Grant Rampy: In with the old, out with the new
By Grant Rampy
This column was written for and originally published in the Abilene Reporter-News (Sunday, May 12, 2013). Used with permission.
The songwriter's name may not be as familiar as his songs: "Sundown," "Carefree Highway," "Beautiful" and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".
Music lovers of a certain age, however, likely remember Gordon Lightfoot, even as younger listeners will admit they don't know any Gordons or Lightfoots.
It was strange, then — shocking, even — to be watching TV late one night a few weeks ago when 38-year-old host Jimmy Fallon suddenly welcomed the 74-year-old artist on stage. Lightfoot sang his biggest hit before a national television audience.
It's notable that 800,000 of Fallon's viewers reside in the coveted 18-49 demographic. That's hundreds of thousands of potential new fans for the once golden-throated troubadour. There on Fallon's show he sang "If You Could Read My Mind," one of the biggest hits of 1970. My guess is that at least a few of the roughly half-million Fallon viewers who had never heard it before still are happily humming away.
So what was Gordon Lightfoot doing on NBC decades after he last appeared on television anywhere in the U.S.?
That little head-scratcher doesn't begin to rival the seriousness of the questions we've been grappling with lately, such as, "How could two brothers inflict so much carnage on the nation that took them in?" and "What prompts a troubled young soul to walk into a school and end the lives of so many innocent children?"
My question is actually less trifling than simply about who ends up performing on late night TV. No, I'm trying to understand why we seem to have so little love for the Old and so much affection for the New.
Stores are full of books, CDs and DVDs that aren't worth the discs and paper they're stamped on. Just-add-water television and movie stars pop up and fizzle in less time then it takes to break in a good pair of shoes. Critics spill precious ink debating the merits of, for instance, Justin Timberlake's latest opus — a collection of drivel soon to be found among the dusty 8-tracks and cassettes at your local thrift shop.
Need I even mention the other Justin who garners so much media hype?
Maybe it's not the biggest deal that Jimmy Fallon did a nice turn by an aging artist I assume is a personal idol. I can relate: I named a son Gordon — mostly after my father, but also in part because I've derived so much pleasure from the songwriter.
I'm thrilled that a younger audience recently was given the chance to meet and hear Mr. Lightfoot. I only wish more members of the next generation were being exposed to their elders (and not only elder artists) whose accomplishments deserve honor and adulation.
Flip through the old records and CDs in your music collection that you haven't spun in years. Check out the American Film Institute's "100 Best Movies" list. Let your eyes wander over the spines of the books gathering dust on the shelves of your favorite avid reader.
"To Kill A Mockingbird" author Harper Lee said not long ago, "In an abundant society where people have laptops, cellphones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it." Lee simultaneously points to the problem we don't have and the problem we do: There is no limit to our ability to access gobs of media, but so much of it is transient and disposable — in a word, forgettable.
How many proven artists are we overlooking in our rush to embrace the work of novices? We have much to gain from our culture's creative veterans, even as they leave the stage. Their good work remains.
We might allow ourselves more opportunities to bask in the glow of gems that still shine.
Grant Rampy is director of public relations at Abilene Christian University. He was White House correspondent for Tribune Broadcasting in Washington, DC, from 1999 to 2009.
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