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Old 09-15-2017, 02:27 PM   #17
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Default review of "Lightfoot" by Jennings

by Nicholas Jennings
A comprehensive Lightfoot biography.
Published by Viking - September 19, 2017
ISBN-10: 0735232555
ISBN-13: 978-0735232556 Review - Sept. 12, 2017

Stating at the outset that the bar has been set very low by preceding attempts at chronicling Lightfoot's life and career may be very unfair to Mr. Jennings, it still can be said that in light of the very low threshold laid out before him to overcome, Nichlos Jennings' Lightfoot instantly stakes claim to the gold standard of Lightfoot biogarphies and most certainly would have done so even if the previous attempts had been more substantial in nature.

Jennings' interviews of Lightfoot and others close to him, obviously well thought out and plotted by the author in advance, have yielded meticulous detail never before unearthed in the vast volumes of newspaper and magazine articles that came before this book and which often rehashed many of the same well worn anecdotes. The author for the most part, particularly in the early years, avoids falling into that trap. It seems obvious to me that the author made himself very familiar with much of what has been out there in print over the past 5 decades, not an inconsequential achievement in and of itself, which allows him to follow a path uniquely his own in the telling of the Lightfoot story. Jennings has brought fresh detail and perspective to the arc of Lightfoot's life and musical career that suffuse the subject matter with a renewed energy and focus.

Highlights for me were the many engaging tales of Lightfoot's youth in and around Orillia, which illuminate why Lightfoot so often returns to the many aspects of nature within the framework of his songs, sometimes directly, or even in romantic songs utilizing nature as their backdrop, Shadows being a prime example. Very interesting too, is how Jennings sheds new light on the relationship between Lightfoot and Albert Grossman. Lightfoot being signed to the Grossman stable of artists was pivotal in Lightfoot's ultimate rise, but very little in the past has emerged that has added much in the way of nuance to the conflicted feelings between the two, but Jennings remedies that shortcoming with many stories that reveal a little more of Grossman's personality and his affection and respect for Gord, even after they parted ways. On the other end of the scale, we discover the inner workings of an almost fateful management agreement Lightfoot flirted entering into with Hollywood heavyweight, Jerry Weintraub.

Needless to say, Jennings chronicles the songs, the albums, the hits, the misses, all interspersed with colour from the stage, the backstage, the studio, the Lear jet - and all places in between. Events unfold chronologically, whether dealing with matters of a musical, business or personal nature. So you always know where you are in the grand timeline. The only exception being the introduction which finds us in 1975 Rosedale with the Rolling Thunder crew all under Gord's roof, while the host and Bob Dylan, guitars in hand are trading songs in an upstairs room .

The obvious minefield every author has to navigate when writing about Lightfoot, is in dealing with Gordon's personal life. Jennings to my mind avoids the condescending and moralizing attitudes that so many others have resorted to in their rush to sensationalize Lightfoot's personal struggles. This time we find a very balanced approach to this subject matter - be it the drinking, the failed relationships, not always being there for his children - Jennings does not sugarcoat any of this, but uses a deft hand and avoids being judgmental and gives Lightfoot full credit for how he turned all those issues around to finally become a consummate family man, all the while balancing an overwhelmingly busy music career.

While saying that all things pertaining to Lightfoot's music has become my life's work would be stating the case too strongly. However since first encountering Lightfoot's music as a 13 year old in 1968, it has certainly developed into a serious avenue of interest. With the dawn of the internet for the masses in the early 90's, much of at least the bare bones outline of what Jennings covers here has been out there in the public domain, yet his unique ability to compile all the disparate threads scattered throughout the ether into a very compelling narrative which can be cradled in the palm of your hands, is a masterful accomplishment and in point of fact, a service to Lightfoot's public to say the very least. His exhaustive interviews, often confirm, clarify and in some cases dispel many aspects of the Lightfoot story beforehand taken for granted. Are there factual errors to be found? Well, to my eye there are several, but too few and inconsequential to take away from the overall impact of the book.

So now that the new Jennings' biography has entered the Lightfoot canon of literature, we can rest in the knowledge that Lightfoot's career has finally been given the proper thoughtful, extensive and authoritative treatment, long overdue and richly deserved, yet until now has remained on the missing list. However we're still waiting for that tantalizingly elusive Lightfoot autobiography, or absent that, an insider's view of the Lightfoot musical odyssey, shedding light on the creative process from the inside looking out, as written by someone who was a first hand witness to many of these events as they unfolded. But that is merely my personal wish list, which should in no way diminish from this new and indispensible book. Nicholas Jennings' Lightfoot is a must read for the legions of followers of the legendary singer-songwriter's music the world over.

- Wayne Francis
"I'll see you all next Saturday..."
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