Gordon Lightfoot

Carefree Highway

November 17, 2020

This Canadian born singer-songwriter wrote more than 200 published songs in the folk-rock/country genre and was one of several who pioneered what became known as soft rock in the 1970’s.

Gordon Lightfoot’s distinctive voice and style – with a penchant for melancholy – made him a favorite for angsty teenage girls of the era. If You Could Read My Mind – his first US hit – was released in December 1970, rising to number five on the Top 40 and number one on the US Easy Listening charts in February 1971. Other hits followed including Sundown – his only number one Top 40 hit – was immediately followed up by Carefree Highway (#10 on the Top 40 and #1 on the Easy Listening Charts). The hits continued for several years and the classic Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald reached the Top 40 number two spot the week of November 20, 1976.

Today, November 17th, is Gordon Lightfoot’s 82nd birthday.

Lightfoot is considered by many Canadians to be their greatest songwriter. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Gordon Lightfoot’s music career has spanned more than six decades, producing more than 200 recordings. He helped define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s, with his songs recorded by artists such as Bob Dylan, Gene Clark, Dan Fogelberg, Jimmy Buffett, and Jim Croce. The Canadian band The Guess Who recorded a song called ‘Lightfoot’ on their 1968 album Wheatfield Soul; the lyrics contain many Lightfoot song titles.

Bob Dylan made this comment about the artist: ‘I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever…. Lightfoot became a mentor for a long time. I think he probably still is to this day.’

In June 2017, Lightfoot rated fifth in the CBC’s list of the 25 best Canadian songwriters ever.

Lightfoot’s biographer, Nicholas Jennings, sums up his legacy this way: ‘His name is synonymous with timeless songs about trains and shipwrecks, rivers and highways, lovers and loneliness. His music defined the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He is unquestionably Canada’s greatest songwriter.’”

Perhaps the thing one most admires about Lightfoot is that it has, apparently, always been about the music and the songs. Even when the folk rock sound lost popularity, he stayed true to his roots and his passion, keeping his base of loyal fans who have continued to attend his performances. Sadly, some health issues in the past few years have impacted his ability to perform but one suspects that as long as he walks this earth he will continue to sing, write music, and share that music.

It was the song If You Could Read My Mind which first brought Lightfoot to my attention. As a young teenager, it was the folk rock/soft rock songs which I preferred. I recall going to Valu-Mart in Yakima where I bought my first 45 records. Three were purchased that day, one of those the aforementioned If You Could Read My Mind.

For my regular readers, you know that I like to weave a story which ties in to the person or theme of each week’s blog. I’ve had this topic set for November 17th for some time now and even when I began writing it I wasn’t sure where it would take me.

As the hubby said this evening, serendipity was at work this week. For the past 11 days, he and I have been on a mission which brought us to Arizona. We’d been tasked with the job of packing up and sending back to his parents all their personal belongings from a trailer home they’ve owned in Apache Junction for the past 16 years. Due to some health concerns the decision was made to sell the place. But someone had to go in person to do it.

On November 5th, he and I left Washington State headed south. We traveled 500 miles a day, and navigated the Covid world with as few personal interactions as possible. The job was huge: make sure that we get everything back to his parents that they wanted, clean it up, sell a car and sell the trailer. All in just over 6 days if possible.

On Saturday, November 14th, we crammed the car with things that simply were not shippable (we packed and sent 21 shipping boxes!) including an outdoor metal floral piece and a roughly 2 ½ foot long by 1 ½ foot tall ceramic donkey which I dubbed the wonky donkey.

This author on the Carefree highway in Arizona

We headed north on Highway 17, headed for a detour to see Sedona (worth it!) and then to spend the first night of the return trip in Flagstaff. After getting gas at the last Costco in north Phoenix, we continued up the free way for about 17 miles and ended up on highway 76… also known as The Carefree Highway.

Sure enough, we had found the place which inspired one of Gordon Lightfoot’s most popular songs. The hubby obliged when I asked him to take a photo of me at one of the intersections. Of course I then had to look up the lyrics. As is typical of many of Lightfoot’s songs, the lyrics are a bit of conundrum. But this section seemed somewhat appropriate to the task at hand:

Turnin’ back the pages to the times I love best
I wonder if she’ll ever do the same
Now the thing that I call livin’ is just bein’ satisfied
With knowin’ I got no one left to blame
Carefree highway, got ta see you my old flame
Carefree highway, you seen better days
The mornin’ after blues from my head down to my shoes
Carefree highway, let me slip away
Slip away on you.

There was sadness for the hubby and me as we drove away from his parents’ place, knowing that everyone would have preferred that they could spend another winter there. As I packed up every single personal item, I came to understand this place was so much more than just a winter getaway, for them is was their Carefree Highway and a special place they truly called home.


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