If There Were Time To Spend Another Day (A Message to the Wind)

Gordon Lightfoot’s name has been everywhere this past week, in media around the world, in that he left us on May 1, 2023. He was 84, and lived a full life with music from childhood until not long before his passing. I heard Gordon Lightfoot in concert in Thunder Bay in 1987. I haven’t attended many live performances in my life, but his marked something in me that no others have, as if hearing him made me more Canadian, or as if I had arrived on some platform of awareness, raising my hand to be counted among others.

Lightfoot’s lyrics were filled with life and soul. He held little back, the ache of his own human-ness at times too much for him to carry, so writing the words down maybe allowed him another chance to breathe with ease, salve for his aches.

There may not be one among us of a certain age who hasn’t a Gordon Lightfoot song at the ready, or a lyric of his that became our anthem or prayer. I could recite his awards, including sixteen Junos, Order of Canada, in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, nominated for five Grammy awards, and having performed at Massey Hall in Toronto 170+ times. He was the celebrity captain of the Maple Leafs for the NHL’s 75th anniversary season in 1991-92 and he was on a postage stamp. But that wasn’t who he was to most of us. He was someone who kept playing, kept writing, kept singing because he couldn’t help it, because he still had something to say, not to others, but to himself. His aches and wounds and joys became ours because of the recognition of what we found in his lyrics, the gentle man, tall and lean, bent over his guitar, singing to only us.

His music was covered by Elvis and Barbra Streisand, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary and Harry Belafonte (who recently passed on April 25), by Anne Murray and Sarah McLachlan, to name a few. If you ask which song was his greatest, for which he is most famous, the answers are at the ready and shouted out. If You Could Read My Mind, his first big hit in 1971 or Sundown, which topped the Billboard Charts in the mid 1970s. The list is a long one, having recorded 200+ songs. But for many of us who attempted to learn to play the guitar, a Gordon Lightfoot song would be found within our limited repertoire.

“Bernie, we had a good run,” he said to Bernie Fielder, his long-time friend and booking agent, not long before his passing, as reported by Brad Wheeler of The Globe and Mail. Many song writers following in his footsteps are so very grateful he cleared the path for them and shone his light so they could find their way.

In 1967, he wrote A Message to the Wind saying, “Hold my hand, now it’s time for me to go.” We bid Gordon Lightfoot farewell, our hands on our chest, grateful for his talent and for his sharing and reminding us we are all just human, doing our best on this gift of a day.