Gordon (Meredith) Lightfoot Bart Testa - Essay

Bart Testa

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It may be an anomaly that no one has become more cliched than the "singer-songwriter." With only him/herself to talk about, the singer-songwriter has either to transcend personal perspective or repeat him/herself to the point of dry exhaustion. Most singer-songwriters, protected by the screen of high income and cult worshippers, choose dry exhaustion. The exceptions—Elton John, Loudon Wainwright and, lately, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan—have returned to folkie/rock 'n roll eccentric topicality. This exceptional group came full circle, back to where the folkie thing left off (i.e., Bob Dylan rejoins Joan Baez), or back to rock 'n roll (Born To Run and "Philadelphia Freedom").

But Gordon Lightfoot is special. He is the only songwriter to have gone the whole route without even slightly changing his style of writing or performance. Well, there is another exception but John Denver is an unforgivable abomination, Gordon Lightfoot is nothing if not forgivable…. Lightfoot still gets away pretending that he is part Indian and all wandering minstrel. Even Neil Young gave that up years ago. But Lightfoot's secret is that he has managed not to develop, even slightly, in over a decade. On Gord's Gold, he redoes his "classics." The most notable thing about the record is that, aside from a few slight changes in production, the songs sound exactly the same as they did when Lightfoot originally recorded them. But, for all his sameness, Lightfoot is still not tiresome. A little standardized maybe, but only as befits a national—that is, a Canadian—institution. (p. 69)

Bart Testa, "Royal Canadians," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1976 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), June, 1976, pp. 69-71.∗