Tonight Steve and I are going to Credit Union Place in Summerside to see Gordon Lightfoot, one of Canada's most well-loved singer songwriters. I think the gentleman must be about 76 now, and Steve thinks he won't be in top form after all those years of belting out hundreds of hits, but I don't care. I came late to the true Gordon Lightfoot fan club, although if I had paid more attention to singers years ago I would have realized that I've been a Gordon Lightfoot fan all along. I certainly loved his music., whether or not I knew who sang those tunes.
It all started when I was ten.
My parents instilled in their children the desire to 'do something' on weekend afternoons. Doing something meant going somewhere, and in P.E.I. that's an easy thing to do on lazy summer Sunday afternoons. There's always a beach to visit, or a place to go for walks, to visit friends and family who are renting cottages or tent trailers, where you could drop in and feel cozy and relaxed, and catch up on gossip and news.
I have hazy memories of spending many Sunday afternoons on the north shore at Penderosa Beach and Campground. Today it's just cottages, but in my childhood you could camp there, swim at the beach, go on Trail Rides (horseback!) and, wonder of wonders, on Sunday afternoons at 2 you could gather in front of the outdoor stage and revel in the world of live music by watching the Ellis Family Band. Sometimes we camped on site, and other times we went out just for the music. I must say that those Sunday afternoon concerts conjure up some of the best memories of my life as a youngster on my beloved island.
Why? Well, it didn't hurt that even at a young age I had a fantastical imagination and, inspired by the music, I always got carried off on the wings of bliss into unknown worlds of my own creation. It was something, then, to be ten and filled with hope for the future - who would I marry, what would I do, where would I live? The band was indeed a family, brothers, as I recall. The two youngest were Brian and David, and they stood on stage right and played the shakers and the tambourine, rather solemnly, I think. Not sure how much they wanted to be up there on stage with their older brothers, but I loved watching them. David was ten - like me - and wow, did I have a crush on him. They all wore matching brown outfits, I think, and were about as great as I thought any band could be! I resolved then and there to be a singer (I'm not. Although I suppose I am a closet singer! I do sing in Fandango, a local upbeat contemporary choir! Does that count?). It seems strange to me now after having written my Drifters series about a singer. I had forgotten about that long ago dream to be a singer myself, but I guess somehow it stuck. Anyways, one Sunday afternoon while I was floating on the magic of live music, I wandered up to the stage. It was intermission but the two younger boys were there, where they always were, and somehow I got up the nerve to tell 'Davie', as I suddenly recall everyone called him, that I thought he was pretty great. I don't remember my exact phrasing, but I do remember the serious expression on his face as he averted my eyes. To his credit he didn't laugh or tease, nor did his older brother tease him or, mercifully, ten-year-old me. I was awestruck. These cute boys - musicians, nonetheless! - were larger than life.
I know the band played lots of memorable tunes on those dreamy Sunday summer afternoons, but the only song I remember is Sundown. I did not hear of Gordon Lightfoot until years later (or if I did I did not pay attention) but wow, do I remember that song. Why did it make such an impact on a ten-year-old? I have no idea, but I still love to hear it today. In fact, sometimes I think about how magical it would be to create a TV series about the Drifters books, and I ALWAYS picture the series opening with fourteen-year-old Jessie packing her knapsack at home the night she runs away from P.E.I. The opening song would be Sundown. What do I know about the song? Not much, but in my mind it's about drugs and darkness and fear and all the sorrowful experiences and emotions Jessie endures throughout her life. It sums her up. It's a song I can picture her singing as she hides behind her own darkness. It's a way of communicating that darkness to the world. I wonder what Gordon Lightfoot was thinking as he wrote it...
Whether or not Gordon Lightfoot is at the top of his game, he is a Canadian icon. The man is an ingenious songwriter and captivating skilled guitarist, and I am looking forward to just being in his presence. Song For A Winter's Night, covered exquisitely by Sarah McLachlan, conjures up the most beautiful cozy images yet, at the same time, a sense of lonely wistful longing. Edmund Fitzgerald is a harrowing and tragic novel, If You Could Read My Mind is heartbreak in song.
Time is so elusive, isn't it? I'm reading about Billy Bishop right now…Canadian Flying Ace, WW I. I feel like I could have been there, one of his buddies hanging out in France smoking cigs and trying to quell his fears before and after aerial dogfights with the Red Baron. But then I also feel like I was there when Sundown was written, like it was written with some dark aspect of me in mind, a deeper layer of my personality that somehow made its way onto the page when Jessie Wheeler became real. What a magical life, if we could just go back and BE there, in those great moments of history, when John Lennon was writing Imagine, at home with their mother when two of the three Brennan boys went missing while flying Hurricanes in WW II, when my kid was young and always close by. When the people featured in my film The Healing Place (almost done!) were happy because their sons, daughters and siblings still walked this earth.
So I'm going to this show tonight and physically I will be there, sitting somewhere on the floor gazing up at a legend (wishing I still had two good eyes, but that's another story - it's music, and I do have ears!). But my mind will be all over the place, thinking about the passage of time, about Jessie and her Drifters friends in the TV show in my mind, about my son who plays in his own band and who is also, along with his friends, an amazing songwriter in his own right.
And I will be in awe - not alone, I am sure - when I hear Sundown played live by a master, and when I am once again transported to a lazy Sunday afternoon when hope was real and life was filled with promise, and my ten-year-old self was 'in love' with a band, music, and a boy.