“We Love the Work” Gordon Lightfoot on Creativity

What if it works this way: We write the lyrics of our life when we’re young and spend our days and years living into them.

I attended a Gordon Lightfoot concert last night at Wolf Trap, as part of his Fifty Years on the Carefree Highway Tour.

It’s easy to see that even after 50 years, Gordon is still energized by his work. During the concert, he said two phrases a number of times:

We love the work.

A-One Two Three Four . . .

Those are both good lines for writers. We love the work.

My favorite song, which was his encore (see set list below), was “Song for a Winters Night”. The lyric is about love lost and recollected. In a few days Doug and I will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary, so I am grateful to know about love found and kept. But I have also experienced love lost and recollected. The memory is both bitter and sweet.

As I listened to Gordon sing, I used my monocular to watch his face. Obviously, he has aged greatly in 50 years. He has had his share of health problems, including an abdominal aortic aneurysm that required multiple surgeries. Always a handsome man, his face is still sculpted. His cheeks are even more hollow and his eyes just as piercing. There are reminders of the dreamy guy I once mooned over as a teenager.

It struck me that there may be a meaning in the lyric beyond what Gord originally intended. The fire is dying now, my lamp is growing dim, the shades of night are liftin’

I’ve been formed by hymnody and church music. I don’t blame you if you haven’t been, and you might discount this next observation, but that lyric sounds to me like Evensong, a lyric sung to close the day and commit oneself into God’s hands as evening falls. This liturgy helps us grapple with our mortality. It helps us live in awareness that at some point we will be closing a day for the last time. We may not know this is the case. But at some point there will be no more nights ahead of us.

Certainly when Gordon sings “Song for a Winter’s Night” now it tastes different in his mouth than when he first wrote it. He is aware that his lamp is growing dim. From what I saw, this awareness causes him to live with great intensity. He still has work to do. I love knowing this about him. He is an artist, accountable to his art.

Like him, I intend to keep loving the work every day that I’m given.

Here’s the setlist:

Set 1:
The Watchman’s Gone
Waiting for You
Don Quixote
I’d Rather Press On
Wild Strawberries
Christian Island (Georgian Bay)
Rainy Day People
Minstrel of the Dawn
Carefree Highway
Cotton Jenny
Now and Then
Ribbon of Darkness

Set 2:
Sweet Guinevere
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Never Too Close
All the Lovely Ladies
Home From the Forest
A Painter Passing Through
Let It Ride
If You Could Read My Mind
Baby Step Back
Early Morning Rain

Song for a Winter’s Night


4 responses to ““We Love the Work” Gordon Lightfoot on Creativity”

  1. Frank Gasperini Avatar
    Frank Gasperini

    I am dragging out those 33RPM LPS right now— can’t help myself after reading your blog. The only one missing is (can’t remember the title) about the horseman— or is that Don Quixote afterall?

    1. Yep, I think so, here’s the Don Quixote lyric:
      Through the woodland, through the valley
      Comes a horseman wild and free
      Tilting at the windmills passing
      Who can the brave young horseman be
      He is wild but he is mellow
      He is strong but he is weak
      He is cruel but he is gentle
      He is wise but he is meek
      Reaching for his saddlebag
      He takes a battered book into his hand
      Standing like a prophet bold
      He shouts across the ocean to the shore
      Till he can shout no more

  2. Marion Avatar

    Still love the (whole) Railroad Trilogy.
    And most of that list above.

    1. Marion, I agree! I had to hear the trilogy again so I listened to it on YouTube, saw a young Gordon playing it. One thing I really noticed at the concert is how fast his guitar playing is — not the strum strum strum of some folk music. I think that’s why it feels lilting rather than ponderous.

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