To be honest, a documentary on Gordon Lightfoot was the last thing I thought I needed to see. As a child the media showered upon me Lightfoot’s importance as “real Canadian music” long before I had ever heard him strum a single note. He represented a style of music that, while revered, seem out of touch with the music popular to my generation. One can imagine my shock in hearing Gordon Lightfoot praising Drake’s Views album at the beginning of Joan Tosoni and Martha Kehoe’s film about the iconic singer.
It turns out Lightfoot is full of surprises, the most engaging of which is his candor and humour. Rather than sit back and bask in the legacy he has established, 80-year-old Lightfoot is not afraid to discuss his shortcomings in life or which of his popular songs he now hates. He fondly reflects on the thriving musical scene that the, now posh, Yorkville neighbourhood once was, and openly begrudge the Beatles stealing his thunder when it came to album sales. While Tosoni and Kehoe do not delve too deeply into the darker aspects of his life, such as his alcoholism or womanizing, they do a great job of detailing what has made his songs stand the test of time.
In zeroing in on the artistry that goes into Lightfoot’s song writing, If You Could Read My Mind thrives where most music documentaries fail. The audience gets to explore everything from the detail he puts into tuning his acoustic guitars to how he finds the right melody for his songs. Hearing Lightfoot talk about the importance of utilizing his imagination when writing songs, especially when painting vivid lyrical pictures of Canada’s past, is eye-opening to say the least. It adds further context to why everyone from Elvis Presley to Barbra Streisand covered his songs, and why the likes of Alec Baldwin, Geddy Lee, Sarah McLachlan and countless others still sing his praises to this day.
Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind is a film that will satisfy longtime fans and make a whole new generation fall in love with this talented artist.