Long before Gordon Lightfoot was a Canadian folk legend, he was a legend in my father’s white Riviera convertible. It was the early ’80s and that’s the only place he existed in my small world, but it was a place where music dominated. It was a place where my small world felt huge. Of the dozens of cassettes my father had in his otherwise spotless car, Gord’s Gold stood out in a special way to me. As a perennial passenger (though in hindsight I’d like to say that I was the GTO-in-training), there was ample time to sit and stare at all the cassettes trying to make sense of the music we were cruising to; trying to connect whatever dots I possibly could with the strange and intoxicating sounds coming out of the speakers; mythologizing without even knowing it; superimposing and fusing the seemingly disparate visual fundamentals of color, shape, texture and my ever-evolving sense of beauty with the audio dimension in which I was immersed. He had a name that could have easily placed him in a position of high rank in the Star Wars universe and — looking a great deal like my father (perm-and-all) — had an especially-rugged handsomeness that appealed to this particularly Indiana Jones-obsessed youth.
And the songs sounded like a day with Dad.
Fast forward to my sophomore year of college. As a DJ at WIUS here in Bloomington, I had the pleasure of having up-and-coming singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith on my radio show. I’d fallen in love with his debut and was lucky enough to hustle him onto my show when he passed through town opening for John Hiatt (at what was then called Mars). We chatted awkwardly (as two shy souls are prone to do) for about 15 minutes before he started to play some songs with his acoustic guitar and a voice which came from another time. Among the songs was Lightfoot’s “Ribbon of Darkness”, originally released on his ‘66 debut Lightfoot! and then re-packaged in ‘75 as the opening track on Gord’s Gold.
Ribbon of darkness over me / Since my true love walked out the door
Tears I never had before / Ribbon of Darkness over me
I taped that radio program. Though I haven’t listened to it since the day it was taped, I think about digging out that cassette three or four times a year, negotiating my humility for a chance to once again hear Ron’s performance of that song to an audience of one. It remains one of my favorite folk songs of all time. A universal tune that is so well-written as to allow the singer performing it to wear it like a costume, to fill it with his own particularities, to take the universal and give it a sense of time & place.
Oh how I wish your heart could see / How mine just aches and breaks all day
Come on home and take away / This ribbon of darkness over me