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Old 05-15-2005, 08:48 AM   #1
charlene
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http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/Con...d=970599119419

May 15, 2005. 08:38 AM
LUCAS OLENIUK/TORONTO STAR

'I'd been out of commission - Now I'm ready'
Canada's beloved cultural icon Gordon Lightfoot returns to Massey Hall for his annual concerts


GREG QUILL
ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER


When you wake up to the promise

Of your dream world comin' true

With one less friend to call on

Was it someone that I knew?

Away you will go sailin'

In a race among the ruins

If you plan to face tomorrow

Do it soon ...

— Gordon Lightfoot,

"Race Among The Ruins"

He's not racing among ruins. Not exactly.

His dream world come true is a contemporary palatial Italianate structure in Toronto's wealthiest residential enclave, in the city's north end. High grey walls, turrets and ornate balconies overlook a wide circular driveway and sculpted lawns. A door the size of a castle keep's opens onto a magnificent marble-floored foyer with a 30-metre ceiling, then a vast, exquisitely furnished living room with a view of gardens and greenery.

No, not ruins. More like splendid isolation.

And here, only a few kilometres from the long-gone smoky Yorkville folk-music haunt, the Riverboat, where his gentle, melancholy melodies and wistful lyrics first cast their spell, Gordon Lightfoot is making what may be his last stand, and planning to face tomorrow head on.

"I started doing the shows at Massey Hall during the Riverboat days," he explains, leading the way into an apartment-sized kitchen — spotless and shiny — and pointing towards an ancient, dented aluminum percolator bubbling quietly on the stove. The elegant sparseness of the room is undone by this relic and by a vintage hand-cranked pencil sharpener, crudely screwed into the marble wall tile, where he sharpens the pencils he uses to write his songs.

He pours a couple of cups and pushes the sugar bowl over the spotless counter.

"Those shows are a constant fixture for me, something I look forward to every year. They anchor me."

Indeed, Lightfoot's annual Massey Hall concerts — they take place this Wednesday through Saturday — have been defining events in the cultural life of Toronto since they began in 1967. They give heart, substance and meaning to this city. Nothing else seems as perfect as Lightfoot at Massey Hall in the spring. These shows are comforting beacons offering sanctuary and a sense of home, of history and continuation. The grand old lady among Toronto's concert halls and Canada's most beloved cultural icon seem immutably — and rightfully — connected in the collective consciousness.

And we've been deprived of them since Lightfoot was rushed from a concert in Orillia to hospital in Hamilton in September 2002 with a life-threatening arterial explosion in his abdomen. This city has been slightly off-kilter, its rhythm ever so slightly shaken. The fear that we might never see Lightfoot perform again, or hear that purely pitched, mellifluous tenor, was scarcely voiced, yet it has hung in the air for almost three years like a malevolent pall.

"From the time I came out of the coma six weeks later I never doubted I'd get through it," Lightfoot says, lowering himself into a battered office chair in a small workroom off the lobby where four road-worn guitar cases are lined up near the palace doors.

Age lines crack his features. Suspenders and a cardigan stretch over his ravaged belly. He looks gaunt and frail. But there's a hard, black fire in his eyes.

"I knew it was a mechanical failure, a broken artery, and nothing genetic. So it could be fixed — in time."

Lightfoot will turn 67 in November, and time is becoming a luxury. A fastidious worker who is proud of being able to stick to self-determined agendas — "I hate working out, but I've been doing it every day for 25 years because I've proven to myself that it improves my singing," he says — he panicked more about the inactivity necessitated by a long recovery than about the physical damage he had suffered.

His time in hospital would eventually extend to 19 months and involve three extensive surgeries due to complications that successively threatened his survival. The singer's stomach is held together with muscle grafted from his thighs, and though he has trouble attaining the breath he needs for the demanding vocal requirements of his epic "Canadian Railroad Trilogy," he is determined to regain his form.

"I was not happy," he says. "I had to find something I could work on in hospital, something to create a diversion.

"That was when I remembered the tapes sitting here on my shelf." He points across the dark and cluttered workroom. The vaulted windows are hung with heavy velvet drapes. On one side of his desk, on stands, are a pair of identical Gibson Jumbo 12-string guitars, vintage items from the 1950s, with which he recorded the classic "Trilogy" and "Early Morning Rain," his breakout single and probably one of the most often rendered songs in the folk repertoire of the late 20th century. On the other side is a 1930s Martin Dreadnought, its finely lined features dulled by sweat and concert dirt.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
`It's work — not inspiration— that makes a good song. And lonely work, very

selfish work'

Gordon Lightfoot

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Floor-to-ceiling shelves cover all four walls, and they are stacked with notebooks — Lightfoot has kept a record of every set list he has performed since the 1970s, each one different, each one bearing the date, venue and an exact running time — as well as tapes, guitar tools, old analogue recording devices (he's digitally clueless and computer-free) and mementos.

On one of these shelves are the tapes Lightfoot had stored before he was stricken: 18 "song sketches" — guitar-and-voice roughs of works in progress, recorded, fortunately, on multi-track tape in a professional downtown studio. They formed the basis of his most recent album, Harmony, released one year ago.

"(While in hospital) I asked the guys in the band to fetch the tapes, and of the 18, I picked nine that I thought were in good enough shape to continue working on. Later I brought myself to like two more so that we had enough to fill a record. Luckily, Dan Lanois' old studio was just a few blocks from the hospital, so the guys were able to add bits and pieces and bring them back for me to hear. I'd suggest changes, or add extra ideas.

"It was done by remote," he says, laughing.

"And I'm not 100 per cent happy with it, but it fulfilled its purpose. It gave me something to work on in hospital, and it let people know I wasn't down for the count, that I'd be back."

A yellow legal notepad is propped up in a music stand beside him, containing tidily inscribed lyrics, chords and annotations for "10 new songs I've been working on," he explains.

Looking over him while he works is a small photo of one-time manager Albert Grossman, the powerful New York entrepreneur who engineered the careers of every important North American folk and folk-rock star of the 1960s and early 1970s, including Lightfoot and his Canadian contemporary and erstwhile competitor, Ian Tyson. During those years Lightfoot composed songs that have become totems in the Canadian psyche — "Ribbon of Darkness," "For Lovin' Me," "Sundown," "Did She Mention My Name?," "Alberta Bound," "Carefree Highway," "Steel Rail Blues," "Cotton Jenny," "The Way I Feel" and, a few years later, the twin crowning masterpieces, the impressionistic kiss-off "If You Could Read My Mind" and the cinematic disaster ballad "Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald."

In the decades since then, Lightfoot has been awarded every important accolade the government and the music industry can bestow — the Order of Canada, the Governor-General's Performing Arts Award, induction into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame, Junos and Grammys, among countless others. His songs long ago became part of Canadian school curricula and the focus of academic theses.

Yet time has stopped in this comfortable, well-used cocoon. It's clearly where Lightfoot spends most of his waking hours.

"I can work here all times of the day and night. Some people go on trips to find the peace of mind to write, but I work mostly at home. Here I have my tools, my coffee. And it's quiet. I need that, because I'm always working on several songs at once. You have to be able to concentrate.

"Songwriting is a very self-absorbing process," he continues, segueing into an explanation of why he and Elizabeth, his wife for 15 years and the mother of two of his five children, have separated since his time in hospital.

"You have to shut people out just to get the work done. You close yourself off. I have been this way my entire adult life, and it's not easy on the people I live with, the people I love. We drifted apart, though in some ways we are still very close. I spend more time now with my extended family than I ever have. I make time for them. We're only 10 minutes apart."

He's a stoic adherent to the work ethic, he says.

"The work has to be done, the songs have to get written. It's work — not inspiration — that makes a good song. And lonely work, very selfish work."

And he's a man of his word. He licked alcohol addiction in 1982 when he realized it was ruining his performances.

"But I did it without going into rehab," he says. "I went to a doctor who specializes in these things, and after we'd talked for an hour, he asked me to promise then and there not to take another drink. I tried to put it off, but he kept holding out his hand, and eventually I shook it. I went back to him every week for three months, and I never drank again. I'm not saying it was easy. The guy had figured out that when I give my word, that's it."

In preparation for the demanding Massey Hall series, Lightfoot has already done several shows in the past year — a benefit/thank-you concert for McMaster Hospital in Hamilton, a flood-relief charity event in Peterborough with his "old friend" Ronnie Hawkins, a few songs at last summer's Mariposa Festival, and more recently, several small concerts in the U.S. Southwest, including Las Vegas. Another 30 are on this year's agenda.

"I'm ready," he says. "I'd been out of commission for 19 months and spent another year recovering my strength and my voice (which he almost lost after a tracheotomy). And now I'm ready. People have a hard time believing this, but I really do love performing. I never get tired of it.

"I don't expect to have another Top 20 record. Those days are gone, and the music business has changed. I had a pretty good run for about 12 years through the 1970s and into the 80s, a very productive time. I was on the tear with `If You Could Read My Mind' and `Edmund Fitzgerald,' though I never thought either one would be a hit. And I've had a few good people cover my tunes, so I've done well.

"I can sell enough records independently to make it worthwhile, but it's playing I really love. And right now, I'm playing better than ever."

On his own cue, he picks up the small Martin six-string and picks quietly.

"I love good pitch and good tuning," he mutters. The gentle thumb-picked arpeggio hangs perfectly formed in the thick air of the room as Lightfoot begins retracing his steps to that first enchantment with the guitar.

"I'm very good with (musical) intervals, the spaces between notes in a chord — something I learned at music school. My father, Gord Sr., couldn't sing at all. The music came from my mother's family. Even in high school I was a good singer. I used to perform at weddings and in competitions. I made my first recording in Grade 4. I used to sing old Irish songs — the ones Bing Crosby used to do — at church functions, ladies auxiliaries, Kiwanis. But everything I learned was on piano.

"Then, one day, I picked up a guitar ..."

The memory dangles. The arpeggio fades. And suddenly he smiles, reminded of the countless tributes that have been paid to him over the past couple of years, including a special all-Lightfoot episode of CTV's Canadian Idol last summer.

"I really enjoyed that — we went back three days during the taping of that show, and I was amazed by what those kids did with the songs. I love it when people come up to me in the street as if they've known me all their lives, and just start chatting. It makes me feel good to be alive, good to be a Canadian."

The smile broadens.

"But I think Stompin' Tom (Connors) is the one who really deserves the tributes."
Additional articles by Greg Quill
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Old 05-15-2005, 10:56 AM   #2
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OK in her parallel Newsgroup posting Char said that the printed edition had a pic of Gord that she was going to scan. Such a scan has yet to materialise but if you visit the Toronto Star site as per her link then register you will see this small pic.Is this the one Char??

John Fowles
I Mean No One No Harm
I am delighted that another London England area fan will be at Massey on Saturday
so looking forwards to meeting you Mr O'Malley.
Where are you staying?
A bunch of us will be attending activities centred (centered??) on the Delta Chelsea. So you and anyone else reading this do make your way there and find us. There will be both pre- and post- Saturday concert meet ups as explainered in an email from Janice (janicer@sbcglobal.net):-
"On Saturday, in addition to the post concert party, we are arranging for a pre-concert gathering over dinner at City Grill in Eaton Centre ( http://city.celebrationgrills.ca/Menus.html) If you have any interest in joining us for dinner, Saturday, please contact me with the number in your party so I can make a reservation"

[ May 15, 2005, 11:37: Message edited by: johnfowles ]
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Old 05-15-2005, 11:20 AM   #3
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That's one of the best articles I've ever read about him. Even gives us a glimpse of his personal life without being too prying. Very nice.
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Old 05-15-2005, 11:27 AM   #4
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that's the pic John - isn't it lovely?
the newspaper one is too big for my scanner....
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Old 05-15-2005, 03:40 PM   #5
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I'm pleased to hear a new CD may be in the offing... :D
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Old 05-15-2005, 04:17 PM   #6
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Great picture and I think the reported did a fantastic job with the article. Gord has really opened up and relaxed since the "incident in 9/02" it's nice to hear he is working on maybe another cd?
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Old 05-15-2005, 04:23 PM   #7
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And maybe he isn't too lonely. That worries me.
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Old 05-15-2005, 04:56 PM   #8
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Love the pic!
Thanks,
Kimberly
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Old 05-15-2005, 05:54 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by GJA:
And maybe he isn't too lonely. That worries me.
Did you mean maybe he *is* too lonely? I've got a cure for that, HAHAHAHAHA! (bad girl, Sheryl!)
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Old 05-16-2005, 04:04 AM   #10
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That is one great article on the man. You have a serious knack for digging up diamonds Char.
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Old 05-16-2005, 07:46 AM   #11
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Steve-didn't have to dig too far....home delivery, back to bed...VOILA - there he was!
lol

Char
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Old 05-16-2005, 07:48 AM   #12
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"Home delivery, back to bed ...VOILA - there he was!" heh heh heh - don't you wish <insert silly grin here>
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Old 05-16-2005, 09:11 AM   #13
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WOW, you all sure made my Monday, Thanks for the article and please be gentle with Gordon when you ladies are mauling him over at Massey. I remember the kiss I got from him over 30 years ago at Pine Knob in Michigan just like it was yesterday and I know he was a little tipsy and so was I but it was real nice and obviously unforgetable. Look forward to your reviews and details. KB
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Old 05-16-2005, 02:29 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally posted by klb:
WOW, you all sure made my Monday, Thanks for the article and please be gentle with Gordon when you ladies are mauling him over at Massey. I remember the kiss I got from him over 30 years ago at Pine Knob in Michigan just like it was yesterday and I know he was a little tipsy and so was I but it was real nice and obviously unforgetable. Look forward to your reviews and details. KB
So, was it a nice little peck on the cheek?? Or..? DETAILS, woman, DETAILS!!
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Old 05-16-2005, 02:45 PM   #15
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Actually, it was a peck, ahug, a squeeze, another peck and a whispered request, and thats all I'm saying. HA ( and if my girlfriend would have taken the picture like she was supposed to have instead of flirting with Terry, I would be showing you,haven't spoken to her since!)Of course, thats when we were all young,no wrinkles, lots of hair, and skinny. Being a nurse can really age a person. We went to the Thunder from Down Under show last week in Vegas and I can honestly say, I have been a nurse for over 30 years and I have never taken care of a male pt. that looked anything like those guys. Bubble butts so taut you could bounce a nickle off em! But anyway, I hope some of you are able to steal a unforgetable moment or two at massey! KB
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Old 05-17-2005, 12:25 AM   #16
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Lucas Oliniuk:

Yes . . .

The Rez

. . . for I know you by Heart . . .
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Old 05-17-2005, 10:24 AM   #17
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Thanks for the memories, klb!!
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