‘Somewhere East Of Midnight . . .’

In 1988, April 29 was a Friday, and I’m guessing that I stopped off to do some shopping on the way home from Minot State University that day and came away with a copy of Gordon Lightfoot’s 1986 album East Of Midnight.

The album was Lightfoot’s most recent release of all new material. (Sometime in 1988, he would release Gord’s Gold, Volume II, which included re-recordings of some of his recent work, as well as some repackaging of earlier recordings and one new track.) And it was, according to the LP database, the fifth album by the Canadian folk singer to come home with me.

I was likely in a difficult mood that day, struggling after the ending of a relationship during the first days of the month. New music might cheer me, I suppose I thought. And there was another thing, as I look back.

One of the stages of grief, it’s said, is bargaining: If I do this, things will change and the grief will go away, or something like that. And, I’ve read, we don’t often recognize the bargaining behavior at the time. One of the touchstones of the relationship just ended had been music, and Lightfoot’s music had been high on our list. Was there a subconscious motive in my buying East Of Midnight?

Maybe. I’d added some Lightfoot to my stacks during the previous year, while things had been going well. I might have seen East Of Midnight as a talisman of some sort. Or maybe not. As well as I recall the events of that spring, I can’t untangle my motivations on that long-ago Friday.

So I don’t remember the specific purchase. At first thought this morning, I was guessing I stopped at a garage sale on the way home, but after pulling the record from the stacks, I lean toward a retail purchase: the jacket is crisp and the record is shiny and unmarked. I assume I put the record on the turntable sometime after dinner that evening, but it’s pretty evident that the record has not been out of the jacket very often in the past thirty-two years. And when it has come out of the jacket, it did so most often at the times I was making mixtapes for friends. I often included the album’s moody title track on those mixtapes.

I recognize the other titles listed on the jacket, but none of them are favorites of mine, especially not “Anything For Love,” which was pulled from the album as a single. It’s the one track on the album produced by David Foster, whose work I’ve never much cared for. (Lightfoot produced the rest of the album.) And as a single, “Anything For Love” had some success, reaching No. 15 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart; the album itself went to No. 165 on the Billboard 200. Given the radio stations I tended to listen to in 1986, I imagine I heard the single without really noticing it.

In the context of the album, though, the single was noticeable, as Foster’s overblown approach was vastly different from the tack Lightfoot took, a pop-folk vein familiar to listeners since his first major successes in 1970. And I imagine I noticed that difference during that first playing of the album on that long-ago evening.

In the years since, I’ve continued to gather Lightfoot’s work, with seventeen LPs and five CDs on the stacks here. East Of Midnight isn’t my favorite; I think that title would go to 1974’s Sundown, with Shadows from 1982 coming in second. East Of Midnight comes somewhere after those two, but the dark title track still ranks pretty highly with me. Lyrically, it’s a bit of a hodge-podge, so I’m not sure what Lightfoot was actually trying to say, but I like it nevertheless.

And the fact that I found the track during a difficult spring and still like it in a springtime thirty-two years later – a springtime also difficult but for far different reasons – pleases me. Here’s “East Of Midight.”

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