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Old 05-23-2019, 04:35 PM   #51
Join Date: May 2000
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Default Re: HOT DOCS-Lightfoot documentary - interviews/photos/articles-Apr.-2019


On his way to the second-floor space of Early Morning Productions, the Yonge Street office where all of his business affairs are looked after, Gordon Lightfoot would pass a homeless man in the foyer of the building. After giving the man $20 one day, every time thereafter he felt compelled to give him at least the same amount. “I started high,” Lightfoot has explained, “and I just had to continue with it.”

So it is with him, his whole career. Lightfoot started high and everybody expected him to keep up the pace. People – friends, fans, family members, record labels and lovers – took pieces of him and wanted more. A shy, fair-haired boy from Orillia, Ont., an eager-to-please Lightfoot didn’t like to say no. Write us an anthem, Gordon, something about railways. Give us an encore, play us a song, shoot me a loan, would you? Hands were out, all the time. They took his girlfriend, even – the jealousy of Sundown was not baseless.

The pressure got to him. “I was under contract to a record company and I wanted to produce, and that’s what I did.” Lightfoot told Vanity Fair in 2016. “I made sacrifices. The isolation of it all managed to destroy a couple of my [marriages].”

Driven and conflicted by expectations, insecurities, loyalties and immense ambition, he broke down eventually. (And did so well before the abdominal aneurysm that nearly killed him in 2002.) A Canadian Club enthusiast, Lightfoot heckled an audience member at London’s Dominion Theatre in 1981, before walking off the stage altogether. Divorces and drunk-driving happened. Worst of all, after his hit-making heyday, Lightfoot began making bad music.
The singer-songwriter, now 80 years old and sober since the first Trudeau prime minister, is the subject of a new documentary, Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind. Named after one of his signature songs, the title alludes to his complexity and, according to one of the film’s directors, his impenetrability. “There’s no easy answers with him,” says Martha Kehoe, who made the film with fellow Torontonian Joan Tosoni. “He just isn’t prepared in that moment, with the camera on him, to do any kind of self-mining.”

The biodoc’s telling early scene has Lightfoot and his current and third wife, Kim Hasse, watching an old clip of him singing (That’s What You Get) For Lovin’ Me. We see Lightfoot wincing at the song’s blatant misogyny, before telling the directors to turn the thing off. “I guess I don’t like who I am,” he says, in a rare moment of introspection.

“It’s not a free ride being Gordon Lightfoot,” Kehoe told The Globe and Mail. “You have regrets. You’ve done stuff. You’ve screwed people over. You’ve put yourself first. You’ve believed your own fame. He doesn’t want to articulate it in every way that that is true, but if you spend time with him, it’s all there, somewhere.”

He spoke about some of those regrets when I visited him in his airy mansion in the city’s tony Bridle Path neighbourhood. In his small wood-panelled study and songwriter space, a gaunt but willing Lightfoot was comfortably surrounded by 12-string Gibson guitars, Fender amplifiers and cassette recorders as old as his last hit.

The Globe and Mail: Tell me about (That’s What You Get) For Lovin’ Me.

Lightfoot: It’s a song about unrequited love. I didn’t understand what the word chauvinism meant when I wrote it. I was married at the time. It could have been offensive, but my wife, Brita, was European. She understood what poetic licence was, I suppose.

Globe: Would you write a song like that today?

Lightfoot: Probably not. I would take the brutality out. You don’t want to create emotional trauma to people who are close to you. You have to be careful what you say when you’re writing a song. It’s the songwriter’s curse.

Globe: The song was covered by Johnny Cash and Peter, Paul and Mary. Is that the ultimate compliment, for a songwriter, to have one’s work recorded by others?

Lightfoot: Yes. I think you could say so. I still ask the question “why?” though.

Globe: You wrote good songs, that’s why. Why would you ask such a thing?

Lightfoot: Because I still question my own ability. I have my whole life, and I continue to do so.

Globe: Is that healthy?

Lightfoot: I don’t know if it helps or not. Did you say “helping” or did you say “healthy?”

Globe: Healthy.

Lightfoot: I don’t consider myself to be a genius, by any stretch of the imagination. It bothers me to be referred to as such.

In the documentary, Lightfoot is not specifically referred to as a genius, though Burton Cummings does say the Canadian Railroad Trilogy songwriter should be part of this country’s history-book curriculum. Canada chronicler Pierre Berton never rhymed “Gitche Gumee” with “the skies of November turn gloomy," and it was Lightfoot, not Tom Thomson, who wrote A Painter Passing Through.

When the lights were raised following the film’s first public screening at TIFF Lightbox, an older gentleman stood up and raised his walking cane in the air. “Let’s hear it for Canada’s one and only, Gordon Lightfoot,” he so much as hip-hip-hooray-ed.

Seated on one side of me at the screening was Bernie Finkelstein, something of a Canadian music legend himself. I asked him if he knew who the man with the cane was. “I don’t,” he replied. “But I don’t like him. I can’t stand cheerleaders.”

Finkelstein, who started True North Records in 1969 and who still manages Bruce Cockburn, used to promote shows with Lightfoot’s long-time friend and booking agent, Bernie Fiedler. Asked if Lightfoot was a Canadian icon under siege with expectations early in his career, Finkelstein agreed. “Canadians want their artists to succeed in the United States,” Finkelstein answered. “It’s important to them.”
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