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Old 09-19-2011, 09:09 PM   #2
charlene
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Join Date: May 2000
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Default Re: Ann Arbour article

From Struggling Folkie to Soft-Rock Superstar
The next time Gordon Lightfoot came to town it was not as the struggling folkie he had been in ’66 but as a freshly-minted soft-rock ’70s superstar. His single “If You Could Read My Mind” broke out in late 1970, shooting straight to the top of the Canadian charts and becoming his first U.S. hit, reaching number five in early 1971. Flush with his newfound success, but going through a bitter divorce, Lightfoot returned to Ann Arbor in 1972 to play before a sell-out crowd at the 3,500-seat Hill Auditorium.

Gordon Lightfoot performing at a 1972 Hill Auditorium concert. (Photo courtesy Sara Krulwich.)
Opinion was divided over the quality of the show. In his review for the Ann Arbor News, Doug Fulton wrote, “I can’t remember when I’ve had a better time at a concert,” and noted that Lightfoot received a standing ovation after each of his two sets. But the review in the Michigan Daily, the university’s student paper, was less than complimentary, mocking Lightfoot’s “Dylanesque beard” and “see-through lace shirt,” and interpreting his typical studied performance as lifeless.

Interestingly, the Daily reviewer also noted with some mystification that at the end of the show Lightfoot apologized to the audience for charging $2,000 for his appearance at the Earth Day rally in 1970. (“Good for him,” says Bill Manning upon first hearing of the apology 39 years later.)

Over the next decade Lightfoot would score his greatest successes – the million-selling “Sundown,” which went to number one in 1974, and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which peaked at number two in 1976 – just as the countrified folk-rock sound he favored began to go out of style.

In the ’80s and ’90s he continued to tour and put out albums, stopping off in Ann Arbor every so often to sing for appreciative if aging audiences. When he played at the Power Center in 1981, the Michigan Daily compared him to shredded wheat – a far cry from a review in the St. Petersburg Times a decade earlier, in which adults were urged not to be frightened away from Lightfoot just because the kids liked him.

Goodbye Rat Race – Hello Canadian Idol
When he concluded his recording obligations in 1998, says Lightfoot, “I gave myself the day off.” Since then he’s released only one album of new material, and has no plans to do another. He says he plays only as many live shows as pleases him, exercises regularly, eats right, and is probably healthier than he’s ever been.

Ironically, though, since bowing out of the rat race he seems to be regaining a measure of his old popularity, especially with the younger set. In 2003 there was a tribute album featuring artists like Cowboy Junkies and the Tragically Hip. In 2004 he was treated (subjected?) to the honor of listening to the bubble-headed twenty-somethings of Canadian Idol do an entire show of his songs.

But Lightfoot hasn’t consciously attempted to curry favor with a younger crowd. He’s never really changed his musical style – unlike fellow Canadian and inveterate genre-hopper Neil Young – and remains much the same wand’ring minstrel he was when he first came to Ann Arbor more than four decades ago. He’s not much interested in the technology that so obsesses today’s youth – “I don’t even have a cell phone” – preferring instead to stick with his trusty 12-string acoustic guitar. He doesn’t use the Internet, and the rumors of his death that briefly swept through cyberspace last year bothered him not at all. Nor does the thought of his songs being shared illegally online.

“I’m actually pleased,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m glad people are still that interested.”

Gordon Lightfoot will be performing at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. Go to the theater’s website for ticket information.

About the author: Alan Glenn is currently at work a documentary film about Ann Arbor in the sixties. Visit the film’s Web site for more information. While there you can contribute your memories of that time – and read those that others have contributed – in a public forum set up expressly for that purpose.
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