The viewers packing the Grand Theatre in Wausau, Wisconsin, rose to its ft June 15, 2022, when Gordon Lightfoot took the stage at age 83.
The loud, sustained ovation appeared solely pure, despite the fact that such honors often happen at a live performance’s finish, not its begin. Then once more, this was an older crowd, and it most likely wasn’t their first Lightfoot present. However perhaps they sensed it was their final Lightfoot present, they usually needed to point out the legendary singer/songwriter their ovation wasn’t routine. He had way back earned their lifetime achievement award.
Their foreboding proved true when Lightfoot died Might 1 at 84, nonetheless working exhausting, with a number of never-to-be-played live shows scheduled for summer time. You needed to admire that lifelong work ethic, and respect that he cared sufficient about his craft early in life to hone it via school on the Westlake College of Fashionable Music in Hollywood within the late Nineteen Fifties.
Lightfoot didn’t wing it on stage, both. He was a stickler who insisted on “taking part in in tune on time.” Nonetheless, he will need to have been a very good boss and strong companion, given that the majority of his band members grew previous with him.
Whether or not he sang of joys or tragedies, youngsters or previous males, or real love or infidelity, his music was catchy, well-crafted, and persistently performed. My technology first heard hits like “If You May Learn My Thoughts” on our mother and father’ HiFi stereo radio/document gamers within the early Nineteen Seventies. If we paid consideration within the Nineteen Sixties, we additionally heard Elvis Presley and artists like Peter, Paul, and Mary make hits from “Early Morning Rain” and a number of other different Lightfoot songs.
Plus, his lyrics made you suppose. Followers nonetheless focus on who impressed his No. 1 hit “Sunset” from 1974, and admire how his melancholy voice sang of heartaches with out being maudlin. He admitted his regrets, too, like writing the hit “For Loving Me.” He stated he got here to hate that “f-ing track,” and couldn’t imagine the ache he triggered his first spouse by writing it whereas married.
Many Lightfoot followers, nonetheless, didn’t know he was a talented sailor, competent angler, and intrepid canoeist. He knew firsthand how large water, lethal currents, and towering waves set off mortal doubts of returning to shore. “Does anybody know the place the love of God goes, When the waves flip the minutes to hours?”
Just a little-known Lightfoot track, “Canary Yellow Canoe” shared his love for operating wilderness Canadian rivers just like the Ross, Again, George, Rupert, Peace, Churchill, Eastmain, Coppermine, and Chibougamau. In 1980 his canoe smashed onto the rocks of the South Nahanni River within the Northwest Territories, stranding his group for hours. One other get together ultimately got here downriver and helped free Lightfoot’s pinned and folded canoe. It snapped again to its unique kind, however its cargo had flushed downstream.
Gordon Lightfoot, second from left, survived a dunking and non permanent stranding when his canoe slammed into rocks whereas taking pictures a rapids on the South Nahanni River in Canada’s Northwest Territories in 1980.
He additionally sailed the Nice Lakes for years, first in his 39-foot fiberglass boat he named Sunset. Subsequent, he employed a shipwright to construct a 45-foot mahogany sailboat, which he named the Golden Goose, reasoning that, very like wonderful guitars, sailboats ought to be constituted of wooden.
Lightfoot launched his most well-known track, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” in June 1976, solely seven months after the 729-foot ore boat sank Nov 10, 1975, in japanese Lake Superior. Few at the moment would know of that tragedy, which killed the whole 29-man crew, if not for Lightfoot’s haunting lyrics and the tune he crafted from an Irish sea shanty.
However not simply any track immortalizes a shipwreck, even one involving the most important ship ever misplaced on the Nice Lakes. That feat requires a masterpiece.
Lightfoot knew that, too, as a result of this wasn’t his first shipwreck track. He wrote and recorded the “Ballad of Yarmouth Fortress” in 1969, recounting how the SS Yarmouth Fortress, a cruise ship, caught hearth and sank off Florida in 1965, killing 90 of its 552 passengers and crew, thrice greater than had been misplaced on the Large Fitz. “Like a toy ship on a millpond, She burned all via the evening, Then slipped ’neath the waves, Within the mornin’.
The Fitzgerald’s sinking wasn’t unprecedented, both. Mark Thompson—a Nice Lakes mariner, historian, and creator—estimates these inland seas have claimed 25,000 shipwrecks since 1679, with a minimum of a 3rd sinking in November. The Fitzgerald, the truth is, was the third large Nice Lakes freighter in 20 years to interrupt up and sink in a November storm. The SS Carl D. Bradley sank in northern Lake Michigan in 1958, killing 33 of its 35-man crew; and the SS Daniel J. Morrell sank in Lake Huron in 1966, killing 28 of its 29 males.
However songs in regards to the Bradley and Morrell tragedies didn’t set off enduring worldwide reverence. Lee Murdock wrote and recorded the “Wreck of the Carl D. Bradley” in 1991, and Carl Behrend wrote and recorded “Wreck of the Daniel J. Morrell” in 2016.
Maritime disasters, the truth is, typically encourage people music. As Michigan researchers Misty Jackson and Kenneth Vrana share of their 2020 paper, “Unhappy and Dismal is the Story: Reminiscence, Preservation, and the Folks Music Custom of Nice Lakes Shipwrecks,” these waters spawn sunken-ship songs.
In reality, Murdock stated taverns alongside the Nice Lakes helped drive songwriting within the 1800s by serving free drinks to patrons who may sing. A few of these tunes survive, a minimum of on paper. The Smithsonian’s “Songs of the Nice Lakes” recorded 13 such songs in 1964, not all of which involved shipwrecks. A College of Michigan assortment from 1932 to 1938 contains a minimum of 30 songs from the period of crusing ships. There’d be extra, however Captain James McCannell misplaced his e-book of Nice Lakes songs when the ship Our Son sank on Lake Michigan in 1930.
Lightfoot’s fascination with ships, misplaced sailors, and the inevitability of maritime disasters additionally impressed his songs “Triangle,” “Bitter Inexperienced,” “Christian Island,” “Marie Christine,” “The Ghosts of Cape Horn,” and others. As he wrote in “Triangle”: “When she took her final tumble, The ocean backside rumbled, There was no confusion or blame. The captain stated, “Males we should reply once more to the ocean, so ye might not complain.”
Lightfoot additionally accepted that we’ll by no means know the reason for many shipwrecks. As he defined in his Fitzgerald sea shanty: “She may need cut up up or she may need capsized, They might have broke deep and took water, And all that is still is the faces and the names, Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.”
And now Lightfoot has additionally crossed the bar, however his 200-plus recordings stay. Because the novelist James Clavell wrote in “Shogun,” “The pen is a protracted arm from the grave.”
Lightfoot’s songwriting arm will show far longer than most.
Characteristic artwork through Dave Burgess.