Lightfoot, Scorsese, and Others

Gordon LightfootOn this day in 1503, the great Italian Mannerist painter Bronzino was born. I love his work, but I’m especially taken with his name. Because “Bronzino” was not his last name. His actual name was Agnolo di Cosimo. He apparently went by Bronzino because of his dark skin. It’s like if John Boehner were a painter, he might sign them, “Orange Man.”

The mathematician August Ferdinand Mobius was born in 1790. He is best known for the Mobius strip, which is a three-dimensional object that has only one side. When people are introduced to it in grammar school, it is usually referred to as “one sided piece of paper.” Mobius was a student of Gauss, which is generally enough to make anyone famous. But of course, most of his work was highly technical and not really suitable for children or basically anyone educated in the United States. His main work was in projective geometry and number theory. He also apparently did work in astronomy, but I don’t know what it was.

The great comedian Peter Cook was born in 1937. Here he is doing a great bit as a coal miner talking about his work, “My Experiences Down the Mine.” It is very funny:

The great film director Martin Scorsese is 71 today. I specifically did not give him the day because I don’t especially like him for the things that other people like him for. Most notably: Raging Bull and Goodfellas. I don’t like how Taxi Driver is widely misunderstood. But he’s directed some of my favorite films: Kundun and Bringing Out the Dead most especially. But what I most like about Scorsese is his appreciation of film. You can hardly watch a documentary about a film without Scorsese there saying the most insightful things. He really loves film—and in a way that resonates for me. If he had not been a filmmaker, he could have been a truly great film critic—like Roger Ebert in his love for the art form but with far greater insight. (Of course, he wouldn’t necessarily have been as good a writer; Ebert’s prose was really good.)

And just for JMF, Jeff Buckley was born in 1966. Here he is doing “Hallelujah”:

Other birthdays: Grace Abbott (1878); philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin (1895); actor Lee Strasberg (1901); historian Shelby Foote (1916); actor Rock Hudson (1925); singer-songwriter Gene Clark (1944); actor Danny DeVito (69); television producer Lorne Michaels (59); baseball player Tom Seaver (59); actor Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (55); and actor Rachel McAdams (35).

The day, however, belongs to the singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot who is 75 today. I tend to like folk music of his type because I like stories. And he always sounds kind of sad and wrote “Rainy Day People.” In general, I can listen to him for a fair amount of time before he starts to annoy me. Now I’m going to play one of his big hits, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” But understand this: I think the song could have used a few more rewrites. The story itself is so compelling that the song works. But the lyrics are weak and the music could be a whole lot less plodding. So given that rousing introduction, here it is!

Happy birthday Gordon Lightfoot!

8 thoughts on “Lightfoot, Scorsese, and Others

  1. @Andrea – the Wainrights are just crazy talented. There are, like, three of them, and yes, thye are all related. Here’s my favorite, Martha W, doing a song with a cussword title:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pX-bIr8dr6U

    Thing is, Jeff Buckley was really not that good. He tended to noodle around on guitar, which he was skilled at. Some skilled people reined him in for his one halfway decent album, "Grace."

    I saw the guy live at a dinky upstairs club in Portland once, a place Nirvana and Hole played at. Friends told me Buckley was fantastic. He just showed up stoned off his ass and did guitar noodling for 45 minutes. I fled. As an artist, he was a semi-talented self-indulgent jerkwad.

    His "Grace" version of "Hallelujah," though, deserves better than this clip of Buckley noodling and being massively in love with himself. The studio version is, honestly, one of the prettier things I’ve ever heard:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIw0ewEsNHs

    It’s such a gorgeous performance. Why don’t cover artists do other Cohen songs? He’s got, like, 20 great ones. No; they all do "Hallelujah." Because Buckley did it. And I think he nailed it, as much as the guy annoys me. Start doing other Cohen songs, people!

    Frank is wrong, just wrong, on Gordon Lightfoot. Yes, "Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" is a silly damn song. To those of us in Minnesota, it’s practically a shorthand for silly damn songs. When we want to criticize a performer’s shallowness, we break into "Edmund Fitzgerald" lyrics. (The boat sunk up near Duluth.)

    Lightfoot is much, much better than that song. As a kid, my fundamentalist household banned rock music and movies made after 1968 or so. As an adult, it’s been a joy to discover just how dirty those old movies were. We could listen to Lightfoot, because his voice is pretty and the backing instrumentation soothing.

    He’s pretty dirty, too! Pretty much every other song of his is about being a traveling musician banging everything that moves, and getting no emotional satisfaction from doing so. And "If You Could Read My Mind" might be the darkest song, ever. "Never thought I could act this way, and I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it." Anyone who’s ever been in an dysfunctional relationship (which is everyone over 16) gets that line; we can become real monsters when strong feelings are involved.

    Get the "Complete Greatest Hits" compilation. Terrific stuff, I was blown away by it. If our dear Mr Frank doesn’t adore "Canadian Railroad Trilogy," then he deserve to be eaten by ogres:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yzo6Otpgj-E

  2. @Andrea – I have that CD plus volume two. So there!

    I can’t believe you didn’t like the Peter Cook. Sometimes you drive me crazy!

    Yes, I like the Rufus Wainright version too. But I didn’t put that version on for [i]you[/i], as I think I was mighty clear about. Anyway, Jeff Buckley drowned at a tragically young age.

  3. @JMF – How was I wrong about Lightfoot? And yes, I like "Canadian Railroad Trilogy." It is typical of his more standard folk music. It is the third track on [i]Gord’s Gold[/i].

  4. Ahh, I’m just wrong on everything. Not a status new to me.

    I’d submirt, however, that "if You Could" is one of the best, creepiest songs about broken relationships ever recorded. And a lot of Lightfoot’s songs are sweet-sounding, really fucked-up things, much more dark than people hear from the soothing production.

    Hate on Buckley all you want, but don’t hate on Lightfoot! Or John Prine! Or Steve Goodman! I guess that’s about the extent of folkies I’m crazily defensive about . . .

  5. @JMF – I don’t know what you’re talking about. Maybe you misread me. I wrote that I COULD listen to him for a long time before he annoys me as opposed to most artists who I CAN’T listen to for a long time. And I talked about how sad his songs are. These are all good things.

    And I was hating on Buckley. Based on your previous comment I now think I like him better than you do.

    Have you been drinking?

  6. I’m a huge Lightfoot fan. He’s written of lot of great songs, but "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" isn’t on that list. "Cobwebs and Dust" is the only song in his catalog that even comes close to matching it for being repetitive and boring.

    I certainly wouldn’t choose that to introduce someone to his work. For a song with a good story try "Miguel." The story is sort of like "The Streets of Laredo."
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2v6E5tUgOE

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