a stroke that temporarily stilled two of his fingers. The following decade found him traveling to dates with oxygen to manage his emphysema. He had quit drinking in 1982. He gave up smoking approaching his 80th birthday.

An online video of his 2018 Coachella set provides 64 minutes of evidence on the state of his health. It’s painful to watch and hear, and it provoked a typical YouTuber array of dyspepsia and defensiveness. “Ouch, I hope nobody paid money for that,” says one viewer. “At 80, Gordon is still willing to thrill fans for over an hour,” marvels another. Onefoot7 wonders, “Is he eating, at all?????” and later returns with “Fuckin yikes.” Love Life disagrees: “He still has it. May God bless him.” Another viewer cloaked her criticism in compassion: “I feel for him, but age and health have taken their toll. Very sad.”

I asked my former voice therapist in Chicago to compare samples of Lightfoot’s youthful voice with his current one, and share her thoughts:

“His recent singing seems like he’s belting it out rather than the smooth voice from earlier years. He’s not articulating his words as well… Being in a coma for six weeks means he was likely intubated during that time. The tube would cause irritation, especially if he woke occasionally and tried to talk (or, worse, tried to pull it out). Without further medical info, I’d hate to speculate but we often see things like vocal fold bowing and/or granuloma after long term intubation. Of course, age is a factor, too. The vocal folds get thinner as we get older and the muscles supporting the breath aren’t as strong. His posture in the later videos looks like he’s using his whole body to push out the sound.”

Gordon has hit the gym religiously since 1980 (“There’s a price for everything, so with me I gotta go to the club and I gotta go to the gym and I don’t care”) and current interview footage shows that his wits and his speech are quick. Maybe he will come up with another record of fine new songs. Let’s hope they’re animated by catchy tunes, inspired rhymes, and late-life wisdom. Let’s hope the playing is vigorous, unconstrained by metronomes without and caution within.


Here are Lightfoot’s six most common subject areas, with percentages based on their appearance in my 236-song sample:

Nature appreciation (9%)
Roguish wanderers, itinerant bohemians (10%)
Memorials to hookups and brief love affairs (11%)
Seductions (8%)
Semi-inscrutable philosophic reflections (18%)
Things of the sea (4%)
Naturally some subjective discretion influenced these category assignments. “The Mountains and Marianne” concerns a hookup (the singer racing cross-country in pursuit of “hot-blooded mountain love to satisfy my soul”) but has so many details on travel and freedom that I decided to put it in the “Roguish Wanderer” box. “Don Quixote” and “Cabaret” have those same details but I marked them as “Reflections” due to their semi-inscrutability. Mr. Lightfoot’s quirkiest interest, matters thalassic, gets the sparsest attention, philosophy the most, and everything else is neck-and-neck. The distribution is very shapely. It’s almost like he thought of all this before I did.

The six topics add up to 60%. The rest of the songpile spans bitter regret (“Sometimes I Wish,” 2003), pitiful women (“Poor Little Allison,” 1970), geographic history (“Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” 1967), romantic loneliness (“Ribbon of Darkness,” 1966), war (“The Patriot’s Game,” 1972), elderly perverts (“Uncle Toad Said,” 1998), nostalgic longing (“Did She Mention My Name?”), social commentary (“Black Day In July,” 1968), sexual boasts (“Walls,” 1967), and welfare poverty (“Circle of Steel,” 1974). Broad though that is, there are some territories unexplored. Little or no play is given to savage emotions like fear of death, unappeasable anger, self-disgust, and profound grief. Lightfoot’s gaze seldom alights on love that is uxorious, familial, or child-focused — love, that is, outside the arena of high-octane heterosexual carnality.

The lyrics in entirety reflect better on the writer than the person. “Rosanna” pays tribute to a woman who serves “coffee on a silver tray” and sees that “the dinner’s served at eight o’clock, on time,” endorsing a sexual politics out of I Dream of Jeannie; “The List” assures a woman that the singer will make room in his schedule for her to bed him; “Affair On 8th Avenue” turns secretive coitus to sickening treacle (“If you should ask me what secrets I hide / I’m only your lover, don’t make me decide”); “Softly” is a tender ode to a woman who orgasms then leaves before sunup. Though some of this attitude was then in the drinking water, I can’t completely absolve the writer of these sentiments, and no conscientious effort to separate author from art would relax me into letting him near my daughter unsupervised.

As a craftsman, though, Lightfoot easily compels respect. He balances a commitment to unfiltered experience — the tumult of thought, the reactiveness to the rush of daily particulars, the wonderment at all that is beyond the reach of man’s ken—with editorial vigilance. At a line level, he makes few trips to the same wells. I dumped the lyrics of the 236 songs into a word-processing document and did global searches on railroad, leaving, beautiful, lady, rock. These and other suspect terms recurred remarkably little. (Sea, however, appears on average in every seventh song.)

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