I recently had the pleasure of hearing Gordon Lightfoot’s song ‘Shellfish’ off of his latest and final studio album, ‘Harmony’. I’ve copied the lyrics below:
Even if you’re sure, before you begin to cry,
Never rest until you find what is best to be forgot.
Let it float off in the night, beneath the moon,
So brightly shining down on the steeples of the town.
You must not be downhearted over things you left undone.
You’ve got faith, to tell you all is well,
And you know you’d best not stop,
There’s still a ways to go.
Even if you’re sure, before you begin to sigh,
Let me show my way is best, on the wayward side tonight,
Let a planet be your guide, up above the fields
Beside the sleeping town, when the work is all shut down
You will not be outsmarted by a song you left unsung.
You’ve got faith, to make your world take flight.
There is still a ways to go –
‘Bout a thousand miles or so.
And even if you’re sure, before you begin to smile,
Let it happen on its own.
Like a shellfish in the sea,
I’m as selfish as can be when it comes down to
Me and all of my kin.
All they wanna do is win.
You will not be deserted by old friends you left alone.
You’ve got faith, to make you meet the cost,
And you know you’d best not wait –
He who hesitates is lost.
So even if you’re sure…
It’s so easy to be a shellfish in the sea.
Curiously, I didn’t find any commentary of the song online despite it being out for over ten years now. I feel as if Lightfoot is talking to himself as a young man, perhaps softly scolding himself for his self-doubt. Press on without regret and make yourself. Make your dreams come true and be sure to do it in good time. Perhaps it is easier than it seems. He who hesitates is lost.
Anyway, I found this song very unusual because it differs from almost every one of his other songs which has a much more clear narrative and less of an advising and grandfatherly tone. The way he sings the first part up to ‘let a planet be your guide’ reminds me of ‘The Pony Man’ because of the imagery. I remember seeing a video some time ago of that song played over a clip from My Neighbor Totoro and thought it was just too perfect, almost to the point of preciousness.
I believe the shellfish motif refers to somebody who just sits and lets the waves and the world wash over them. I point this out specifically to one of my readers – you know who you are. It is so easy to hide inside your shell, perhaps I’ll echo a song Paul Simon wrote: hiding in your room, safe within your room, you touch no one and no one touches you. It does not have to be that way. If someone as wretched as me can have faith, you certainly can, too.