“If You Could Read My Mind” Is A Masterpiece

by Kevin Burton

   The greatest songwriters will leave room in their songs so you can climb in, look around and make yourself at home.

   Just be careful, there is going to be a mirror in there in the place you least expect. You’re going to see yourself.  You’re going to be confronted. If you’re not ready for that, don’t go.

   The greatest storytellers don’t give you a linear view; OK, the first thing happened, then the second thing happened, then the third.  A story wouldn’t sound right if it came that way. That’s not how memory works.

   The heartaches and the happiness and the nights that stitch them together, seasoned by time, marinated in memory, don’t they all come out in images anyway?  Isn’t it all just castles and ghosts and wishing wells?

   The most genuine human beings recognize their place in a world where heroes often fail. They sometimes have to say, “I just don’t get it.”

   Reflecting today on a song that, no matter how many times I hear it, always enters my ears, then gets caught in my throat.

   It’s simple and unhurried and tragic and beautiful and reflective and honest. It’s an impressionist painting really. Aren’t they all impressionist paintings when viewed through tears?

   Monday the great Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot died in Toronto of natural causes at age of 84. In my view, the most precious gift he left behind was the 1970 song “If You Could Read My Mind.”

   For anybody with an ounce of introspection and intellectual honesty it’s an absolute gem. Whatever Lightfoot got paid for the song, it wasn’t enough. Yet all I had to do to get it was turn on my radio.

   There was a time in my life when I climbed into that song to be soothed and healed. The rooms therein are built for a thinking man.  That’s why I love it there. It’s a place I can revisit in peace.

   I want to say most of us have at least one of those romantic relationships, where the words never came out, not all of them anyway. The kind where you have your cup of blame but you didn’t care to throw it.   

   Lightfoot said the song was written about his divorce.  I have some of the details from Songfacts and other places but I’m not going to included them. If you read Page 7 you know I always put that kind of thing in.

   Not this time. 

   When I heard this song, Lightfoot was of course not around to fill in those details. So I put my own in there. You should do that too. The walls of this song will conform to the contours of your life. 

  This is almost the perfect “somebody done somebody wrong song,” because it is so literary.  You can go to www.rickbeato.com and get an explanation of how and why “If  You Could Read My Mind” is so beautiful musically. 

   Recorded in 1969, the song was number one in 1970 in Lightfoot’s native Canada, number five in the US. Part of me wants to research what songs blocked it from the top in the us, but I’m afraid it would be some booty-shaking buffoonery and that would make me mad and sad.

   The other Lightfoot songs that I know, I like:  Rainy Day People, Cotton Jenny, Sundow, Carefree highway.  

     Lightfoot was the kind of artist that I can almost guarantee that if I ever listen to the album cuts and less popular songs, I will find another gem or two, another piece woven like a paperback novel where I can place my own story between the lines.

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