A new documentary on the life and music of Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot offers a comprehensive take on the singer-songwriter. The film has just been released to “virtual screening” rooms including Newport’s Jane Pickens Theater here. It’s most definitely worthy of your attention.
Best known for hits like “If You Could Read My Mind”, “Sundown”, and “Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald” (recorded on the first take), Lightfoot has been a mainstay on the music scene since the mid-1960’s, when he was a contemporary of Bob Dylan.
The film, named for his most famous song, highlights Lightfoot’s Canadian identity and heritage. It opens with a scene of him driving through downtown Toronto where he sees a billboard and proceeds to share his admiration for hip-hop star (and Toronto native) Drake. In fact, Toronto is where Lightfoot got his start and the city’s music scene is fondly celebrated throughout the film.
“Mind” traces the geography of his life, from his origins in Canada, college in late 50’s California to study jazz, back to Canada and the Toronto coffeehouses and later to stardom and lavish partying in LA in the early 70’s. After a run of big hits, he sobered up and moved back to his homeland, where he is unofficially regarded as the national poet-laureate. In 1967, he was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Company to write “Canadian Train Trilogy,” an epic piece in honor of the nation’s centennial.
There are extensive interviews with the 81-year-old icon where he speaks to a range of experiences. We find out that he’s still uncomfortable with the lyrics of his first big hit, “For Lovin’ Me,” a confessional about his first marriage. Indeed there are several “warts and all” moments, including the story of “Sundown,” and its connection to John Belushi’s death. You’ll hear from a loyal cast of contributors – mainly fellow Canadians including Randy Bachman, Ronnie Hawkins, Sarah McLaughlin, Steve Earle, actor Alec Baldwin, and Geddy Lee of Rush.
The film also features extensive historical footage from Lightfoot’s early years, including concert clips and even a rare interview with a youthful fellow Canadian Alex Trebek. There’s a great clip of Bob Dylan presenting a Juno Award from 1986, certainly not something you see every day. Praise from Dylan is rare – of Lightfoot, he once said “Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.”
Canada has certainly given us many great musicians including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and more; but Lightfoot is unique in that his music is often seen to reflect the true soul of our neighbor to the north. That’s certainly a feeling that comes through when watching this film. I highly recommend it.