Morning Music: Gordon Lightfoot

Don Quixote - Gordon LightfootA few days ago, James recommended Gordon Lightfoot for our Morning Music. We had discussed the darkness of “If You Could Read My Mind.” Maybe some day I will do that I song. I’m very fond of it. But I need to make my peace with the song “Don Quixote.” It’s a pretty song. And I quite like the lyrics. What I don’t like is the title. It makes me think that Gordon Lightfoot had never read Don Quixote.

Now I know better than most that Don Quixote means many different things. There is an often repeated quote that every man should read the novel three times in his life: when young, middle aged, and old — because it will mean different things each time. That’s very true. For myself, Don Quixote doesn’t mean anything in particular. There are simply elements that stand out more some times than others.

But I don’t see how Gordon Lightfoot’s song has anything to do with the book. The song is about the parts that we play in life and how we are really very complex. The horseman stands above this, accepting his contradictions. And part of this is, “Tilting at the windmills passing.” That’s the only reference to Don Quixote. But Don Quixote tilts at windmills because he is hallucinating. And he is hallucinating because he has totally lost his grip on reality and submerged himself into the part of a knight errant.

But “Don Quixote” is a good song. I just wish he would have given it a different title. But maybe I’m the one who’s wrong. If someone can explain to me why the song is corrected titled, I’d very much appreciate it.

3 thoughts on “Morning Music: Gordon Lightfoot

  1. Hmm. Here’s my best guess. It could be that the song is about how everyone manages life through delusions, in which case it’s Quixote as a noble madman, an idealistic dreamer who faces life’s cruelty with fantasy heroic quests. Which is pretty much how the book (and Cervantes) were presented in the popular musical “Man Of La Mancha” around the time Lightfoot wrote this song.

    Which, as far as misinterpreting famous books go, isn’t offensive. It beats how conservatives repurpose Orwell as against the welfare state or corporate regulation. (I’ll admit, I haven’t read “Quixote” in over 15 years, I should get back to it. But then I need to get back to a lot of classic lit.)

    It’s an odd thing as literature ages. It loses its current context, and the story means something different than it did to audiences in the day. “The Inferno” is basically a passionate smear job on Dante’s enemies. “Pligrim’s Progress” was about different denominations and heresies you’d have to be a religious historian to identify with any current churches. Various characters in Shakespeare and Chaucer are probably meant to satirize well-known powerful figures/groups. And yet the stories stick around for the passion their authors put into writing them.

    Funny thing about Orwell — you could remove the publication date from that one, give it to a young liberal today who’d never heard of it, and they’d read “What’s The Matter With Kansas” in the parable. Partially that’s because the new conservatives consciously modeled much of their strategy on Stalinism. But it’s also because basic human nature doesn’t change a whole lot, and there are always going to be those who manipulate others for their own benefit.

    • There is a big problem with old books losing their edges and becoming nothing more than “nice stories.” This is why teachers are important. Without them — or external study — Jane Austen becomes nothing but a Harlequin romance. In the case of Don Quixote, Cervantes was mostly just attacking his literary rivals — especially Lope de Vega. But the book itself is mostly just a lark. He kindly pokes fun at human nature. And that’s probably why the book has so much staying power.

      You’re right about 1984. People tend to remember the torture and control. But by and large, the people in the novel loved their tormentors. If it wasn’t for that, the system would have collapsed. It needed people like Winston and Julia to perpetuate the myth that there were evil forces waiting to get the good people of Oceania. Of course, our society has large doses of Huxley too. Instead of a boot stomping a face, it is the Duggars coming out of our television sets — forever. That, I fear, is worse.

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