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Old 04-27-2004, 10:57 AM   #1
Jim Driskell
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Location: Brockton, Ma. United States
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Here it is: enjoy

To the brink and back

Gordon Lightfoot; First of two parts; Canada's No. 1 minstrel sang a strangely prophetic song just one day before an aneurysm
By Graham Rockingham

Gordon Lightfoot had given the hometown crowd two new songs he'd never played before in public. They seemed to like them.

You can never be sure how an audience will respond to new material, even when you're playing them in a hall named after you.

It was a beautiful place that Friday, Sept. 6, 2002, the 108-year-old Orillia Opera House. Five years earlier, its main theatre had been renamed the Gordon Lightfoot Auditorium.

He'd opened the show with the new songs, before the band joined him, just him and his guitar, like the old days.

The first, called Harmony, was his favourite of the 18 new songs he had been working on in Hamilton's Grant Avenue Studio. It would eventually become the title track for his new CD.

The second was called Couchiching. He was pretty sure the crowd would like that one. It was written for them, after all. The shore of Lake Couchiching was just a few short blocks down the road from the hall.

Like the town, the song's lyrics were light and breezy -- about ski hills, casinos and swimming pools.

It ends, however, on a sombre, almost prescient, note:

"When I get my final slumber, when I pawn my diamond ring, I will do my final number, by Lake Couchiching."

Lightfoot drove home to Toronto that night, went to bed and woke up feeling kind of strange.

He didn't think it was anything to get too worried about, however, and got into his car and returned to Orillia that afternoon to prepare for the second of two benefit concerts he was scheduled to play for a local theatre company and hospital foundation.

"It was a kind of pain that I had not felt before," Lightfoot now recalls.

"It was not severe, but it was a different sort of pain, different than I had ever felt before. I made it back to Orillia again, but by four o'clock in the afternoon I was on the floor of my dressing room and could not get up.

"I had gotten my guitars tuned and the band was getting ready to do the sound check on stage -- we do that every day at 4:30 -- and I couldn't move.

"So they got me over to the emergency there in Orillia ... By 7 o'clock in the evening I was blacked right out, gone. And I stayed that way for six weeks. I don't remember a thing. I don't remember the airlift to the Hamilton science hospital."

Like many people, Lightfoot gets confused about the name of the hospital he was helicoptered to. Is it McMaster University Medical Centre? Or is it Hamilton Health Sciences? It's both actually. McMaster is one of five sites run by Hamilton Health Sciences, one of the largest hospital complexes in the country.

Lightfoot was flown there after Orillia doctors determined that an aneurysm had broken in an artery in his lower abdomen. It was close to his liver and pancreas.

Blood was spilling into his abdomen. Tissue damage was escalating. He required immediate and highly specialized surgery or he would die within hours.

An Ontario-wide dispatch system, Criticall, located a surgeon on duty at McMaster who was an expert at this sort of thing. He happened to be one of the three or four best in his field in Canada. Lightfoot doesn't get confused about the doctor's name. He spells it out loud and carefully, so that no mistakes can be made. "M-A-R-C-A-C-C-I-O, Dr. Michael Marcaccio. He started working on me at 2 o'clock in the morning."

Marcaccio is in his late 40s, born and raised in Hamilton. He went to the old Cathedral High School back when the boys were still segregated from the girls. He's now the hospital's chief of surgery, specializing in digestive diseases.

Like most Canadians, he's also a big fan of Lightfoot's music. "I'm old enough to have a few of his albums on vinyl."

The surgery went well. It was the first of many. Marcaccio says one of the reasons Lightfoot survived was because of his top physical condition.

The songwriter was 64 at the time and a lifelong smoker, but he followed a rigorous workout regimen, lifting weights, running 16 kilometres a week. He quit drinking alcohol in 1982.

"They had to operate so many times that first time I never did get the exact count, it was like six or seven times," Lightfoot says. "Apart from a degenerative disease, it's about the worst that can happen to you. It kills just about everybody, too, I might add. Some people are dead within five hours."

He spent the first six weeks of his three-month stay in a coma in intensive care. He started to come to just before Halloween and for two days he drifted in and out of consciousness.

It's difficult for Lightfoot to recall awakening, to distinguish between what was dream and what was reality.

He remembers his family and friends being there. They had maintained an around-the-clock vigil, taking in the constant stream of fan mail and flowers that arrived daily.

He remembers lots of children being around. And he remembers hospital staff dressed in strange costumes. But this is really cloudy. He's worried he may have hallucinated the bit about the costumes, doesn't want to get anyone at the hospital in trouble.

He's appreciative of the care he received at the hospital and has such a huge respect for the entire staff that he's anxious about embarrassing any of them.

He thinks the world of them all.

"I know why he thinks he saw witches," says Marcaccio.

"It's because he did. It was very close to Halloween and, at the time, our ICU was a joint pediatric and adult unit. The staff have a tradition of getting dressed up in costume for the kids."

After about 10 days, Lightfoot says he was fully conscious.

He started thinking about those new songs he had written before the attack.

One of them, of course, was Couchiching, the song with that ominous ending that he sang a few hundred feet from the shores of Lake Couchiching.

That final line has now taken on a much different meaning for Lightfoot than the way he originally wrote it.

"It's prophetic, is it not?" Lightfoot asks. He then sings the line:

"I will do my final number by Lake Couchiching."

grockingham@thespec.com

905-526-3331

Graham Rockingham's interview with Gordon Lightfoot continues tomorrow in GO.

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Old 04-27-2004, 10:57 AM   #2
Minstrel Man
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Here it is: enjoy

To the brink and back

Gordon Lightfoot; First of two parts; Canada's No. 1 minstrel sang a strangely prophetic song just one day before an aneurysm
By Graham Rockingham

Gordon Lightfoot had given the hometown crowd two new songs he'd never played before in public. They seemed to like them.

You can never be sure how an audience will respond to new material, even when you're playing them in a hall named after you.

It was a beautiful place that Friday, Sept. 6, 2002, the 108-year-old Orillia Opera House. Five years earlier, its main theatre had been renamed the Gordon Lightfoot Auditorium.

He'd opened the show with the new songs, before the band joined him, just him and his guitar, like the old days.

The first, called Harmony, was his favourite of the 18 new songs he had been working on in Hamilton's Grant Avenue Studio. It would eventually become the title track for his new CD.

The second was called Couchiching. He was pretty sure the crowd would like that one. It was written for them, after all. The shore of Lake Couchiching was just a few short blocks down the road from the hall.

Like the town, the song's lyrics were light and breezy -- about ski hills, casinos and swimming pools.

It ends, however, on a sombre, almost prescient, note:

"When I get my final slumber, when I pawn my diamond ring, I will do my final number, by Lake Couchiching."

Lightfoot drove home to Toronto that night, went to bed and woke up feeling kind of strange.

He didn't think it was anything to get too worried about, however, and got into his car and returned to Orillia that afternoon to prepare for the second of two benefit concerts he was scheduled to play for a local theatre company and hospital foundation.

"It was a kind of pain that I had not felt before," Lightfoot now recalls.

"It was not severe, but it was a different sort of pain, different than I had ever felt before. I made it back to Orillia again, but by four o'clock in the afternoon I was on the floor of my dressing room and could not get up.

"I had gotten my guitars tuned and the band was getting ready to do the sound check on stage -- we do that every day at 4:30 -- and I couldn't move.

"So they got me over to the emergency there in Orillia ... By 7 o'clock in the evening I was blacked right out, gone. And I stayed that way for six weeks. I don't remember a thing. I don't remember the airlift to the Hamilton science hospital."

Like many people, Lightfoot gets confused about the name of the hospital he was helicoptered to. Is it McMaster University Medical Centre? Or is it Hamilton Health Sciences? It's both actually. McMaster is one of five sites run by Hamilton Health Sciences, one of the largest hospital complexes in the country.

Lightfoot was flown there after Orillia doctors determined that an aneurysm had broken in an artery in his lower abdomen. It was close to his liver and pancreas.

Blood was spilling into his abdomen. Tissue damage was escalating. He required immediate and highly specialized surgery or he would die within hours.

An Ontario-wide dispatch system, Criticall, located a surgeon on duty at McMaster who was an expert at this sort of thing. He happened to be one of the three or four best in his field in Canada. Lightfoot doesn't get confused about the doctor's name. He spells it out loud and carefully, so that no mistakes can be made. "M-A-R-C-A-C-C-I-O, Dr. Michael Marcaccio. He started working on me at 2 o'clock in the morning."

Marcaccio is in his late 40s, born and raised in Hamilton. He went to the old Cathedral High School back when the boys were still segregated from the girls. He's now the hospital's chief of surgery, specializing in digestive diseases.

Like most Canadians, he's also a big fan of Lightfoot's music. "I'm old enough to have a few of his albums on vinyl."

The surgery went well. It was the first of many. Marcaccio says one of the reasons Lightfoot survived was because of his top physical condition.

The songwriter was 64 at the time and a lifelong smoker, but he followed a rigorous workout regimen, lifting weights, running 16 kilometres a week. He quit drinking alcohol in 1982.

"They had to operate so many times that first time I never did get the exact count, it was like six or seven times," Lightfoot says. "Apart from a degenerative disease, it's about the worst that can happen to you. It kills just about everybody, too, I might add. Some people are dead within five hours."

He spent the first six weeks of his three-month stay in a coma in intensive care. He started to come to just before Halloween and for two days he drifted in and out of consciousness.

It's difficult for Lightfoot to recall awakening, to distinguish between what was dream and what was reality.

He remembers his family and friends being there. They had maintained an around-the-clock vigil, taking in the constant stream of fan mail and flowers that arrived daily.

He remembers lots of children being around. And he remembers hospital staff dressed in strange costumes. But this is really cloudy. He's worried he may have hallucinated the bit about the costumes, doesn't want to get anyone at the hospital in trouble.

He's appreciative of the care he received at the hospital and has such a huge respect for the entire staff that he's anxious about embarrassing any of them.

He thinks the world of them all.

"I know why he thinks he saw witches," says Marcaccio.

"It's because he did. It was very close to Halloween and, at the time, our ICU was a joint pediatric and adult unit. The staff have a tradition of getting dressed up in costume for the kids."

After about 10 days, Lightfoot says he was fully conscious.

He started thinking about those new songs he had written before the attack.

One of them, of course, was Couchiching, the song with that ominous ending that he sang a few hundred feet from the shores of Lake Couchiching.

That final line has now taken on a much different meaning for Lightfoot than the way he originally wrote it.

"It's prophetic, is it not?" Lightfoot asks. He then sings the line:

"I will do my final number by Lake Couchiching."

grockingham@thespec.com

905-526-3331

Graham Rockingham's interview with Gordon Lightfoot continues tomorrow in GO.

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Old 04-27-2004, 11:50 AM   #3
Rosanna
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What a story.
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Old 04-27-2004, 11:50 AM   #4
Doug Letcher
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What a story.
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Old 04-27-2004, 12:43 PM   #5
SilverHeels
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Doug, you said it first: What a story!
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Old 04-27-2004, 01:35 PM   #6
Auburn Annie
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Wow - wonderful article! It says first of two parts - any idea when part 2 appears?

Shoot - never mind, I just re-read it and answered my own question. That's what happens when you've got a dog barking in your ear.

[This message has been edited by Auburn Annie (edited April 27, 2004).]
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Old 04-27-2004, 01:35 PM   #7
Auburn Annie
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Wow - wonderful article! It says first of two parts - any idea when part 2 appears?

Shoot - never mind, I just re-read it and answered my own question. That's what happens when you've got a dog barking in your ear.

[This message has been edited by Auburn Annie (edited April 27, 2004).]
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Old 04-27-2004, 02:57 PM   #8
mtheeb
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Great article...and the bit about those Halloween costumes--hilarious! (Thanks.)
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Old 04-27-2004, 02:57 PM   #9
Restless
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Great article...and the bit about those Halloween costumes--hilarious! (Thanks.)
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