And now it’s summer. And here I feel like a regular blackguard and a heretic too, having “ripped” out the first half of an artist’s song to get to what, in my opinion, is the far better second half. Ah yes, right at the point where, with a pffffttttt, he opens a beer and takes a satisfying gulp…
Born in Orillia, Ontario in 1938, with hundreds of recordings released over a career that has spanned five decades, Gordon Meredith Lightfoot, Jr. has been called a Canadian National Treasure by no less a Canadian treasure himself than Robbie Robertson. Then there’s Bob Dylan, who refers to him as one of his favorite songwriters, further noting that when he hears a Lightfoot song he often wishes that it would last forever.
So who am I to question the artistic vision of such a man when it comes to the final track of his seventh album, 1971’s “Summer Side of Life”? Entitled “Cabaret” it starts out with a lilting (some may say tedious) dewy-eyed reminiscence about the sea and the sky and “sounds of laughter on ladies gay….” Sorry but riiiiiiip…because at 2:53, when you’re about to drift away that initial song, which really must have started life as a different track, evolves into the highly resonating account of a drifter (so maybe that’s it) on the road.
And here we are, huddled in some west coast roadside diner while the big rigs roll by. Anyone who has spent a few days “cold on the shoulder” will immediately identify. Then comes the chorus, which always makes me think of my wife, Linda (now decades ago), back in Toronto when she was roundly pregnant with our first-born.
My job would regularly have me venturing to Ottawa or Hamilton or maybe to Winnipeg, all within 150 kilometers of the great southern border (which is where four-fifths of the Canadian population resides). But in the icy vortex of January, Linda’s company would send her to the wilds (and I mean that) of Timmins on the frozen Mattagami, or to Kapuskasing, where GM operates its “Cold Weather Development Center.”
Well into her third trimester, well before mobile GPS devices or practical cell phones for that matter, she’d fly through the frigid northern darkness, rent a Jeep Cherokee at the air field and drive for an hour and a half down a plowed but barren highway, and then…according to the desultory directions she’d received…”take a left.”
It’s summer time now, but this song transports me back to a tiny Beaches (neighbourhood) apartment, when on more than one cold, dark winter’s evening I’d sit close to the telephone on the kitchen wall and await my wife’s call, thinking all along how much…”I’d like to tell her that I miss her so, in North Ontario.”
From the coast of California
Up to the Oregon border
I’ve thumbed a thousand miles I guess
Sitting in a roadside diner
The big trucks rollin’ by
I don’t seem to know at times what’s best
And still I’d like to tell her
That I miss her so
In North Ontario
If you’re drivin’ east to Reno
Or north to Mendocino
I hope you find your rainbow’s end
This highway is my rainbow
And though I might regret it
I’m so glad I said it way back when.