I’ve got this vague memory from my college days in western New York. It has to something to do with this guy I knew who was looking for someone to hitchhike with him to Ontario where Gordon Lightfoot had supposedly been busted for pot possession and was supposedly waiting for someone to come bail him out of jail . That was so long ago that now I can’t remember if I actually went with the guy, or whether it wasn’t even me involved in this escapade but one of my friends, or whether Lightfoot was actually even in jail. I don’t even remember the name of the guy I think I somehow knew, although I do remember that, if he really existed, he was sort of sketchy and was not a student but just hung around campus and looked mysterious and had longish very dark hair and a dark complexion and wore dark sunglasses all the time.
This was in the days when I hung out at bars in Niagara Falls with names like Dew Drop Inn (a country-western place patronized by western New York good ol’ boys and Native Americans from the Tuscarora reservation) and The Frog Pond, where factory workers from Hooker Chemical and Carborundum Steel spent their paychecks and where the design motif, for some lost-in-the-toxic-smog reason, was FROGS — paintings of frogs, frogs on the napkins, drink stirrers with little frogs sitting atop the tip and little plastic frogs glued to the inside bottom of beer mugs. Come to think of it, the frogs weren’t the only mystery about The Frog Pond. It’s also a mystery why those big burly dirty grown-up shot-and-a-beer-drinking factory workers allowed a long-haired Southern Comfort-drinking college kid to hang out on their turf and didn’t push him out the door and drop-kick him into the bubbling and gurgling and beautifully named Love Canal.
The point of these musings and memories, I guess, is that it was all a long, long time ago, and many memories have faded, but somewhere in there I remember liking — really liking — an album called “Summertime Dream” by Gordon Lightfoot. I still love that album, which is one reason why I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend a performance by Lightfoot last night in New Brunswick, N.J.
But I had to deal with some issues.
One of them was the feeling I get every time I see one of those PBS television specials featuring pop and rock performers from the 1950s and 1960s — specifically, that these people in the audience are really friggin’ OLD. I can deal with this when I see the doo-wop fans — I mean, if that music was the soundtrack of their adolescence, these folks had to be born right around the beginning of World War II, right? So they’re all well into their 60s and even their 70s. No wonder they look old. Even the 1960s revival on PBS sort of bothers me, but not really….I mean I wasn’t even close to being a teenager when the British invaded, so why should it bother me that Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits and Eric Burdon of the Animals and every single member of the Moody Blues looked like they were all allowed to leave the nursing home for this concert but had to promise not to play the music too loud and to be back home by 11.
I dealt with this hang-up last night by telling myself as I studied the audience that I looked way younger than that white-haired guy with the cane and that “dark-haired” guy with the obvious and very bad hairpiece. Etc.
I then watched with some alarm as Gordon Lightfoot walked out on stage and I realized he was moving like AN OLD MAN. A quick Google search revealed that Gordon’s nearly 74 years old. In recent years he has dealt with a nearly fatal abdominal aneurysm and a mini-stroke (suffered while he was on stage performing, for God’s sake) and an episode (I think related to the aneurysm) in which he was actually in a coma for six weeks.
But then…as I marveled at all of the old folks around me and pondered the notion of Gordon Lightfoot being just six years away from being EIGHTY YEARS OLD…I focused on something different. Sure, Lightfoot’s voice had lost of some of its richness and depth. Sure, he looked a little shaky up there and seemed to get out of breath quite easily.
But he’s still talented and still a good performer. I loved the show. And I ever make it to 74 years old and I’m half as cool as Gordon Lightfoot, who’s still playing his guitar and singing his songs on stage in front of thousands of grateful fans, I’d be quite happy with my lot in life.
So I sat back and just enjoyed some beautiful music: “Sundown,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Early Morning Rain” “For Loving Me,” Rainy Day People,” Carefree Highway,” “Christian Island,” and other lovely tunes.
My favorite of those songs he performed? “Edmund Fitzgerald,” which tells the sad and true tale of a freighter which sank in 1975 on Lake Superior, leaving all 29 crew members dead; the iconic “Early Morning Rain,” the stunningly beautiful “Christian Island,” and “If You Could Read My Mind,” if only for these verses:
“If you could read my mind love/What a tale my thoughts could tell…But stories always end/And if you read between the lines/You’ll know that I’m just tryin’ to understand/The feelings that you lack/I never thought I could feel this way/And I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it/I don’t know where we went wrong/But the feeling’s gone/And I just can’t get it back…”
I do wish Gordon Lightfoot had played these two songs:
Here’s his cover of Dylan’s beautiful “Ring Them Bells”:
And here’s what I think is the most beautiful song from the “Summertime Dream” album, “I’m Not Supposed to Care”: