This month (Nov. 17), the Canadian folk icon Gordon Lightfoot turned 77-years-young. Here, read our interview with the singer, songwriter and national treasure from the March 2011 cover of Zoomer.
David Livingstone sits down with Gordon Lightfoot, singer and learns that rumours of his death are greatly exaggerated.
“When the skies of November turn gloomy.” With those spare words from “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” Gordon Lightfoot took ownership of fall in a northern land. He owns Canadian spring, too. In “Did She Mention My Name?” he refers to “when the late snow turns to rain” and, just in passing, nails another particular misery that belongs to this great land.
But on a November afternoon when the sky is doing exactly what he said it would, Lightfoot, looking out the window, pretends to see nothing more than signs that “there's going to be snow tonight.”
He laughs after he says it, as if to acknowledge that he knows he's done better, as if to say that his impersonation of homespun meteorologist is a pose. Still, don't expect the lyricism of his songs to pour out of the man just like that.
“I'd have to start talkin', like, in poetic terms,” he says, going out of his way to make himself sound prosaic.
“And you don't like to do that?”
“I can't do that. I can only do that when I sing and play. I'm just a normal, everyday person.”
Even if his remark is taken as a reflection of his high opinion of everyday people, Lightfoot's self-esteem stays within the limits of modesty and scarcely recognizes the many ways in which he's exceptional.
A national treasure — institution, icon, beloved at home and one of Bob Dylan's favourites, all that — he has managed to stay not forever young but forever cool, which is an even greater accomplishment.
On the subject of age, Lightfoot, who went 72 in November, says, “It doesn't bother me.” Near dying left him equally unfazed. When people wonder what it was like when a ruptured abdominal aneurysm left him unconscious for six weeks back in 2002, he tells them, “It was probably the most quiet, peaceful time I've spent in my whole life.”
And he can laugh about death. Last year, calling into a radio station that had reported his demise, a wildfire story said to have started on the Internet, he nixed the rumour and joked about all the airplay it got him.
Lightfoot, however, is not fooling when he tells me, “I just want you to know that I'm doing great. I'm doing great shows and I love the work.”
That was clear from the minute he arrived at the Toronto studio where he was to be photographed and interviewed. He's grizzled and skinny, with cheekbones like rocks, a strong profile, square shoulders that forbid bad posture and a pent-up energy he attributes to the four, five, six times a week he works out at a gym.
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