He stood there on the distinctly hued stage, immaculate in his velvet red blazer worn atop a pair of black denim jeans and a pair of western boots, Gordon Lightfoot. Now 74 years old and rail thin and still traveling and singing his signature troubadour songs that I tuned into during the year I graduated from high school, 1965. That’s a long time in between.
We all grow up with icons that bring us back to younger days. Gordon Lightfoot’s songs do that for me. With a distinctly north country/Canadian lilt, the tunes have never left my head since those college days when Lightfoot began his career.
And, there he was, standing there in front of thousands of fans in Bemidji’s Sanford Center last Sunday night. I found it almost unbelievable that he was still touring. He said from the stage, “I don’t need the work, but I need to work.” After suffering an almost life-ending aneurysm a few years ago, his health evidently is good enough for him to take on this physically demanding job. He remarked as he entered the stage before his first song, “The reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated.”
My wife first saw his early performance while enrolled at the University of Minnesota in 1966. He was a young man then, just starting out on what would be a total life of writing and singing music. My wife has one of his first albums showing a young man with lots of fluffed up hair, square jaw and piercing eyes. Except for the hair, Lightfoot still resembles the person who sat in front of her and sang with only his guitar for accompaniment. He still sings alone with no background singers for support. There aren’t many of those left.
The crowd at the Sanford Center anticipated almost every song after hearing the first chords from his guitar. There were even a few young girls screaming from the audience “We love you Gordon!” Those words brought a smile to the weathered face of this traveling minstrel. It must have brought back memories to him as well as he sang without ceasing except for an occasional sip of water. The audience held their breath as he took a deep bend from the waist at the onset of his performance. Surely we didn’t want him to suffer a health problem. But not to worry. After the deep bend at the waist he stepped to the microphone and counted “1, 2, 3, 4” and began his next song. I think the band must hold its breath as well at times like this.
This Canadian has written songs that have been recorded by Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Marty Robbins and many other world famous performers. Dylan called him Canada’s best songwriter ever. He is humble in his delivery and never sits down during his performance. I would have trouble doing that even though I’m 10 years his younger.
My wife, daughter and I closed our eyes as the songs flowed from the stage, remembering our frequent camping trips across Canada with Gordon Lightfoot songs playing on our car’s tape player. Instantly we were transported to Winnipeg, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Calgary, Banff and Lake Louise. Lightfoot’s songs just fit like that rich red velvet blazer he wore there on stage in front of us.
Nights like that just don’t come around everyday. It was memorable. I wish him well.
See you next time. Okay?