Working men and lunch-pail towns. Songs about the inevitable "straw boss" that weave a strong and manly tune of men who drink hard, live hard and work hard.
Gordon Lightfoot, sold out for the weekend at the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos with a three-day show that opened last night.
It is only recent history that reveals an anachronism like Lightfoot climbing the national pop charts with "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald," a song about the wreck of a ship that "went down with all hands."
But it works, with songs about the sea, hard women, building railroads, the life of a hobo, and catching freight trains while dodging the watchman.
It worked quite well for the highly attentive audience that cheered wildly for these songs.
It works, perhaps, because Lightfoot is willing to be special and write songs about a life that means next to nothing to an audience from the San Francisco Bay Area.
We sophisticated city-dwellers
can know little about the sweat on the brow of the men who built the
railroads. But there we were, with a gap of recognition, when
moved into the opening strains of his masterpiece about such
And there we were standing and clapping
energetically when it ended.
Lightfoot may indeed be the last contemporary throwback to the folk singers and song-spinners of 100 years ago or more.
His songs work with a powerful imagery that suggests pictures and stories that are round, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
And the tunes, strongly carry a similar message, with oft-repeated chords, sometimes gentle, sometimes rough and rowdy.
It may be in this post-Beatle, post-Dylan era, that only Lightfoot can suggest in a song that we "learn what chivalry means."
Or, in a song about Don Quixote, epic underdog, only Lightfoot would suggest, "I have seen the strong survive and I have seen the lean grow weak."
It is a different world he moves in and he brings it with him in his music and lyrics.
Lightfoot's songs, in album form, are personal songs that can reach out and mean something particular to each individual; touching a personal dream or fantasy about life on the road.
His concerts, with a serious, worldly expression on his face and a firm warming voice, do the same, but to a mass of people at once.
It is also difficult for one who projects such a positive male image to gracefully convey a strong sensitivity, but this mixture probably is the Canadian at his best.
This mixture is best represented by his most popular tunes such as the chilling portrait in "If You Could Read My Mind," a wrenching song about a lost relationship.
Other songs, like "Beautiful," about an idyllic love, or "The Last Time I Saw Her," again about a squandered love, show his ability to move words and music around a room and leave a deep impression.
Dressed simply in a white shirt and jeans, Lightfoot casts the image of a man who has seen much of the world, the kind of world told only in Robert Louis Stevenson stories or in legends.
Here, too, the words and music match. In his song about Canadian Railroads, he repeats the phrase, "Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey/Bending our backs til the long day is done."
Or he'll sing about a seamy life with a woman, "In a room where you do what you don't confess."
His song "Edmund Fitzgerald" gives the lasting impression that he writes about things which he knows with lines like, "Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?"
None of this conveys very well in print. But the plain fact is, Lightfoot in the space-age, in the electronic era, sends an audience spinning, whirling to another time.
He has done it again at the Circle Star in one of the tightest, smoothest shows he has brought to the Bay Area in many months.