After "Sundown" Gordon Lightfoot makes up for lost time, by
The secret of Gordon Lightfoot's mysterious success is tenancy. He's
a top-of-the-chart songwriter who isn't pop, a country western star who
thinks he is a folksinger, and a folksinger who doesn't sing folk. His
style has barely changed from the days when he was lugging his guitar in
and out of Toronto coffee houses. In fourteen years he has made ten
albums ad maintained a steady following, including fans, who are too
young to remember the folk scene of the early 60's.
Now, the runaway success of Sundown and the publicity of a very expensive divorce have reinforced a cautious, Canadian common-sense. All he wants is to be left alone so he can get on with his work.
"This might very well be the very last interview I do," he said in the upstairs
office of a renovated house which is headquarters in Early Morning
Production. He was methodically replacing an emaciated wooden sculpture of Don Quixote in the exact upper right-hand corner of his desk. The room was efficiently appointed in
Scandinavian furniture, and the pencil-point toes of his cowboy boots were digging into the rug.
"The effect of my music on my personal life is devastating." And then, as if to cover for that first, unasked-for admission: "It's dangerous giving interviews." He should know. Since the success of Sundown. - it was simultaneously the number one album and single in North America - he has been accused of
being overweight, under-loved, lonely and alcoholic. He is, with the two bead bracelets, turquoise band and two enormously large and expensive-looking turquoise rings, all on the same hand and wrist, fishing for exactly the right words. "I may tell you about my divorce. I may talk about my wife. I might let you listen to a few cuts off my new album," but these are all vague promises.
On his office wall is a picture taken a few years back of Bob Dylan looking eager and Lightfoot looking puzzled. "I'm a border-line case," he admits. " I don't sing rock, and it ain't country or pop or anything you can pigeon-hole. The don't know what I am." Fans in the States (or for that matter in Australia or England) may think the romance of early morning rains and wide open spaces which drift in and out of his songs
is pure Lightfoot. In fact, half of it is old Ontario. After all, Lightfoot was born in Orillia, a small town whose only other claims to fame are the home of Canadian humorist Stephen Leaock and one of Canada's largest mental hospitals. With a population of 20,000, it is just now getting its first Howard Johnson's.
"I wish I could go up there more often. It was a great place to grow up in," he says wistfully,
annoyed at the commitments that keep his family life at a distance. "There was hiking, swimming, boating. It was close to a big resort area - Muskoka - and when I was about fourteen, someone would get the old man's car and we used to hold concerts up there and just sing for a couple of beers to the summer folks."
His mother was descended from the first white child born in Orillia; his father (who died last spring) left a farm during the Depression. "He worked for thirty-five, forty years in a large dry cleaning firm where he rose to become a manager. I used to see him crawl under one of those great big washing machines and he'd be in there on his back all day because he was the only guy in the place who could fix the thing. It was a hard job."