I think I have spoiled myself. I have set a high bar for biographies after reading books on the lives of Keith Richards, Paul McCartney and the Beatles, Robbie Robertson among others. I have written on this blog before the effect reading a great biography has on me. I end up spending days and weeks listening to the music of the book’s subject buying the music I am reading about. This has happened after reading about Led Zeppelin (When Giants Walked the Earth) and Joni Mitchell (The Creative Odyssey of Joni Mitchell even though the book was just okay) where I added CD’s from each of these artists and more. I would say that reading about the music maker is my greatest motive for adding to my music library.
Written on the Inside front flap of the cover of the book is “…Jennings (the author) had unlimited access to the reticent musician. Lightfoot takes us deep inside the artist’s world…” Note that Lightfoot is italicized; my perception was that Gordon Lightfoot himself was going to bring readers and his fans into his world, something that Lightfoot has protected tightly.
Make no mistake, Lightfoot is the most comprehensive book written about Canada’s original folk singer-songwriter troubadour. Jennings provides a view into the life of Lightfoot. There is just enough of Lightfoot in the book to know that Jennings had spent significant time with him. The early years in Orillia are very well documented and give us a look into the musical talent that Lightfoot’s mother stimulated and encouraged from kitchen table concerts to Church services to public performances and winning talent shows.
There are multiple voices heard throughout the book, wives, girlfriends, business partners and artists that Lightfoot has played and written with, including Bob Dylan. The most interesting chapters of the book involved the early years finding his voice in a sea of other performers, touring and recording. Sadly a lot of what is written in this period comes from those around him. There is just enough from Gordon himself to add credibility of the “unlimited access” talked about on the inside flap.
What is lacking is more of Gordon Lightfoot. The early years could have used more of his take on the music and performing and collaborations and his take on his success, or why it was taking so long. Lightfoot’s music is his legacy; we are familiar with it and long to know more about it. Lightfoot could have used some focus; perhaps leading to ending the book in the lead up to 1976 and the success of that years surprise hit “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. Without that focus, Lightfoot seems needlessly stretched to include GL’s sporadic recording since after the 2002 hospitalization and the near death experience following a collapse before a hometown concert in Orillia.
If Jennings had been able to extract more from Lightfoot, there might a reason to write about Lightfoot’s music past 1980, without it the book struggles to keep its audience.
The true test of course to the success of Lightfoot is whether or not I spent a significant amount of time listening to Gordon Lightfoot’s music. I didn’t. There was nothing to spur me on to listen back and hear in the music what Lightfoot was thinking or feeling at any particular time during his best creative years.
Lightfoot’s fans will enjoy the book, but it is best to limit expectations. Lightfoot himself doesn’t have the voice that was promised; if he had, there would’ve been a depth I’ve found other books of the same genre.
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