I first listened to Gordon Lightfoot when I was about 17 and I liked what I heard. It was the song, “Sundown“. It had been released some 5 years earlier but in them pre-internet, pre-YouTube and pre-iTunes days, the latest music took some time to filter its way to Malaysia. When I was growing up, for many years, there was only one music store in my home city of Kuala Lumpur.
But I liked the laid back folksy, ballad-y, hippie vibe of Gordon Lightfoot. From young I had always had an affinity to the groovy people of the Flower Power movement. I was a bit late to the party but if I had been born earlier, I would most likely have lived in a hippie commune.
I also like songs that have a story to tell and have social or historical relevance and there were plenty of those during the Vietnam War era. Songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?“, “Blowing in the Wind” and “Give Peace a Chance“. Gordon Lightfoot has been called Canada’s greatest songwriter and probably for songs of this ilk.
I recently discovered another Gordon Lightfoot song and it was an eye-opener. It is entitled, “Black Day in July”. I had not previously known about the riots in Detroit in July 1967 that led to 43 dead, 1,189 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. About that time, I remember being taught in my school in Malaysia about how Detroit was the world capitol of the automobile industry and a model for the wonders of industrialisation and modernisation – that everything was chrome plated and shiny. Obviously it wasn’t.
However, things were not better in Malaysia. Two tears later, on May 13th 1969, racial riots broke out in Malaysia resulting in several hundred deaths. The underlying reason for the riot was probably political and economical but the fighting and killing was along racial lines with the Chinese community suffering the brunt of the attacks.
But in this case, there is no song written or video done to lament the tragedy. Much too often, it is deemed too sensitive to even mention in public. However, without truthful and open discourse, it is like a wound that has not healed but is hidden under a bandage and festering. Without open and truthful discourse, lies and rumors favor the extremists who would even seek to blame the victims.
I wish for no more black days for both Detroit and Malaysia. For that to happen, the festering disease of hatred and inequity must be exposed to the cleansing light of truth so that real healing can begin.