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Slipping Away With Gordon Lightfoot

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

This week’s Free Ride* muses on the lyrics of Gordon Lightfoot, and his song Carefree Highway (click the link to hear it on YouTube, with lyrics). The Canadian folk-rocker turned 72 this week, and this song came out over three decades ago on his 1974 album, Sundown. I remember 1974 as a great year to be a 13 year-old listening to Big WISE, the local AM rock and roll radio station that played such an incredible range of musical styles and influences. There I was, hearing for the first time the songs I still love to hear on the classic rock stations: Black Water, Sweet Home Alabama, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Whatever Gets You Through the Night, Radar Love, Rock On, Takin’ Care of Business, Keep on Smilin’, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Tell Me Something Good, Boogie on Reggae Woman, Jungle Boogie, The Joker, Clap for the Wolfman, Strutter (along with everything else on Kiss’ debut album, their best, as far as I’m concerned). And in the middle of this you had lots of great acoustic singer-songwriter types – Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, and Gordon Lightfoot. I know that some folks cringe at Lightfoot’s music (The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald does get a bit repetitious), but I have always loved his songs. As a self-professed rock lover, it is a little embarrassing to see that Carefree Highway reached number one on Billboard’s Easy Listening charts, just ahead of Olivia Newton-John and John Denver and Mac Davis, (all of whom do set my teethe on edge). However, it was a confirmation to me when I learned a few years ago that Gordon Lightfoot is the favorite songwriter of both Bob Dylan and Tony Rice.

Lightfoot was inspired to write Carefree Highway when he was on the road in Arizona and saw a sign for the Carefree Highway, leading to the small town of Carefree just north of Phoenix. Like so many of his songs, it tells a story we’re all familiar with. This particular story is of an old lost flame who broke his heart, a lover whose image has faded away but whose memory still pops up from time to time. It’s strange how broken relationships, whether with old lovers or with old friends or with old colleagues, can occasionally people our dreams and haunt us when we least expect it. I know for me, there are old wounds that I wish I didn’t care about any more. It would be nice to take the trip the song sings of,

Searchin’ through the fragments
of my dream-shattered sleep
I wonder if the years have closed her mind
I guess it must be wanderlust or tryin’ to get free
From the good old faithful feelin’ we once knew

Carefree highway, let me slip away, slip away on you.

It’s a good hope, a good prayer, to somehow let go of the morning after blues that reach from your head down to your shoes, to let go of the broken relationships, and travel toward Carefree. I’m setting my sights for that place, and am ready to slip away. I think I’ll get out my old Tony Rice album and listen to his covers of some great Lightfoot songs to get me started on that highway. A good entrance ramp is Shadows, with it’s simple lyrical reminder to set it free. Check out the link to a great live version with Tony and a great band covering it on the tv show New Country.

*Free Ride is a Saturday blog that takes a different song each week and muses on the lyrics of freedom. If you have a favorite “freedom” song (it could be any song that has the word free or freedom in it), feel free to suggest it in the comment box below. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.

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