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Old 06-11-2019, 09:10 PM   #1
Join Date: May 2000
Posts: 15,586
Default ROLLING STONE mag.June 11,2019

Anyone who ever owned an album by Gordon Lightfoot might not immediately recognize the man sitting on a metal chair in a dressing room at New York’s Town Hall. These days, Lightfoot only passingly resembles the strapping, mustached, square-jawed troubadour whose ballads, like “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Early Mornin’ Rain” and “Carefree Highway,” became coffeehouse standards. He no longer perms his hair as he once did. Lanky, sandy-brown locks now fall around his face, which is clean-shaven and, like his body, thin and bony. His hands show purple splotches. He resembles a weathered oak tree, albeit one in faded blue jeans and white tennis shoes.

Then again, consider his age. Lightfoot calls his current series of shows the “80 Years Strong Tour.” Running through December, they celebrate the milestone he hit last November.
“Tell him what you did for your birthday,” Kim Hasse, his current wife, says to her husband, flashing a you-won’t-believe-this smile.

“We had a seven-show tour coming up,” Lightfoot says. He speaks haltingly at times, placing an emphasis on certain words to make his point. “And I got pneumonia. So I went to the hospital. And there were only five days left before we had to start. I said, ‘I have to leave,’ and they said, ’You can’t.’ I said, ‘I have to. I have to go to work.’”

His tone is both wry and incredulous, as if he can’t quite believe that anyone would try to stop him from doing his job. “My heart specialist was in the building at the time and he walked in and said, ‘If he wants to go, let him go. He’s not in jail.’ So they let me go.”

Like his songs, Lightfoot endures; in recent years, he’s even been receiving more props. The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg once half-joked that he wants “If You Could Read My Mind” to be sung at his funeral (on a reunion record, the ‘Mats also covered “I’m Not Sayin’”), and last year, Lightfoot played his first-ever show at Stagecoach, Coachella’s sister country festival. Months later, he’s still sporting the wristband from that performance. (“I never took it off!” he says. “Eight thousand people in that place. Palm Springs.”) A documentary about his life, Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, is currently playing in theaters in his native Canada, with a U.S. release pending.

Lightfoot’s songs were both emotive and repressed, and the best of them — a list that also includes “Sundown,” “For Lovin’ Me,” “Rainy Day People” and so many others — were simple and sturdy, like solid, reliable pieces of furniture. Asked why those tunes continue to be covered and why people still want to see him play them, Lightfoot pauses, as if he isn’t sure. “I suppose it’s the turn of the phrase. Or the fact that they’re so simple. People can play these songs if they can get around this business here,” he adds, pointing to the capo strapped onto his fretboard.

“We’ve got songs that register well with the crowd, like ‘Read My Mind’ and ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Don Quixote.’ They’re all tunes that just move along and have a forward momentum, which is what I look for in my writing. Forward momentum.”

On a table next to Lightfoot is the briefcase he carries to every show, and this afternoon, it’s open to expose what keeps his own momentum going. Several bottles of vitamins are on display, along with an empty, clean ashtray (he gave up smoking last October). Lightfoot has several hours to kill before his performance, but he isn’t going anywhere; adhering to his recurring ritual, he will stay at the venue to get a feel for its vibe and to carefully tune each of his guitars. On a clothing rack right behind him are a half dozen of his stage shirts, some embroidered. “He’s old school,” says Hasse, proudly.

Lightfoot begins reminiscing about his earlier shows in New York (including one at this same venue), which leads him to remember the time he and Canned Heat shared an unlikely double bill at San Francisco’s Fillmore West. “Yeah, we were in there with the best of ’em,” he says. “I’m a competitive sort of guy.” At this point, it is indeed possible to trace the history of post–World War II pop through him. The son of a dry-cleaner owner (“we called it the ‘carriage trade,’” he notes bemusedly), he sang in large-ensemble pop-folk groups in his native Canada, studied jazz in California, then returned to Canada and began hitting up the folk circuit. He was soon managed by the late Albert Grossman, and one of his acts, Peter, Paul and Mary, made a hit out of Lightfoot’s “Early Mornin’ Rain.”
“That’s when they said, ‘Do you sing? Do you just write songs?’ What do you do?’” Lightfoot recalls.

What he did was sing and write his own material, and his own career soon launched in full, with records and the occasional Top 40 hit rolling out during the following two decades. His songs have been covered not only by the Replacements but by Elvis Presley, Neil Young, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Liza Minnelli and Bob Dylan, among many others.
Along the way Lightfoot befriended fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell, then living in Detroit with her first husband, Chuck: “I got to hear Joni’s music before she made a deal with anybody,” he says. “Tom Rush and I would sit with her and Chuck at the kitchen table and she would play these wonderful songs.”

He and Dylan had an often tangled history, starting with both being managed for a time by Grossman. Hours before Dylan electrified the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, Lightfoot had played an acoustic set in the afternoon. As preparation began for Dylan’s band-backed performance, Lightfoot saw for himself the emotions it provoked. “I remember Albert and the musicologist Alan Lomax getting into a wrestling match in the afternoon of that day. Joan Baez, Donovan and I, we all stood around and watched. It was over the drum kit. They were trying to stay traditional, and somebody brought the drum kit onstage for the first time. It was quite a kerfuffle over it. It was a hot day in Newport. And a dry day. And I remember the dust was flying.”
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