Gordon Lightfoot keeps moving forward

When Gordon Lightfoot showed up at the Occupy movement in Toronto to support his protesting daughter, a lot of people jumped to interesting conclusions about the man. Internet boards were full of Canadians either decrying him as an aging hippie, or cheering him … as an aging hippie.

It was selling the man a wee bit short. He’s a smart cat, a product of the Dylan/Kingston Trio era of folk music, not some commune. In fact Lightfoot, who played Friday at the Jubilee Auditorium, is a legend, but is also pretty enigmatic, shunning press except when absolutely necessary, famously skipping questions he sees as intrusive and generally trying to keep his private life private.

He’s done it for four decades, so he must have something of a handle on it. Part of the his technique has been self-effacement: he’ll quickly point out in an interview with Postmedia that he has two failed marriages, but forego any long public contrition for the mere publicity value, keeping the specifics to himself. It’s an exceedingly polite “fuck you” to the reality TV generation.

So how anyone reached any conclusions about his showing up at Occupy Toronto is a bit puzzling. He said he admires their courage. That was about it. He didn’t discuss his views on capitalist democracy and how it compares with other political/economic systems. He didn’t decry libertarianism or wax hateful towards Ayn Rand. Sure, he was writing anti-war, pro-environment songs in 1970, before most of the Occupiers were born, but it wasn’t like he pitched his own tent.

The National Post declared that he “apparently loves the spotlight” a statement doubly rife with irony when you consider the private Lightfoot was written off by some of the press as dead accidentally last year and has continually refused attempts to write any biographies.

Lightfoot told CBC he was only there to support his daughter, the CBC cameraman duly asked the important question: which one of your songs sums this up?

Gord answered “Restless.”

Gord’s Comedy Gold, as it were.

I’m rather glad a guy who made a living writing poetic, lyrical music about carefree highways and old shipwrecks has at least some sympathy for the folk camping out, not because they’re going about things the right way, but because their intentions are good and the ultimate cause – corporate and investment agency accountability – is intensely important to social progress in North America.

“I really admire these folks here in Toronto,” he said, adding he was “amazed” by what was going on.

Maybe that’s why Lightfoot’s music was always so authentically Canadian, so close to the bone: he’s a smart guy, who sees the bigger picture and sees little value in discussing it with media largely looking for soundbites. He’s also one of our most successful songwriters ever from a career standpoint (seriously, look it up on Wiki) .

Business reporter David Olive, of the Toronto Star, summed up Lightfoot’s perspective intelligently in an article last week, noting internet searches on Wall Street corruption are up over 500% since the protests began.

“It’s not going away. It’s going online, as the Arab Spring organizers did. Occupy has boundless opportunities to keep making its point, with rallies, marches, petitions, demos and sit-ins. The Occupier grievances are real and widely felt. An intolerable 1.3 million Canadians are without work. Twenty-six million Americans are unemployed, under-employed, or have given up looking for work. In both countries, middle-class incomes have stagnated even as living costs – for rent, tuition, fuel – have skyrocketed. And the current, gross disparity in wealth matches that of gilded ages past.”

Gilded ages past? Careful, David. You and Gord start getting all artistic on us and you might get people talking about peace, love and understanding, or something.

That, and a little sensible regulation of the U.S. equities markets.