Paris Goodnight: If you could read my mind — celebrating 84 years and the year ’84

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 7, 2023

We lost another giant from the singer/songwriter top shelf this past week. Gordon Lightfoot made it to the ripe old age of 84, so unlike some from his generation, he was able to live a full long life.

Too many others were taken well before their time and left us only to imagine what other strands they could have had added to the never ending music tapestry that we all get to enjoy.

Lightfoot may have never had the rabid fan following that some pop music artists of his era did, but plenty of people quietly enjoyed his craft long after his heyday of having songs in rotation on the radio. Even though I learned to appreciate his music long after much of it came out originally, his was always among my favorites.

So many others from my time were of the “here today, gone tomorrow” variety who got to enjoy their moment in the spotlight briefly before disappearing. I always thought being a one-hit wonder would have been good enough, if that one hit was something like “American Pie,” whose creator Don McLean was rumored to have  answered if someone tried to pin him down on what the song meant: it meant never having to work another day.

The Gordon Lightfoot catalog of work is much larger but even his biggest hits never touched the success of some other individual songs you could name. That was always OK to me. If I ever heard those haunting sounds of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” I was quick to turn up the volume. Even with some of my more favored groups, I have been known to flip the station as I get older and realize my own musical tastes have changed over the years.

But the image he was able to create of those poor souls on a sinking boat right before it went under always stuck with me, especially the old cook who told the sailors at first it was too rough to feed them, then decided that “fellas it’s been good to know you.”

I’ve also heard the musicians with him recorded that song in one take, without ever rehearsing it, which makes it all the more amazing to me.

I wonder what he made of today’s music scene where some of the popular songs that capture the public’s imagination can have hundreds of millions of views on YouTube or plays on streaming music services. Will people be listening to those same tunes years or decades from now? Who knows.

I imagine it’s like what North Carolina native Charlie Daniels told me once we he was in town promoting minor league baseball and I asked what he thought of the talent on shows like American Idol, which was near its peak at the time. He said he had no problem with such programs, and the stars that really had talent were the ones you’d hear about well after their time on the show. He was absolutely right, and even some who didn’t win the competition were able to make solid careers in the music business after getting their foot in the door through that outlet. I think he was saying any way that you can get a start in the music business is good enough, and after that your talent will be the key to longevity and success.

Lightfoot was part of an era that celebrated the singer/songwriter, which I once fancied myself trying to become before I realized those dreams were more like clouds in my coffee. I had a little more trouble with that singing part than the songwriting, and after awhile just like everything else, those old crazy dreams “just kind of came and went.”

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Besides that age of 84, I got to enjoy a look back around the year of ’84 with the “Air” movie focusing on the rise of Michael Jordan and the shoe that helped spur his fame along with his fortune.

The scenes around North Carolina’s coast and Jordan’s hometown of Wilmington show off some of the state’s finery for the rest of the world.

I remember the first time I saw those Nike shoes that were so different from all others on the market at the time. I imagine my original impression was simple: they were ugly.

My younger brother was the first person I knew to actually break down and buy a pair, but he was cool enough to pull off that look and didn’t mind spending some extra cash to get them. I would never  pay as much for such, but I was little tighter with my money on most things. And I stuck with Converse and the Chuck Taylors for as long as I could before moving on to more substantial shoe offerings.

There was no 3-point line back when I played, but the real problem was I had a little more trouble than Jordan getting off the hardwood floor, and my inability to levitate cut short my hoops dreams.

I did finally learn that Nike didn’t rhyme with bike, as we had pronounced it during the first few years.

I just wish I would’ve bought a pair of those shoes and stashed them away for future use, but that would be like buying Bitcoin or something of the sort these days. I’m not likely to do that either.

Paris Goodnight is editor of the Post.