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Old 09-22-2020, 05:31 PM   #95
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Default Re: HOT DOCS-Lightfoot doc.-interviews/photos/articles-Apr-2019-AND TV viewing info

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind Directors Talk Epic and Intimate Musical Moments
Gordon Lightfoot is a national treasure in Canada and Directors Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni dig past the archives.
By Tony Sokol
July 16, 2020

The documentary Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, directed by Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni, is an intimate look at a prolific singer-songwriter who enriches and is enriched by the history of Canada. Most of the world knows Lightfoot as the singer with the recognizable baritone who put out hits like “Sundown,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” and “Early Mornin’ Rain.” But in his native country, he is a national treasure. Before international fame, in 1967, he actually wrote and performed a piece called “The Tale of Canada” for the country’s 100th anniversary. After worldwide renown, he mined contemporary local history with the “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

Lightfoot caught the performance bug early. He was five when he debuted his rendition of “I’m A Little Teapot” at St. Paul’s United Church Sunday School in Orillia. He would go on to study composition, do time as a singing drummer in jazz orchestras, Canadian Broadcast arranger, and session player, even recording with guitar legend Chet Atkins in Nashville in 1962 before moving into folk rock. Working for a time with the same manager as Bob Dylan, the two remained tight friends as they both played Greenwich Village clubs and the folk circuit. Lightfoot performed an acoustic set before Dylan took the stage to play electric for the first time, the documentary reminds us. They are unabashed fans of each other’s works.

Lightfoot rose up the charts with hits like “Carefree Highway,” “For Lovin’ Me,” and “Rainy Day People.” Besides Dylan, his songs were covered by Elvis Presley, Neil Young, Marty Robbins, Glen Campbell, Ann Murray, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Liza Minnelli and the Replacements. Frank Sinatra, however, passed on recording “If You Could Read My Mind” for being “too long,” according to the documentary. Lightfoot was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012 and dropped his first full-length album in 16 years, Solo, on March 20.

Quite a few musicians and music enthusiasts are enthusiastic about Gordon Lightfoot, and the documentary lets artists like Sarah McLachlan, Geddy Lee and Gordon Alex Lifeson of Rush, and The Guess Who’s Randy Bachman explain what they learned coming up, and Ronnie Hawkins talks about the fun of it. Alec Baldwin talks to the fan side, comparing Lightfoot to more poetic singer-songwriters like Cat Stevens.

Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni, who co-directed Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, spoke with Den of Geek about the epic songs and even more epic parties thrown by Canada’s favorite singer-songwriter.

Den of Geek: Is it federally mandated in Canada to be a Gordon Lightfoot fan?

Martha Kehoe: Gord is in a very singular position, and I think Murray McLachlan kind of points it out in the film when he says, “People were looking around going, ‘Where’s our music, and where’s the Canadians’ stuff?'” And then all of a sudden there it was. So it’s more just a situation that Gord was a very significant artist in Canada, and people were just fans of him from the get-go. He came along at a certain time and place, where Canadians were looking for something, and he just had the talent, and he had the charisma, and people just liked him. We were excited that there was someone that good from Canada.

Joan Tosoni: And also, he was very prolific. I mean, he was a hit-churning machine there for quite a few years.

Kehoe: Popping out records. He was very, very popular in Canada from the time of his first record, but Gord was never pleased with how those United Artists records performed, so that’s why his deal with Warner was such a big deal, and that’s when he started having the international hits. He felt like the United Artists label didn’t quite know how to promote him. He did a lot of soundtracks in those days.

Do most Canadians know Gordon Lightfoot the way Americans know, say, Bob Dylan?

Kehoe: It’s a very different relationship though. I think Bob Dylan inspires some awe. Gord inspires awe but if you see Gord downtown, people smile at him, people say, “Hey, Gord.” They feel a little closer to him, I would say, than people feel to Bob Dylan. Bob’s always been an enigma, and Gord, while being intensely private and so forth, has approachability for Canadians. Canadians feel like we know him a bit. I feel like Americans don’t feel as comfortable with Bob Dylan as Canadians would feel with Gord.

Tosoni: I agree. And Bob Dylan has maintained a kind of, how do I describe it? He’s deliberately maintained that distance.

Kehoe: He probably had to. The other thing is that Canadians, historically anyway, have been a little less intense than Americans. So even if you are a huge fan of somebody as a Canadian, you might not say hi to them if you saw them in a restaurant. I think everybody feels like Gord could be a friend of theirs, whereas you don’t necessarily feel that with Bob Dylan.

How did you approach Gordon Lightfoot about being in the documentary?

Tosoni: Well, we had been talking about it for years, but Gord felt he wasn’t ready. It was too soon for him. So when he was about 75, he said, “Okay, now it’s time. Let’s do it.” We did a preliminary shoot to make a promotion reel for funding, but it did take us five years to get the complete funding to do the film. So it was always in discussion, and we only went ahead when Gord felt he was ready.

So it wouldn’t have been made without his input?

Kehoe: Well, we didn’t even think of that. His input was a big part of it. We’ve done things about his career before, but we sought to make this a feature film. Gord’s had a lot of profiles done on him. He’s done tons of promotion, but he’d never done anything that felt like you’d really feel like you’d spent time with him. We wanted to do something that was intimate and really authentic to Gord somehow.

Tosoni: Gord has done so many interviews. But I think at this stage, he committed himself to maybe revealing more than he did in the standard interviews. He recognized the importance of a documentary that was going to be more in-depth and maybe have to reveal more of himself than he had before.

Kehoe: Although, honestly, when he first saw the film, his attitude… What did he say, Joanie? Was it jaw-boning?

Tosoni: Oh, yeah. “A little too much jaw-boning and not enough music.”

Kehoe: That was his thumbnail take on his first watching of the film.

Tosoni: We asked him when we had completed the film and before anyone had seen it, if he wanted to see it, because we were opening at the Hot Doc Film Festival in Toronto. And there was going to be a big audience of some VIPs, people in the film, et cetera. And we asked him if he wanted to see it. He said, “Nope. I’ll see it with everybody else.”

Since that time, he’s seen it with a few audiences, and he told me, “I really like the film now.” But if it had been up to him, it would have been all music and no talk.

Did the Second City skit “Gordon Lightfoot Sings Every Song Ever Written” come up in conversation?

Kehoe: We actually didn’t talk about that, but he would know all those SCTV guys, and he would’ve found that hilarious. He doesn’t mind being lampooned, especially now. I think he’s a lot less sensitive than he used to be when he was a younger man. He talks about that in the film, that as a Canadian, he always felt like he was a little bit awkward, that he had a little bit of hay in his hair compared to some of the slicker people he used to meet in the music industry. But he’s got a good sense of humor about himself.

Tosoni: Burton Cummings does a thing when he’s onstage: “Lightfoot singing “Maggie May” and Gord laughs at it. He’s okay with it.

While I was waiting for you to call, I was watching a video of Joni Mitchell jamming with Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn at Gordon Lightfoot’s house. So I want to ask about his reputation as a terrific rock and roll party host.

Kehoe: Yeah. He had that big house in Rosedale for a long time, and it was sort of an unofficial headquarters for a group of people that hung out in Toronto. I say Gordon Lightfoot is kind of our Zelig or Forrest Gump. He’s met everyone. He’s been a part of every single scene in Canada. There’s never been a party in Canada that Gordon Lightfoot couldn’t get into, and that’s now and then. And he hosted a lot of them too.

He always had sort of an open door policy. Steve Earle told us a story about when he was in Toronto, and he’d been a fan of Gord’s. And they said, “Okay. Well, let us make a call.” And somebody just drove him to Gord’s door and let him off and said, “We’ll come and pick you up in a couple hours.” And Steve was like, “Oh, my God, what do I do now?” But they went in and played guitar for a couple hours.

Tosoni: And now whenever Steve plays in town, Gord goes and sits in the audience, this many years later.

Kehoe: Gord told us a little bit about Bob Dylan, because as we make the point in the film, Gord has been a lifelong fan of Bob Dylan and still rhapsodizes about his talent as a songwriter. Gordon’s tight with Ronnie Hawkins. So when Dylan used to come up to Toronto to rehearse with the band, Gord would’ve been in on that scene. He was on the New York scene with his manager there. He knew Joni Mitchell before she’d even had a hit song. He knew a lot of musicians, and he was a partier, and he loved to host parties. So yes, he was, and he used to have a lot of parties at the Continental Hyatt House as well in L.A.

part 2 next post.
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