OF BOB DYLAN. Except for Nashville Skyline, I found his stuff mostly impenetrable — preferring melody first and lyrics second. What always disappointed me was that nearly anybody’s presentation of his (undeniably great) material is better than his original. (And, yes, I do include Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”)
Instead, my first, childhood exposure to pop folk singers (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) was Peter, Paul, & Mary. Then, when I “grew up,”
it was — for me — Gordon Lightfoot.
I suspect it was more a matter of good timing than anything. He hit the big time down here in the lower 48 with “If You Could Read My Mind” at just the time I fell face-first in love big time for the first time. And the timing was perfect. I bought my copy of the album it was on right before the record company changed the name (it was originally titled Sit Down Young
Stranger) and right after the single made such a big splash on Top 40 radio, launching Gord from beloved Canadian icon to international superstar.
My sweetie of the time could have been one of the girls Gord wrote about — Lavender or Susan or Linda.
So, it was with much joy that I discovered that Doc Mercury is running a week-long GordFest over at Maggie’s Farm.
I’ll be the first to admit that folk music is an acquired taste. And, since there is a good deal of emphasis on lyrics, it requires a bit more attention to be paid to it as opposed to your typical bubblegum wallpaper pop music. BUT… if you’re thinking “folk music equals John Denver,” and aren’t familiar with Gord, you’re in for a bit of a shock.
I thought you liked Gord. I caught you rockin’ out to “Don’t Beat Me Down” the other day.
Well, yeah. But — like you said: acquired taste. And shocking? Not so much.
No, I only meant in contrast to syrupy sweet stuff like John Denver (PBUH). Well, even that’s not fair. Denver was good at what he did. He just had such a pretty voice. Gord’s stuff has big hairy balls by comparison.
I mean, I can’t picture John Denver — “Muhlenberg County” notwithstanding — singing this:
When he was a man
My father would stand
I never saw him run
There wasn’t anyone could make the man bend
And the strength of his will was a tool of his trade
And he did his work well
‘Til the Powers That Be took a liking to him
And they traded his body for a cold empty shell…
And, where so many singer-songwriters come off a little polished and take on a practiced air as a part of their personna, Gord always managed to make it look easy while also conveying a sense of wonder — less like he was phoning it in and more like he was exploring all this stuff for the first time himself and loving every minute of it. No morose whingeing for this guy, just honest celebrations of life. Even the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger indictment of the Big Apple in “Cold Hands from New York” makes the effort to appreciate what beauty there can be even in the ugliest city in the world, even though…
I came down from Albany to New York to find what I’d been missin’
I looked across the river to the city where the windows all stood glistenin’
I stood listenin’
There were prophets in the squares and people there who smiled and said forget it
There were lovers in the park and there was danger in the dark, I felt it
So afraid of it
There were preachers of the word and poets who were never heard
I heard them
There were those who would not try to learn the measure of the lie
I heard a young musician play in a place where they paid you not to listen
I heard a woman scream for help while men stood by and offered their best wishes
That’s how it is
It was too unreal for me
I found no one who trusted me
There was no man could offer me
A cold hand from New York
Sad to report, his health hasn’t been the greatest here lately. He’s on tour at the moment, but you never know when it might be the last time. If you get a chance, take it.