A friendship that started with a magazine article led to Gordon Lightfoot’s ode to Buffalo

Eric Greenberg was a journalism student at SUNY Buffalo State College when he interviewed Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian folk rocker, in 1978. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

This week, as Lightfoot turns 84, Buffalo State is releasing a music video for “Up in Buffalo,” a collaboration between Lightfoot and Greenberg. It’s a valentine to our town – and a new song made from an old one.

Lightfoot sang “Cabaret,” a hymn to a lost love, on his 1971 album, “The Summer Side of Life.” Decades later, Greenberg kept the melody — and theme — and rewrote some of the lyrics so the song became an ode to Buff-a-lo instead of On-tar-io. He and Lightfoot released this version in 2016. And now the music video includes soaring drone footage of Western New York. Click on here to see and hear it on YouTube. (Go ahead, we’ll wait.)

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From the California coast

To the Florida Keys.

I’ve traveled a thousand miles I guess.

Sitting in an old fashioned restaurant.

The big trucks passing

Sometimes I just don’t know what’s best.

But I would still like to tell him

Greenberg was a high school student in Brooklyn when “Cabaret” came out. (The song, not the Broadway musical of the same name.) It’s a lesser-known ballad from Lightfoot’s oeuvre, replete with No. 1 hits, but Greenberg still loved it.

He was editor of The Record, Buff State’s student newspaper, when he phoned for an interview with Lightfoot, whose sister and manager, Beverly, kept pushing Greenberg away. After three years of calling, she finally gave him Lightfoot’s home number. Greenberg called right away and scored a 20-minute interview.

At this time he was a copyist at the Courier-Express and he approached Mitch Gerber, editor of the newspaper’s Sunday magazine, to suggest an article about Lightfoot scheduled to air just before his concert at Kleinhans Music Hall.

“Mitch jumped at the idea and put it in the magazine,” says Greenberg. “It was my first professional story.”

It wouldn’t be his last. Greenberg has worked as a reporter and editor at a number of newspapers since then, including The Buffalo Evening News and the Bergen (NJ) Record. Today, he is a rabbi who works at the Simon Wiesenthal Center as Director of United Nations Relations and Strategic Partnerships. The center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations in the world.

The Courier magazine headline read, “What Brings Lightfoot Back to Buffalo?” The story told how he made his first trip here by bus, aged 17, to do the kind of underage drinking he couldn’t get away with in his hometown, north of Toronto . “Buffalo,” Lightfoot said then, “is the first town I’ve really linked one to.”

When the story ran, the singer invited Greenberg to the show at Kleinhans, including a backstage pass. Then Lightfoot asked where they could go for a drink. Greenberg took him to a tavern in Elmwood and Bidwell.

“We went to No Name and shut down the place,” says Greenberg. “And we’ve been friends ever since.”

Drink in a bar with no name

I will see his face again.

But the highway is my home

If I could see her again.

And yet I would like to tell him

So who is Greenberg missing so much? Is it Buffalo? A lost love ? Both?

“It’s a burning desire for Buffalo,” he said. “It could also be about a lost love. It’s also about my friendship with Gordon. It works on several levels. Everything is mixed up. »

Also mix in Greenberg’s love for his alma mater. He was awarded an honorary doctorate early in May. This week, he returns the favor: the song is an ode to Buffalo — and the video an ode to Buffalo State, too.

Gordon Lightfoot is Canada’s greatest singer-songwriter. And the balladeer who once tied one in Buffalo now has ties to our beautiful city in song.

If you are traveling west in Idaho

I know you will find the end of your rainbow.

But I found and lost my rainbow

And though I might regret it

Everything even comes to an end.

And I still want to tell her