The Essence of Gordon Lightfoot

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“Does anyone know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours.”                                     The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot

It didn’t take long for the sad news – the passing of Gordon Lightfoot – to flood the airwaves. And, as the tide of awareness flowed in, I learned so much about him that I never knew.

In the 70’s, during the heights of his success, he was a genuine force in the Canadian music scene… and beyond! But, my ‘60’s teenage friends were still basking in the afterglow of the ‘British Invasion.’

Gordon was best known for Folk / Rock (think Bridge Over Trouble Water by Simon & Garfunke), but politically, things were still hot with the release of his song ‘Black Day in July’ – which was critical of how the police and the army used strong-arm tactics to put down the Detroit race riots of July 1967: hundreds being killed or injured, and thousands of buildings burned.

The song, which was released less than a year afterwards, was banned from airplay by most major American radio stations, as it was deemed too controversial for public consumption.

And they wonder how it happened and they really know the reason / And it wasn’t just the temperature and it wasn’t just the season”                                                                                                                                   
– Black Day in July
by Gordon Lightfoot (Watch on YouTube)

So, this was a side of Lightfoot I’d not seen before. It was a courageous move by this young artist: risking his career. Yet, that song showed me the persuasive power of Gordon Lightfoot.

We also saw that same spirit and influence for civil disobedience with John and Yoko’s public antiwar bed-ins – with its memorable refrain, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”

Did their combined efforts end the war, back then? Probably not. But, mass protests were inspired by the music (that included Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Joan Baez.) However, reflecting back, Joni Mitchell said, “They won’t give peace a chance, that’s just a dream some of us had.” Yet, more people than ever spoke up for social justice.

Former contemporaries included Bob Dylan and Joan Baez
Contemporaries included Bob Dylan and Joan Baez

“Why can’t we all be brothers, why can’t we live in peace?   But the hands of the have-nots keep falling out of reach”  – Black Day in July by Gordon Lightfoot

So, existentially, where does the love of God go? The answer is different for everyone. But, does it not go back to its source? All we can do is encourage others to find their own solution – discovering what’s truly written in their own hearts – an unbroken circle of love.

Like him, I’m also from rural roots – probably explaining my familiarity with inter-personal values in everyday life.

“Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call.
Rainy day people don’t talk, They just listen till they’ve heard it all”

Rainy Day People by Gordon Lightfoot (Watch on YouTube)

He was still a working musician and composer to the end. He never considered a farewell tour… happy enough to still write booked gigs in his calendar. And, as every professional knows, the show must go on. Thanks for them all, Gordon!

That’s the way I figure it. – FP

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