I would never call myself a fan of Gordon Lightfoot, and I don’t have a story connecting me to one of his songs, because none of them ever played a part in a significant moment in my life. But they were always there, part of the CanCon 30% coming through my radio speaker, and I guess that means I took him for granted. That, of course, was a mistake.
My friend Alan Sutherland did not take him for granted: for our major English paper in Grade 12, he wanted to write about Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”. I should have taken that as a cue to listen more carefully, but overall I wasn’t giving Alan’s musical loves enough respect: it took me 40 years after all to clue in to the genius that was Ritchie Blackmore. At least I developed some appreciation for Lightfoot at a less leisurely pace.
I always liked “Sundown” (which my wife intensely dislikes) and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. I hated “If You Could Read My Mind” – my “Sundown” – and that was not helped by the dance version cover. But in recent years, it’s grown on me considerably, and I sort of love its grandiose (“In a castle dark or a fortress strong / With chains upon my feet”) expressions of love and heartbreak. If you just let yourself wallow in it, I’m pretty sure you’d end up babbling in the corner.
Lightfoot never seemed cool, but that was only because he was cool in that understated Canadian way: he was so cool that you never saw it happening. (His former neighbour Aubrey should’ve been paying closer attention.) He was a songwriter’s songwriter, and greats like Dylan and Prine respected his craft. His time at the forefront of pop culture – to the extent he ever was there – was over before 1980, but we never stopped hearing his old hits on the radio. He continued to write and record and perform, invulnerable to trends, still his own unique artist. His importance in Canadian culture never really dimmed even though the hits stopped coming: he remained to the end one of those artists who sort of defined the country. And though the music lives on, it feels wrong that he won’t be here anymore to perform it.
I didn’t listen to any Lightfoot in April, but here are some other records that I did love last month.
- Tom Verlaine – Tom Verlaine (1979)
- Wipers – Is This Real? (1980)
- Slint – Spiderland (1991) (The soundtrack to the gloomiest Thursday afternoon you ever spent, this is bourbon-soaked shoegaze that burrows deep and drags you along in its melancholy wake.)
- Material Issue – International Pop Overthrow (1991)
- Tricky – Maxinquaye (1995)
- The Dollyrots – Eat My Heart Out (2004)
- Kid Confucius – Kid Confucius (2005)
- Go Betty Go – Nothing Is More (2005)
- Nerf Herder – Rockingham (2016) (These guys, like Bowling for Soup below, make me smile, and that’s more than enough – the high energy and bouncy tunes are a bonus.)
- Pkew Pkew Pkew – Pkew Pkew Pkew (2016) (Canadian punks, including an ode to predrinking.)
- Bowling for Soup – Drunk Dynasty (2016)
- The Pretty Flowers – Golden Beat Sessions (2019) (They do such a great job of making these songs personal, it took four tracks before I realized that every cut was a cover.)
- The Allergies – Say the Word (2020)
- Mo Troper – Natural Beauty (2020)
- The 1975 – Being Funny in a Foreign Language (2022)
- cheerbleederz – even in jest (2022)
- The Greeting Committee – Dandelion (2022)
- Dumb – Pray 4 Tomorrow (2022)
- Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – Tilt At The Wind No More (2023) (Catchy pop melodies with theatrical flair and emo bent.)
- 100 gecs – 10,000 gecs (2023) (Delightfully odd and oddly delightful, their sound is messy and overstuffed, but with a keen melodic awareness)