Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot has died. He and I go way back, although he didn’t know me.

Gord was a Canadian singer-songwriter who wrote about the land and its people. Perhaps his most iconic song was Canadian Railroad Trilogy, which told the story of building the railroad that spanned the country.

My favourite of Gord’s creations is Song for a Winter’s Night. It’s a love song that I’ve learned to sing. He showed us such exquisite images:

The fire is dying now
My lamp is growing dim
The shades of night are lifting
The morning light steals across my window pane
Where webs of snow are drifting

In the 1960s I was a teenager who loved folk music. Many Friday nights I took the subway downtown to Toronto’s Yorkville district. I walked down the stairs into a coffee house to listen to singers pouring out their souls. Only two hundred metres away, Gord was starting his career in another cozy room – The Riverboat. I couldn’t afford the famous place so the future legend and I didn’t cross paths.

Sometime in the 1970s I took the ferry to Toronto Island to experience three days of the Mariposa Folk Festival in the summer sun. The headliners didn’t include anyone well known in popular culture. But there were surprise visitors who wanted to stay incognito as they enjoyed singer-songwriters who had influenced them. The undercover ones were Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

Another unexpected guest had no need to be hidden. He wandered far from any stage, plunked himself down on a picnic table and began singing his songs. About twenty very lucky people sat on the grass and listened to the brilliance of a young man named Gord. I was not among them.

About five years ago, four Gordon Lightfoot tribute evenings were scheduled at Hugh’s Room in Toronto. Word got around that Gord himself would show up for two of those concerts. “Don’t come Saturday night, because Lightfoot likes watching the Toronto Maple Leafs play hockey on TV.”

I showed up. So did Gord, surrounded by his admirers. I squeezed in, met his eyes and said “Thank you for your music.” He smiled. It was just a few seconds … and then the next person had his attention.

Gordon Lightfoot and I have met many times across the years, including today

Thank you, Gord

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