My History With the Music of Gordon Lightfoot
Posted on May 2, 2023
There used to be a radio station in Detroit called WJOI back in the day when I was in grade school. My father would turn the stereo on to that station when he’d be working at home at night, and I was doing homework. I remember making fun of it, often calling it WDEAD for dead people music. It wasn’t. The music was just easy listening. The strange thing is I can still remember some of the songs regularly played, and I’m amazed they’ve stayed with me as long as they have. Two come to mind right now because the singer/songwriter passed away. The songs? Sundown and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The singer? Gordon Lightfoot.
No way would I ever have thought I’d hold on to the impressions those songs left me with to this day. My musical heyday was the 80s. I danced in my room to The Thompson Twins and Cyndi Lauper, The Motels, and Berlin, rocked out to Rick Springfield and Heart, sang along with Fiona and Robert Tepper, went to see The Go-Gos and Mr. Mister in concert, and longed to hear the latest hits by Ray Parker Jr. and Bryan Adams on the radio. Those artists and their songs felt like my lifeblood. So, Gordon Lightfoot? Really?
Maybe it’s not such a surprise.
Hearing Sundown and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald takes me right back to working on spelling words and math problems while my Dad worked on a TV tray across from me while Mom was at work. Dad would cook those evenings, and he was a heck of a cook. So was Mom, but Dad didn’t cook as often, and we’d always stop by and pick up a pack of Twinkies on the way home after driving Mom to work. Of course, no TV until our work was done. But those songs by Gordon Lightfoot would play on the radio, and I’d listen, never realizing the memories they’d elicit so many years later.
My friend, Don Zomberg, who passed three years ago, would always be someone I went to record stores and discussed music with. We had just enough similarities and differences to keep things fresh, as well introduce each other to songs we might otherwise have overlooked. We went to an amazing record store in Grand Rapids the last time I saw him, and I remember buying a couple of Gordon Lightfoot CDs, which I listened to on the drive home. I’d also listened to a Greatest Hits of Gordon Lightfoot the day I drove to the funeral of my former high school teacher and co-author, Diane Abbott. I must have listened to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald for 40 minutes straight that day.
I associated Diane with a special part of my past, especially because she knew my father—both my parents, actually–and I’d spent 2 years co-writing our first book together. We had history. I also associate the music with Don. We had a 30-year friendship based on a love of movies and music, and an understanding of what it meant to be a writer. Writing is history, often based on our own history, and I think we often find a way to connect that history. Mine just happens to be through music.
My one semi-regret? I had a chance to go and see Gordon Lightfoot perform last year when he stopped in Royal Oak. I didn’t go. I probably should have, but I didn’t, and now I won’t be able to. I wonder what the experience of hearing those songs live might have had on me. Maybe I’ll write about it in a book one day…
Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the novella Falling Awake, Falling Awake II: Revenant, Falling Awake III: Requiem, Falling Awake IV: Retribution, The Beautiful Moment, and the forthcoming Butterflies I Have Known.