Old Soldiers, Grace, and Gordon

Little story for y’all…happy march to you!

“I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Everytime I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever. ” – Bob Dylan.

Yup, Gordon Lightfoot is and was a heavyweight songwriter, a Canadian with ties to the cool Greenwich Village and the sly Nashville Cats (recorded in the Music City for the first time in 1962).  Lightfoot had many “soft rock” hits over the years, but as Bob points out, his reach was much deeper, a melancholy and melodic songwriter of the first order.   These days, Lightfoot hasn’t been rebranded as hip, running around as Gord the Folker or Father Gord Drippy, with Rick Rubin produced records,  but he is still a legend, and since he was coming to Nashville for a show at the Ryman, I thought it was high time I paid my respects.  He’s 79 years old and who knows how many more chances I’ll have.  I’m feeling that way a lot lately, as we lose so many musical icons.

The show was good, and interesting in a different way.   Lightfoot looked like a founding father, skinny, gray and drawn, and wore his battle scars like Washington or Lafayette.  His band was tasty, his playing was fluid, and his ragged voice bore the mark of a life well-lived — or maybe hard-lived — as he reached for, nailed, or slid into key notes.  He seemed a bit tired, but happy, as he picked up steam throughout the night.  Honestly, though, I don’t know if any of that mattered so much, because like any old soldier, he was grateful to be on the field, casting his life’s work under the floodlights and smoke one more time.  One more night.  That’s all we have.  And the songs were, undeniably, consistently,  solid.  “A Painter Passing Through, “Sweet Guinevere,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” and many more.

I had bought tickets for me and my son, Jude, but he was under the weather and opted to stay home;  a good choice, as I didn’t want him to miss any school (Sunday night).  So, I was solo for this one, and when Lightfoot went into “Early Morning Rain” my thoughts cascaded to all those airports I’d been through, by myself,  with that feeling of leaving a loved one behind, the bittersweet heart perfectly captured in the song.   I thought of Jude, I thought of his mother; I thought of friends scattered like leaves; I thought of distant lovers, in time and place.

I looked around the Ryman and many older couples there, those who, like Gordon, had fought battles, won and lost, and were holding on, together, old soldiers ready to take time off from the struggle to remember the songs that helped get them through, and share the beauty of the moment, with each other and the troubadour who brought them there.   They reminded me of my parents, who spent over half-a-century together and died within weeks of each other.  I was envious of those couples, for my life to date has been much more like the singer’s, phases and connections with people and towns, frayed and stitched together into a pastiche, instead of a long shared history with one person who knows you like no other.  Somehow that was all in the song on this particular night.

But, it’s okay, because on this particular night, we were all taking time out and tipping our collective hat to the present.  If we’re lucky, we’re all old soldiers some day, showing each other grace when occasionally,  we lose the high notes.


 Thanks for the songs, Mr. Lightfoot.

Published by Doug Hoekstra

Father, wordsmith, musician, creative.

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