May 30, 2007
So we’re sitting around the bar at N.I.M.B.Y., as we said, listening to butt-rock. Which was fine for a while until they played the third Jimi Hendrix song in as many hours, so someone changed it to K-PIG.
“Isn’t that the station all the old hippies in West Marin listen to while they’re farming wheatgrass and committing fashion crimes?” we said something like.
“Maybe,” the lawyer in the room said, “but every other song is about drinking beer, so the station stays.”
Agreed. We commenced to chatting again, loudly over the songs about beer (he was right), and then a voice, a voice made of molasses and testosterone, sonorous, heavy with weariness and wisdom … we all shut our holes, quiet and still as church ladies, and cocked our ears to the preacher on the radio.
“Sundown, you better take care if I find you’ve been creepin’ round my back stairs… / Sometimes, I think it’s a sin, when I feel like I’m winnin’ when I’m losin’ again … ”
We looked at each other, deciphering. Who is this, we asked with eyes only. Nobody wanted to break the voice’s spell. Then the moment was over, and we all started chickenheading again — this time about who the hell that was. Englebert Humperdinck? No. Eddie Rabbitt? No way. Kris Kristofferson? Too smooth. Eric Clapton? Certainly not.
It was Gordon Lightfoot. We don’t know why we’ve never really focused our attention on him, but as a music nerd, this writer lives for moments like this.
Times when we find a new thing; when like love at first sight, we’ve got to have it and know everything about it. Times when a composition meant to be haunting actually haunts a room full of loud-ass clowns beerily squawking in a cavernous warehouse with heavy machinery clanging and buzzing in the background.
We went home and looked Gordon Lightfoot up on Wikipedia, and studied up and listened to samples of his other stuff. Turns out he wrote a million hits for everyone you’ve heard of, and finally got his kudos in 1971 with his own voice and HIS band and HIS engineers. That must’ve felt good.
And then since he’s a baller, he attracted the attention of Cathy Smith, who previously had gained notoriety as a groupie for The Band. She got her some Gordon, and … well, did he love her, or was she stalking him? Did they get in a fight? Was he fed up with her antics? She, his? “Sundown” doesn’t really let us in on that.
She must’ve been a pistol, though, that’s for sure. We wondered if the rumors are true that The Band’s “The Weight (Take a Load Off)” is about her. Or maybe “Cripple Creek” is, too.
They sent her to prison for a year and a half. All for being a good groupie and doing just what John Belushi wanted. And what he wanted, in that bungalow at the Chateau Marmont, was another speedball. That’s heroin mixed with cocaine in a needle up your vein, for all those readers out there in blissful-ignorance-land.
We want to meet Cathy Smith. We bet she’s got some stories to tell. Her Wikipedia entry is even gnarlier than Gordon Lightfoot’s. What a resume. Robin Williams called her a “lowlife.” Drugs are hell.
Everyone calls her a groupie. We think that might be bullshit. Dismissive. Incomplete as a definition. We think she was more like a “flashlight holder,” which is our term for any girlfriend of a crazy mad scientist or artist who accidentally lets herself get caught up in their significant other’s psychic windstorm and forgets about her own art and her own life.
We will never be flashlight holders, we gals in the Cyclecide Ladies’ Auxiliary vowed a long time ago. We’ll hold the flashlight for you while you work on the bus or pick the lock or do the thing, sure, because nothing is hotter and more of a turn-on than a guy who can fix things … but we’ve got our own flashlights too, and sometimes, you’ve got to hold THEM for US.
We will now go out into the world today, no doubt thinking ceaselessly (again, just like yesterday too) of Cathy Smith, and of Gordon Lightfoot, and what happened in his bedroom (no doubt, or maybe some motel suite) the first time he sang that song for her.
Follow Summer Burkes on Twitter.