I’ll get the embarrassing story my mother loves to tell out of the way first.
As a young boy, whenever Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind came on the radio, I would start crying.
“This song is SO SAD!” I would sob uncontrollably.
Many Canadians are sharing their Gordon Lightfoot stories after the national treasure passed away Monday at age 84.
I wish my mother would tell this next story more.
My younger sister and I are in the back of the family Suburban, where dad had put a foam mattress so we could play, sleep (Seatbelts? It was the 1970s!) or sing songs.
“Alberta BOUND, Alberta BOUND, it’s good to beeee, Alberta BOUND!” the two of us would sing the chorus of Gordon Lightfoot’s song joyfully after our parents in the front informed us that we had just left the Northwest Territories and were now in Alberta.
Only another six hours to go until we got to Peace River!
Only another hour after that until we got to Mémère’s in Falher!
I remember Hay River’s high school choir coming to my elementary school for a performance. They sung Sundown and I remember everybody, adults and kids, laughing at “Sometimes, I think it’s a shame, when I get feelin’ better when I’m feeling no pain.” Even as kids, we got that one.
The first line of Sundown – “I can see her lyin’ back in her satin dress, in a room where you do what you don’t confess” – was completely lost to me until I was much older and rediscovering Lightfoot as part of a nostalgic return to childhood and the songs at the bedrock of my musical vocabulary.
My Lightfoot favourite will always be The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald because it is the exact type of song I love to this day because of the tension between sad and tragic lyrics and tone sitting atop a musically and structurally gorgeous song.
Again, I was much older before I learned the story in the song was true, that the Edmund Fitzgerald really did sink in a storm on Lake Superior in 1975, claiming her entire crew.
Here’s my crazy idea for a fitting national tribute to Lightfoot.
Tonight, before the start of Game 1 of the Toronto Maple Leafs-Florida Panthers playoff series in Toronto, the national anthem singer should start off the Star Spangled Banner to the tuneful lilt of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
“Oh, say, can you see
By the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed,
At the twilight’s last gleamin”
American hockey fans be scratchin’ their heads, wondering what just happened, and Canadian hockey fans be cheerin’ in delight at the tribute and inside joke.
One more story to go with the many great stories and songs he left us.
Neil Godbout is the editor of the Prince George Citizen.