Rainy day people – a tribute to Gordon Lightfoot (a revisit)

With it raining cats and dogs outside tonight, this title has greater meaning. “Rainy Day People” is not necessarily my favorite Gordon Lightfoot song, but it describes my bride of now 34 years. Why you might ask? Here is a glimpse of Lightfoot’s magical pen in this song:

Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call
Rainy day people don’t talk…they just listen til they’ve heard it all
Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell you they’ve been down like you
Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re crying a tear or two.

My wife embodies rainy day people. She is a listener who people feel comfortable in being around; comfortable in confiding in. Gordon Lightfoot’s talent and the reason we both love his music is his ability to capture who we are. We saw him perform a few years ago. We enjoyed his music, but also his storytelling between songs. A man who could have many did not seem to have any airs.

His most famous song is “If You Could Read My Mind.” I think even non-Lightfoot fans could sing many of the lyrics of this song. Since it is so popular, I will skip over it to some of his lesser known, but also great songs. Another favorite is “Circle of Steel” because it tells a painful story of an alcoholic mother whose husband is incarcerated and who will lose her child in a week. The gripping, soulful lyrics include:

A child is born to a welfare case…where the rats run around like the own the place
The room is chilly, the building is old….that’s how it goes
A doctor’s found on his welfare round…and he comes and he leaves on the double.

The subject of the song is not heroic, but the words tell a story of how people struggle. Most of us don’t live in gated communities. Life is very hard for many.

For the romantic side in each of us, he write songs like “Beautiful” which has words like:

At times I just don’t know….how you could be anything but beautiful
I think that I was made for you and you were made for me
And I know that I will never change…’cause we’ve been friends through rain or shine
For such a long, long time.

He has written so many songs that were so well-loved others also recorded them. “Early Morning Rain” was sung by Elvis. “For Lovin Me” was sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. He also added a second song to the back of that one as the first part talked disdainfully to a woman scorned when the man said “that’s what you get for lovin me.” The added song he recorded had a lament “Did she mention my name” as the person who scorned his lover was feeling great remorse later on. Other great songs of his include:

“Whisper My Name”
“Sundown”
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
“Carefree Highway”
“Cotton Jenny”
“Old Dan’s Records”
“Summer Side of Life”
“Cold on the Shoulder”

And, countless others, that should not be construed less by my failure to list them. Yet, let me close with a self-portrait of Mr. Lightfoot, at least by my interpretation – “Minstrel of the Dawn.” In it he says:

The minstrel of the dawn is here….to make you laugh and bend your ear
Up the steps you’ll hear him climb….all full of thoughts, all full of rhymes
Listen to the pictures flow….across the room into your mind they go
Listen to the strings…they jangle and dangle…while the old guitar rings.

Words and music. To me this is what it is all about. Gordon Lightfoot would have been an excellent poet without his music. He was lesser known, but may have rivaled even Bob Dylan on his penning of songs. Maybe the fact one was from Canada and the other from Minnesota meant they had time to collect their thoughts when it was too cold to venture outside. Yet, with his music and armed with a better singing voice that Dylan could only dream of, he was the minstrel to all of us.

For our younger readers who may not know him as well, I would encourage you to take a plunge. You can start with the songs above, but that is only sticking a toe in the water. I invite other Gordon Lightfoot fans to offer their favorites whether listed above or not. “If you could read my mind love, what a tale my thoughts would tell….just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstore sells.”

5 thoughts on “Rainy day people – a tribute to Gordon Lightfoot (a revisit)

  1. Note to Readers: One of the stories Lightfoot told is about “Early Morning Rain.” He said he changed a lyric after Elvis referenced being “as drunk as I can be” on a plane awaiting take off. The original lyric was “might be.” Small change, but more impact.

  2. Wonderful post, Keith! As a Canadian, I look at Gordon Lightfoot as a national treasure. I’ve never seen what others obviously see in the work of Bob Dylan, but I won’t disrespect him or his fans. For me, Lightfoot is a giant as a minstrel and a poet.

    • John, he is a treasure. I think the Nobel prize for Dylan was warranted, as his lyrics are wonderful and compelling. But, Lightfoot is a far better singer and also a great lyricist. Maybe the colder climates create great songwriters due to cabin fever. Neil Young ain’t too shabby either. Keith

  3. I know all of these! If you ask anyone I know (of my generation) what is the first Gordon Lightfoot song that comes to your mind, they would say the Edmund Fitzgerald. The song was released when I was in school, and I had no idea the shipwreck it refers to was contemporary – I just assumed all shipwrecks were historical!

    • I am not surprised you know them all. Canadians are justifiably proud of Lightfoot. Like you, I thought the wreck was an older story. My greatest hits
      CD in my car was cut before this song was released. It is a favorite as well.

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