The singer-songwriter, now 81, is frank about his own work and refreshingly open to today’s music.
If you haven’t laid eyes on the singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot in a while, you may be stunned at the beginning of this straightforward, engaging documentary about his life and work, directed by Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni. Now 81 years old, Lightfoot doesn’t resemble the curly-haired, oft-mustachioed, outdoorsy-looking troubadour of his 1970s heyday. Skinny, his clean-shaven face now long and almost gaunt, his hair straight and combed back, he looks like an aged underground rocker.
Lightfoot was anything but underground. A prodigious songwriter and distinctive singer, the Canadian’s 1960s work made hits for other acts, and in the ’70s, he and his moody ballads rode high on the pop charts.
The critic Robert Christgau once called him “a weird new kind of purist: uncompromising proponent of commercial folk music.” Early in the movie, a montage of artists as disparate as the British rocker Paul Weller and Lightfoot’s Canadian contemporary Neil Young singing the great “Early Morning Rain” demonstrates the durability of Lightfoot’s work.
Lightfoot is frank about sizing up that work — the movie opens with him expressing disdain for the sexism of his early hit “For Lovin’ Me” — and he’s refreshingly up-to-date in his perspectives about today’s music. Driving around Toronto, he sees a billboard of the hip-hop artist Drake and starts enthusiastically praising his countryman. He also speaks candidly about his relationship with Cathy Smith, a singer who was, years later, imprisoned for her involvement in the death of John Belushi.
Much of the remainder of the movie features musicians and performers, some Canadian, some not (Alec Baldwin got in here somehow) praising Lightfoot — his voice, his work ethic, his facility (he knows musical notation and writes his own lead sheets).