TORONTO — Gordon Lightfoot left a lasting impression on music fans and some Canadian musicians say his influence on the country’s collective identity is immeasurable.
Rock singer Tom Cochrane described Lightfoot, who died Monday at 84 years old, as a personal friend and inspiration who proved himself as one of Canada’s “seminal cultural artists” while being “a heck of a nice guy” all the while.
Cochrane twice honoured the “If You Could Read My Mind” and “Sundown” singer-songwriter for his musical contributions – the first time was when he inducted Lightfoot into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003.
At that ceremony, he compared Lightfoot to one of the Group of Seven artists, a compliment Cochrane says resonated with the folk musician who “saw himself genuinely as the cultural embodiment of who we are as a nation.”
A representative for Lightfoot’s family says he died of natural causes at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. He had suffered numerous health issues in recent decades.
Many musicians and politicians turned to social media to express their sadness, including Bryan Adams who tweeted that he was “gutted to know he was gone,” adding that “the world is a lesser place without him.”
Jann Arden said Lightfoot’s songs are “woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. We all know the words, even if we don’t think we do.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that Lightfoot “helped shape Canada’s soundscape” while Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said his “poetry and melodies are an eternal inspiration.”
Artists outside Canada took notice too. Author Stephen King described Lightfoot as “a wonderful performer,” while actor and director Ben Stiller called him a “genius” whose “music is such a big part of my life.”
Former Barenaked Ladies member Steven Page credited Lightfoot as “the archetype of the Canadian singer-songwriter” helped by breakout success in the United States, where his album “Sundown” went to No. 1.
Page said in a phone interview that Lightfoot sculpted a model of success stateside that would be “broken, smashed and resculpted” by future generations of Canadians.
Despite finding fame outside the country, Lightfoot rarely uprooted himself from his homeland for long.
“Even though he did spend time in the United States and made records there,” Page added, “he was still deeply connected to the country, the landscape and the personality of Canada.”
Cochrane says Lightfoot’s steadfast ties to Canada came up in a conversation once with the singer.
“He said to me, ‘You know, trees grow in certain soils, and this soil has been a very powerful soil for me to grow,’” he recalled.
“Why would I leave this country? This is where I bear fruit.”