It took me a while to really come to appreciate Lightfoot, being as he was a ubiquitous part of my childhood soundtrack on easy listening radio. But, what a lot of people didn’t know was that he was connected to the same folk scene as Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary were. His “Early Morning Rain” was a hit for the latter in the 60s. And Dylan would be an admirer, with Lightfoot joining him for the Toronto Rolling Thunder Revue shows. By then, Lightfoot had amassed an incredible body of work, with hit albums and songs all over radio, and his name assured in the Canadian icon stakes. Heck, even Elvis recorded “Early Morning Rain” and another of his hits, “For Lovin’ Me”.
I’d heard “If You Could Read My Mind” thousands of times as a kid among his other songs thanks to Canadian content regulations assuring heavy rotation on Canadian radio. I placed him in the category of “grown-up music”; that is; not really for me. But, while living in England many years later, I’d heard it again used as a part of the soundtrack of some TV show. Hearing it out of cultural context seemed to make a difference somehow. All of the beauty and fragility in the lyrics, the gentle melodic lines of the tune, and the acoustic guitar with strings arrangement, all opened up for me. The feel of the song was not a million miles away from Fairport Convention or Nick Drake, British folk music which I had also discovered around that time, that seemed to have the same ineffable, mystical quality. Then, I knew that Lightfoot was a rare treasure from my own country, an artist to be celebrated.
This song “Restless” harkens back to his early-to-mid 1970s heyday, after a long trek in the musical wilderness in the 1980s. In that decade, Lightfoot battled bland production and a personal fight with alcoholism too. But, by the time this album was made in the early 90s, he was focused again. And this song is evidence of that.
The song hits a certain melancholic and contemplative chord which I’m always a sucker for. To me, it’s like the soundtrack to one of those nights when you wake up, turn on a single light, and reflect on thoughts that seem to seep partially from a dream, and partially from memories past. It contains hints of regret, yet I wouldn’t say it’s a dark song. This is a song which describes a basic need to draw the threads of one’s life together, and the moments when the need is so strong, your own brain wakes you up and makes you do the work.
Lightfoot’s influence on Canadian music, and on songwriters like Ron Sexsmith, K.D Lang, and the Rheostatics among many others is incalcuable. Take a look at this interview with Gordon Lightfoot from CBC’s the Hour. Lightfoot recently released an album after making a miraculous recovery from internal hemmoraging and a resulting coma in 2002, and the resulting album released in 2005 – Harmony – is of similar quality to the one off of which “Restless” comes. The interview touches on this, along with a brief career overview.
For more music, check out the official Gordon Lightfoot Facebook page, which features performances of some of his most popular songs, including “If You Could Read My Mind”, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, and “The Canadian Railroad Trilogy”, along with links to interviews and historical information.