Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hamlets and Bars

I’ve long insisted that a life crisis is evidence that you simply haven’t been paying attention. But looking in the mirror at graying hair is a singular awakening experience, whereas navigating an auditorium filled with “old people” is like swimming upstream with a population of decaying salmon. It hurts to see how old we’ve grown.

The average audience age at a recent Gordon Lightfoot concert had this effect on me. And honestly, the ghostly apparition who took the stage with his guitar and backup musicians made it clear just how long this troubadour has been writing and singing to a very dedicated, if somewhat eccentric, fan base.

I have been attending Lightfoot shows since the singer was thirty-five, when he was riding high on a second wave of popularity with his Sundown album. Now a frail fragment of his former physical self, he is one of a small group of aging musicians still touring and selling tickets to several generations of fans. And the passage of forty years caused the remnants of my eighteen year old inner child to reach for reading glasses to see “Row E, Seat 1” on my ticket at the charming Pabst theater in Milwaukee.

And then there are those younger fans. The next generation, old souls born out of synch with their own time and longing for a taste of the unparalleled music of the 1970s, or perhaps watching “That Seventies Show” for insight into the journey their parents traveled to get here.

A concert several years ago was attended by a particularly enthusiastic young fan dressed entirely in period attire, sporting an afro (he was white) and drinking far too much at his personal Lightfoot pre-game tailgate. To his credit, he knew the title of every song and most of the lyrics, at one point shouting “Hamlets and Bars” at just the right point and at the top of his lungs. He subjected the audience to slurred outbursts at Gordon right up until the intermission, when he was summarily removed from the concert by two no-nonsense security guards. He wailed in protest, maybe not so much in reaction to the assault as in grief at the realization that he would not be enjoying the second set.

The most recent audience featured a young-sounding female fan shouting repeated pleas from the darkness at the back of the theater to “Give it to me Gordon!” Gordon, ever the gentlemen, continued to strum and sing without comment, but no doubt appreciated the option of an offer to “give it” still, at age 75.

So the show goes on. Skeletal Gord, in one of his infrequent spoken comments, mentioned that the band plays for ticket sales. There are no more albums coming, no merchandise to be had. He struggles with the high notes, sounding at times like air blown through a whale bone, increasingly nasal with each passing year. But through it all, fans show up for his unique musical tales of life on the Carefree Highway, On The High Seas and in the Early Mornin’ Rain.

We’ll continue to buy tickets as long as you sell them Gordon, popping Tylenol and dragging our aching bones to the nearest venue, settling into our comfy chairs and “waiting for you.”

I could be caught between decks eternally
Waiting for you to ask what's keeping me
The skies of North America are covered in stars
Over factories and farms, over hamlets and bars

1 comment:

  1. I've loved this man's music since junior high. "Changes" was the first song I ever heard him sing.

    Sit by my side, come as close as the air
    Share in a memory of gray, and wander in my words and dream about the pictures that I play
    of changes.

    We've seen so many changes since then. I'm grateful he's still with us.