By Gillian Turnbull
By Nicholas Jennings
336 pp; $36
I’m a longtime admirer of music journalist Nicholas Jennings. It was therefore no surprise to me that he was the one to finally lock Gordon Lightfoot into the series of interviews that became the singer’s biography. Simply titled Lightfoot, the book takes its place among the current spate of biographies that are the setting sun’s final rays on boomer music. Can we finally acknowledge that the ’60s are over? Does Lightfoot’s relenting to his life immortalized in book form herald the end? After all, his career peak began 50 years ago this year, with his centennial song “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” marking a significantly different nationalist fervour than was felt at this moment of our 150th birthday.
Lightfoot arguably comes at a time when old musicians’ legacies are perpetually on our minds. In any given week over the last two years, a rocker’s death has fought for headline space against books and films documenting music by his or her (mostly his) contemporaries. No wonder: the ’60s and ’70s were something of a golden era to be a musician. You could actually make money, or develop your craft through a four-album deal, as Lightfoot did many times over. You didn’t have to fight against the noise of everyone else on Bandcamp or YouTube – or be your own publicist, booking agent and recording engineer in equal measure.
Still, it’s difficult to convince anyone under 40 that Lightfoot and his contemporaries have something to offer us now; their gentle ruminations on heartbreak in an empty Canada hardly reflect the desperation most of us feel just to survive contemporary urban life. When I play Lightfoot, Ian Tyson and the other folkies of the period to my undergraduate students, I feel like I’ve accidentally passed them a pillow and a bottle of whiskey and set them in snooze mode.
If it isn’t already obvious from this review’s opening, I expected to be…