Dave’s Last Turkey: A Farewell to Stuart McLean

Stuart_McLean

While the Vinyl Café is no longer the “must listen” program that it once was, when it comes to Canadian radio, you don’t get much bigger than Stuart McLean. With his passing, he joins a select pantheon that includes the likes of Peter Gzowski, Lorne Green, Barbara Frum, Bert Niosi, and Danny Gallivan. Over a career-spanning fifty years, Stuart informed and entertained Canadians in ways that had never been done before, and, with the advent of the internet, likely never be done again.

Listen, below, for Stuart sharing some very contagious laughs with Peter on Morningside.

While it’s become fashionable for the cool kids to dump on Stuart – and certainly his “Prairie Home Companion Light” style of programming could veer into the treacly, particularly in the latter years of the Vinyl Café – his passion for promoting Canadian musicians of all stripes placed him above such criticism. That he did so from a platform that introduced these musicians to millions of listeners across Canada should not be forgotten.

If that weren’t enough, he seemed to love nothing more than celebrating community – and particularly the often overlooked people who make communities so darned special.

He’ll mostly be remembered, however, as a storyteller and raconteur. Though his family-friendly (and family oriented) stories were not everyone’s cup of tea, I’d wager there aren’t many people who could make it through an in-his-prime McLean narrative without a guffaw, snort, or (in the very least) good long grin.

I remember, way back when, hearing the inaugural airing of his “Dave Cooks the Turkey” story while driving around town with a good friend. We had to pull over to the side of the road because we were both in tears and doubled over in laughter. I arrived at my parent’s house roughly the same time as my mother, who recounted the fact that she was caught in fits of uncontrollable laughter in a mall parking lot – dialed into the same story – fearful that people were going to think her nuts for visibly giggling while alone in her car.

That wasn’t the only instance where I truly, truly lol’d at a Stuart McLean story. There was the time Dave tried to toilet train the cat. And the time that Dave got his arm caught in the drug store heart rate machine. And the time that Dave tried to…. well, you get the idea. Stuart was capable of turning misadventure into comedic saga.

Looking back, I know I’m in pretty good company here – well, populous company at any rate. During the late 90’s, it seemed like half of Canada was tuning in to CBC Radio on Sundays at noon, just to get a fix of Dave and Morley.

Dude could be funny as hell – and the fact that he was able be so while keeping his tales well under the PG13 level of humour shows how much of this was based on craft. Any comedian will tell you that it is one heck of a lot harder to be funny while keeping it clean – though Stuart never claimed to be a comedian. No, he was a storyteller. A modern Mark Twain or Stephen Leacock (in fact, he won the Stephen Leacock Medal for humour an astounding 3 times).

Truth is, making people laugh through fiction is much more difficult than making them cry. And Stuart was capable of doing both.

As a guy who has done his fair share of radio (either writing for it or being behind the mic) – and as a guy who gets paid for stringing words together – I’ve got to say that Stuart was one of the true masters of both fields. He’ll go down as one of the Canadian greats, both as a broadcaster and an author.

I’ll be honest here: I haven’t listened to the Vinyl Café in a number of years – the shtick got a bit tired, even for me. But I have a soft spot for people who believe in community, who believe in shining the light on others, and who can make me laugh. Really laugh. So, yeah. I had a soft spot for Stuart.

Have, really. Particularly now, after he is gone.

So there you go: Dave’s cooked his last turkey. The biggest “small” show in Canada is now a podcast memory. And there’s a hole in an awful lot of Canadians’ Sunday noon-time schedules.

And, you know what? Stuart would have probably said the same thing as me on the subject of his critics: life’s too short to give a shit about what the cool kids think anyway.

On the air, though, it would have been softened to a “darn.”

It was a show for everyone in the community, after all.

Goodnight, Stuart. As you said at the end of every live show, “so long for now.”

The house lights are dimmed.

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Bell Let’s Talk Day: Sometimes It IS About the Talking

bell_lavieThis is something like the sixth year in a row that I’ve taken part in publicizing Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk Day. It’s one of those rare social media “events” that I actually believe in getting behind. Because of that, allow me to apologize for posting some re-runs in this blog. It’s a busy time in my life — I have a pretty fantastic little kid, a job that excites me, and a couple of small business that continue to attract new clients. For a guy who was diagnosed with depression many, many years ago, I am pretty darned happy to be this busy.

Now, I remain somewhat skeptical of big business interest in activism — heck, Bell’s got its hands full with the story of a woman being fired for asking for mental health leave — but I do believe that we’ve got to find some kind of way of raising the profile of mental health issues and making them part of our everyday dialogue.

Here’s my take on today’s annual event: Bell Let’s Talk: Beyond the Corporate Love-In

And a reminder of how much other work needs to be done: Robin Williams and the Tipping Point for Public Action on Depression

Click the links above, or continue reading the (now updated) articles below.

csr-business-bell-lets-talkBell Let’s Talk: Beyond the Corporate Love-In

Today is the annual Bell Let’s Talk Day — an event to raise money and awareness for mental health issues and organizations. For each text, call, and program-based Tweet/Facebook update you make, Bell will donate 5¢ to help fund mental health initiatives across Canada.

For the sixth year in a row, I’ve been active in promoting it, both on Facebook and Twitter.

Which is odd. Because I’m not really a mouse-click initiative kind of guy. It let’s people off the hook far too easily.

And I’m far from being a corporate shill or cheerleader.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that the money raised by Bell in this initiative will actually make a heap of difference. In fact, I’m not sure it will do much at all. Call me a skeptic when it comes to these kind of big business rah-rah movements. Call me a realist when I note how absolutely underfunded programs for mood disorders are. Part of me recognizes that the donation Bell makes will not equal the tax break and marketing value that the event represents.

Heck, looking at the (unsubstantiated) story of a Bell employee being fired for taking time off for mental health issues, and you’ll see why I’m suspicious of the combination of capitalism and activism.

For folks like Bell, I’m probably not a great example of corporate camaraderie.

But I am a guy who has suffered from mood disorders.

I’m a guy who has been scared to answer the telephone. I’m a guy who sometimes looked at the day ahead and saw speaking engagements, television interviews, board meetings, whatever… all the while wondering where to find the energy and the will to tie my own shoes.

I’m a guy who has seen blackness. Sheer, utter dark.

And I’m a guy who is not scared to talk about it. At least not when asked.

This is why I’ve put on the corporate blinders for the third year in a row — why I’ve helped Bell gain some valuable marketing territory by Tweeting and Facebooking the Bell Let’s Talk initiative.

I do so because I remember the relief I’ve felt in the past when people I knew asked me about my depression. About, you know… how I was actually doing. I recognize the continued sense of relief when friends stop and ask how I am below the surface.

Let me tell you, the worst thing about being a functional person with depression is that everyone always assumes that you’re doing OK.

And the hardest thing to do as a functional person with depression is reaching out to tell people when you are not.

For the record, folks, I’m not doing too badly, thank-you very much. I’m feeling healthy. Strong. At least that’s the forecast for today. I’ve worked hard to make that the forecast for tomorrow. A lifetime of tomorrows.

Truth be told, I’m feeling pretty darned good — particularly today. And part of today’s smile is due to this “Let’s Talk” initiative.

I’m happy that something like 35 cents has gone to charity for my couple of bits of social interaction. I honestly hope that Bell raises a kazillion dollars and it all goes to finding help for people who hurt.

But, more than that, I’m happy that, for at least one day, people are being honest about their mental health. That they are being brave enough to say: “Hey, you know what? This sucks.”

Or, better yet: “Hey, you know what? I’m feeling better.”

I’m happy to see people of social influence talking about how they feel, about how they’ve felt, and about what they do to make themselves feel more healthy. I’m honestly proud to see people with mood disorders taking on leadership roles and helping normalize talk about depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness.

Because here is an absolute truth: when you are sick, it is so, so hard to lead.

So here’s the deal with this whole “Let’s Talk” thing: Every time we have an event like this, mood disorders become just that little bit more part of our normal discourse. They become an issue that more and more people are aware of. They become more of a priority.

If all goes well, this attention might just lead to a greater allocation of funds, resources, and patient care for mood disorders and the people who suffer from them.

I know, crazy talk, right?

Hopefully, it will also lead to more people being honest about how they feel. Hopefully it will lead to more people reaching out and asking for a minute of time, an ear to listen, a bit of conversation. For help.

Hopefully, it will just inspire us to talk.

And talking feels good. It can make some of the hurt go away. It can be that first step to really getting better.

So, yeah… What Bell said.

Let’s talk. Let’s really talk about it.

And not just today, OK?

 

mork250Robin Williams and The Tipping Point For Public Action On Depression

This story isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

Depression, I mean.

Not Robin Williams.

Because depression is the real story here.

Yes, we lost a brilliant human being on Monday. But that bit of news – like all pop culture – will eventually creep into the back pages and the broken links.

Depression, though, will continue to make headlines. All too often for heart wrenching reasons.

I don’t know if there will ever be a cure for depression. If I allow myself to, I both doubt and fear that anyone suffering from mood disorders will ever truly get “better.” At least for long.

I don’t often allow myself to think that way, though.

Instead, I try to concentrate on how we can raise awareness. And sometimes, such as now, I try to write about it.

Somehow I always come to the same conclusion:

We’re far too used to telling the wrong stories.

You see, if we ever hope to make headway towards finding effective treatments for depression – or normalizing it, or making it seem real to the rest of the world – then we have to start collectively creating our own headlines. We have to clutch the power back from the negative and start telling stories about successes. Battles won. Progress made.

We have to quit waiting for the notable sufferers to die.

For anyone to die.

It’s time to look to the cancer survivors and start making a big-time fuss about depression. Walk for a cure. Run for a cure. Relay, race, or paddle for a cure.

Heck, depression being what it is, we could have a leave-the-gloomy-bedroom-and-blink-in-the-sunlight for a cure.

Anything.

But a big part of this depends on those who have already suffered.

And that has always been the hard part.

For those who have lived with depression, speaking of it can be a scary proposition. A sacrifice. Writing about it in print and online can compound this fear. After all, the written word has an uncomfortable permanence.

Those who have never faced these demons won’t quite understand.

No matter how much we believe the world has changed, there are still people out there who will think less of a person who admits their depression.

Monday night, on live television, FOX News’ Shepard Smith called Williams a coward for ending his life.

A coward.

Can you imagine the howls of outrage had a news anchor called a cancer fatality a coward? Or the innocent victim of a car wreck?

It is no wonder that people keep their psychological pain to themselves.

What’s more, the bigger the sphere of influence, the scarier it can be. I definitely know that when I tap the “publish” button on this blog, that there will be more than a few readers who will think I need to “suck it up” or “get on with it.”

I suppose this is one of the few times that it pays to be a relatively small potato.

Even then, though, I’m reasonably sure that it will cause some people to feel wary about hiring me – which, I have to say, is definitely a liability for a person who lives by word of mouth referral. I’ll tell you this: it ain’t easy.

I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be the case with cancer or car crashes. Actually, I’m sure of it.

Here’s the rub, though: like cancer, depression is a disease. A lethal one. And, as anyone who has ever suffered from it can tell you, depression can come at you from any direction – out of the blue. When the smoke clears, you can only hope the damage isn’t too severe.

Suicide is the 7th leading cause of death among men in Canada – 10th overall for both sexes. At over 3,500 victims a year, it’s only slightly behind breast cancer and well ahead of automobile accidents. Meanwhile, an estimated 10% of the Canadian population suffers from some form of depression – so many of them are ticking time bombs.

Yet, as a society, we’re scared to talk about it.

Williams leaves behind an impressive legacy. He was one of the most gifted comedians the planet has ever known. He inspired countless actors and artists and gave the world the incredible gift of joy.

If depression can triumph over a person of Williams’ intelligence, wealth, and success, it’s safe to say that none of us are immune. And when it is pretty much certain that at least one of your family or loved ones is suffering silently – suffering alone – you can also be sure that you know someone in need of help.

Williams’ final legacy wasn’t one of comedy, drama, or art – even though it will quietly resonate as much as any of his on-screen successes. Instead it was one of open discourse. Through his death, lives will be saved. Through his loss, many will find the help they so desperately require. You see, while Robin Williams’ voice may have been silenced, so many others have come to life. Today people are talking about depression in ways that it should always be talked about. Not in hushed tones, but in open forums, on television news, and beside water coolers everywhere.

Some will open up for the first time ever. They’ll be honest with their loved ones and themselves in hopes of getting better. Others will reach out to those that they know are in need.

And a whole lot more people will be listening.

Yes, I know, this proactive discourse won’t last long. Probably a matter of days. But the more we talk – the more we have need to talk and to come together – the more these conversations will become the norm. And that, really, is the first big step.

Who knows, maybe that first step will lead to national fundraising runs. Or walks. Or whatever it takes to get attention and monies.

Maybe we’re reaching the tipping point.

With that a distinct possibility, why not organize a day dedicated to mood disorders now? Launch the idea while the impact is still being felt. A Day Out for Depression, perhaps?

It’s not hard to envision: A day where communities across Canada come together to walk, bike, run, whatever they want, to raise awareness for mental illness.

Why not?

From the planning side of things, a template has already been made by other organizations:

The Canadian Mental Health Association (or similar local non-profit) would get a tool kit for hosting their own events on the national Day Out. Nationally, a couple of celeb spokespeople would do the news/talk show circuit. Corporate communications funding would be easy to raise. For legitimate charitable status, you could either piggyback on the CMHA or found your own charitable board.

For those who do this kind of thing, it’s not rocket science.

But it could be so empowering. So galvanizing.

The timing, with so many newspapers and so many news site currently having stories about depression on their front pages, is perfect.

And there is no question that it is surely needed. Because the message is coming through loud and clear:

We’re all a bit sick of these stories.

Suicide, I mean. Depression.

Not Robin Williams.

Really, at a time like this, we could all use a bit more from Mork from Ork.

Shazbot.

Nanu nanu.

It’s time for a change.

 

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TRENT Magazine Editorial: The Changes Remain the Same

img_5019The latest edition of TRENT Magazine is currently making its way to mailboxes (and email boxes) across the country and around the world.  This edition features a fascinating piece on the conflicts between ethic minorities and LGBT movements by Trent Professor Momin Rahman. Prof. Rahman’s research is in the area of LGBT citizenship with a particular focus on Muslim LGBT politics and identity, including a four year SSHRC funded project on Queer Muslim Visibility in Canada and the United States.

We also feature a story on challenging age-related norms through arts-based health interventions, an update on Traill’s renewed status as an undergraduate residential college, and an entertaining look back at the 1979 PSB Wilson-led Trent Rugby trip to England.

The cover story? Alumni, award-winning faculty member, and champion of Trent/Caribbean relations, Dr. Suresh Narine ’91 and his efforts to help promote sustainable indigenous business in his native country of Guyana.

In my editorial, I look back on my relationship with Dr. Narine and point out how decades-long Trent conversations are so easily re-kindled.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Changes Remain the Same

Suresh Narine and I had a lot in common in the early ’90s. Sure, he was new to Canada, having moved from Guyana to attend Trent, but we were both skinny, scruffy kids with dual majors in academics and partying. We hung out in the same Traill/Peter Robinson College circles and got into roughly the same amount of mischief.  And, had you asked, neither of us would have dreamed that we’d be working for Trent University some 25 years later.

Today, Dr. Narine is a decorated professor with a penchant for pulling in major research monies. Compare this to the day in third year when I popped by his house to find him cooking a huge pot of rice with a single carrot sliced into it for “nutritional balance and a bit of colour.” He was a carrot ahead of me when it came to my late-semester OSAP diet.

Times are a lot less lean for both Suresh and me. Come to think of it, there’s quite a bit less lean about the both of us … and the less said about our collective hairlines, the better.

Getting together with Suresh is a lot tougher than it used to be. He’s in constant demand, flying all over the place to lead collaborative research agreements at Mahatma Ghandi University in Kerala, India; The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel; University of the West Indies in Cave Hill, Barbados; and the Universidade Estadual Paulista in Botucatu, Brazil. And then there is the work he does around the world introducing practical applications of biomaterials.

Nonetheless, when we last sat down for a beer (a year or so ago) at our historic favourite watering hole, the Only Café, it was like time had stood still. We talked about classmates (though now about how many children they had rather than their Friday night antics) and about politics (both Trent and global). And then we trundled off to our respective Peterborough homes to get some sleep before heading up to campus in the morning.

Here’s where things differ:  I spend my days telling wonderful Trent success stories.  Suresh spends his days being a wonderful Trent success story. It’s an honour and a privilege to share a bit about one of the projects he’s working on today.  Please see page 11 for a story about his involvement in sustainable indigenous business.

Suresh and I have made another date for the Only Café—and this time you’re invited too. We have plans for a podcast interview to take place on the patio of the fabled Hunter St. bar.  While the details are yet to be sorted out—I mentioned he’s a busy guy, right? —the commitment is there on both fronts. We’ll be sure to let you know when it airs. Because, like so many of you, our university stories continue to this very day. And while waistlines and hairlines continue to change, our passion for Trent remains the same.

Cheers, my friends!

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On the Spread of “Fake News”

mcluhan1

When I can’t sleep at night, I make memes out of things that cause me to not sleep at night.

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Learning to Play with a Toddler

trainI just sent my most recent column off to Local Parent Magazine, which reminded me that I hadn’t posted any of my more recent ones of late.  The October one is on the front page of the site, so relatively easy to find.  I’ve added links to the August/September, June/July, April/May, and February/March pieces below.

From Learning to Play with a Toddler:

“I’ve had mountains of muffins over the past few weeks. I’ve had more cups of tea – each with several scoops of sugar – than I can possibly count. Ordinarily, I’d be worried about my gradually softening midsection, but thankfully these sweet treats have all been imaginary.

With Krista prepping to go back to teaching after an extended maternity leave, daddy/daughter time has been on a continuous rise. And 20-month-old Clara’s favourite activity is cooking in her miniature kitchen. Her specialty? Muffins. And tea.

I’m going to be honest here. When Krista reminded me that I would be spending a lot more hours with Clara, I was a bit nervous. Quite frankly, I had no clue how we were going to fill all the extra hours together. Talking to a few other dads, I realized I was not alone. Apparently, knowing how to play with one-year-olds is not intuitive.

My first instinct was to plan fun outings for the two of us. As far as instincts go, it was a good one. Late summer and early fall saw us taking long trips to the park, the splash pad, and the zoo. These adventures were a hit. My daddy stock went through the roof. For a few hours afterwards, Clara, who is a major mommy’s girl, would have a new favourite word: “daddydaddydaddydaddy!”

But as much fun as they are, these adventures are hugely time-consuming. They’re also somewhat unfair to Krista, who also wants to share in some of the special planned trips. “It doesn’t always have to be something big and special,” she advised. “Just hang out and sometimes let her take the lead.” We have a bit of a routine now, Clara and I. If we have a half a day or so together, we will often do something fun. I’m hoping to fit in one more zoo trip this fall. Sometimes, though, our adventures are a little more mundane, such as trips to the grocery store or market. We take our silliness sideshow on the road and multitask…”

For the full column, please visit the Local Parent site.

August/September: The Farm to Table Toddler

June/July: The Ultimate Camping Greenhorn

April/May: Exploring at the Speed of Life

February/March: Forget About the Jones

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Podcast Interview with Linwood Barclay

I chatted with bestselling author Linwood Barclay earlier this autumn as part of my #TrentVoices Literary Series.

Our discussion hit on (among a host of other things) Linwood’s early experiences working with Margaret Laurence, the difficulty of writing humour, getting shout-outs from Stephen King, the (not-so) secret Peterborough origins of his crime-story setting of Promise Falls, and the huge achievement of his new Promise Falls Trilogy.

Be sure to check out interviews with Mann Booker Prize winning author Yann Martel (Life of Pi; The High Mountains of Portugal) and novelist/columnist Leah McLaren (Globe and Mail; The Spectator Magazine) from earlier in the season.

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Of Stuffies and Square Dances

12523929_10156633342520231_4278583679146354100_nI was left to my own devices with the toddler tonight, so I did what any sane individual would do and threw a square dance for the 23-month-old and her coterie of stuffies.

I played guitar, sang, and called the steps, making sure that each plush plaything got its fair share of floor time.

I must say, she did remarkably well for the first 20 minutes or so, working through the simple moves that I hollered and treating her animal squad with something resembling respect.

Then it all became much too much…

She tried (and succeeded) to pick up all of her stuffed friends at once and then became a whirling dervish, with control the very last thing on her mind. After several minutes of her spinning, I decided to pull the plug and stopped playing.

And when the music dropped, so did the toddler. She looked at me with a confused combination of elation and trepidation and promptly planted face on the hardwood floor.

Thankfully, there were several cushy critters there to break her fall.

“Bathtime?” I asked.

“Bafftime,” she replied weakly.

Bafftime was spent peacefully singing along to Raffi and doing an inventory of places she could reach with her washcloth. Two short books later, she was in her crib.

I haven’t heard a peep since.

#parentingwin

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Random Notes on Divisiveness and the Death of Discourse

Over the past few years, I’ve watched discourse decay.

I’ve seen social activists be labeled racists in quibbles over language or best routes to enabling civil rights. I’ve seen diehard environmentalists get shouted down for critiquing methodology of change. I’ve seen food activists condemned for introducing peer-reviewed science.

And when someone doesn’t have the knowledge and experience to couch differing viewpoints into the prescribed linguistic codex, the response is usually swift and vehement.  It is usually ostracizing.

I cannot remember the last time I heard or read someone ask about why a contrary (or even slightly differing) belief was held or to try and understand that viewpoint.  The instinct has become to react without listening. We’ve constructed us vs. them dichotomies where the “them” is often utterly surprised to find that they are the “other.”

I’ve become used to scathing online rhetoric from people who would never use such language in person or in public. The internet seems to invite and perpetuate anger.

I’m used to witnessing prejudice cast upon good people who are trying their damnedest to do good things in a world of rapid social and linguistic change. Falling short has become a crime.

I started writing these little thoughts on the death of discourse a few months ago.  They belong to a pre-President Trump world – and it is definitely a new world today.  They may definitely read differently to some today than they would have before the US election. Not to me, though.

They are notes. Often jotted on the fly. Reactions, often.

random notes on divisiveness and the death of discourse:

the more we react without listening, the less our opportunity for learning and the poorer our base of understanding.

the more we stifle viewpoints, the less understanding we gain about the greater why’s of our societal problems — be they racial, political, environmental, economic…

the more we morally judge others by the standards of our own cultural capital, the less respectful we are of experiences different than ours.

the more we shout at people about inclusivity, the less inclusive we are.

the more we make assumptions about others, the less we validate diversity.

the more we assume we are right, the more wrong we are.

cherry picked science, reports, and research can often reflect convenience rather than accuracy. a deeper dive into research usually reveals a fuller picture.

poverty is cyclical. abuse is cyclical. fear is cyclical. prescribed social norms are cyclical. hate can be cyclical.  some escape cycles. some remain trapped in them.

we cannot assume intent without knowledge of understanding and experience.

knowledge is a form of capital. ownership of it is a form of privilege and power.  we have the choice of whether to wield it or share it.

just as violence is a last resort, so is lashing out with language.

the first step to a civil society is civility. anger and action are necessary parts of activism, but they are rarely effective as first forms of resolving conflict or exploring different sides of issues.

creating real social change involves having discussions and working with people who are different than you – and will likely speak and act very differently than you.

people that you disagree with are still, in fact, people. and they deserve respect and kindness.

expect dire and unpredictable (to you, but perhaps not to others) results when the fears of others are not validated or addressed. 

our own personal truths are not universal.

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Gord Downie’s Farewell Show: National Catharsis

Photo via Toronto Star/Mike Homer/The Tragically Hip.

Photo via Toronto Star/Mike Homer/The Tragically Hip.

You could tell that he was struggling.

You could tell that he was off his game.

From the first blown lyric of “Fifty Mission Cap” to a heavy reliance on the TelePrompTers that were hidden strategically across the stage, you could tell that Gord Downie was playing hurt.

But as captain of Team Canada — the guy who made the Prime Minister the second most important person in the room — he dug deep.

It wasn’t always pretty. Gone were the concert-long poetic rants that once showed nimbleness of mind. He probably walked, danced, and strutted a few kilometres less than he once used to during a performance. His body also seemed to lack that fluidity.

But Gord poured every ounce of himself into that last show — into that last tour.

And he didn’t take the easy way out. He and his bandmates, Rob Baker, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, and Gord Sinclair, treated the night like any other. They didn’t pad the final performance with special guests. They played several cuts from their new — and for most of the audience unheard — final album, as well as a handful of selections that had seen very little radio play. They went out on their own terms.

One of the things that gutted me the most was watching Gord be helped offstage. It was after the second intermission and Johnny Fay took him, first by the hand and then by the elbow, as he led him down the stage stairs. But Gordie toughed it out. He returned for one last set to offer the last of his legendary artistic energy.

No, it wasn’t always pretty. But watching Gord Downie gut it out was nonetheless beautiful. The passion was still there. The words still united us all in one voice. Most of all, though, his performance was honest. It was hard working. And it was humble.

That, I think, is one of the keys to the great Canadian success of The Tragically Hip: they mirror the way we see ourselves, both as individuals and a nation. Honest. Hard-working. Humble.

But also caring.

In his own inimitable way, Gord put pressure on Justin Trudeau to take action on the plight of First Nations people in the North. Hidden in what seemed like praise was a warning – a million Hip fans are now watching. It’s time for action. And for care. For the country to care.

He also spoke of the need for inclusivity. He joked that he wasn’t sure who had finally brought women back to the Hip audience, but that it was oh-so-welcome. It’s 2016. Bro’s need not apply.

Here’s the thing about The Hip: they gave and gave and gave. They spurned global financial success by sticking to their roots – and to the roots of the Nation that they eventually came to represent. They played countless benefits, lending their music and Gord’s voice to countless causes. They took so many artists, bands, and musicians under their wings, offering mentorship, advice, and perhaps most importantly, gigs.

Last night, the Tragically Hip gave and gave and gave some more. Gord Downie, in particular, gave until it hurt — until he ached, both physically and emotionally.

By the time they got to the encores, they were the Tragically Hip of old. Gord’s voice refound those familiar melodies. He hit the notes he couldn’t hit earlier in the evening. He looked less like he was fighting the performance than truly enjoying it. Like a wounded hockey legend, he played through gut-check time and brought pained beauty to his efforts. And then he won it in overtime. The never-before-performed third encore, to be precise.

During those last songs, Gord and his bandmates became what they had always been: the house band for a generation. Damned good rock and rollers.

It was a tough show to watch. It was a glorious show to watch. It was a show we all had to watch.

The likes of which we will never see again.

It was Courage. And Grace Too.

Thank you Gord Downie. Thanks for being a hero and a national treasure. Thanks for one last night.

It is obvious that you love and are loved.

And that you will be missed.

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#TrentVoices Podcast Interview with Yann Martel

My interview with Yann Martel is the second episode of the #TrentVoices Literary Series. Photo courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Your summer weekend listening! My interview with the one and only Yann Martel wanders through the spiritual, the philosophical, and even the comical. It’s part of our ‪#‎TrentVoices‬ Literary podcast series, featuring a who’s who of Canadian writers — all of them Trent University alum — including Leah McLaren, Linwood Barclay, Richard B. Wright, and Janette Platana.

In this episode I talk with the Man Booker prize winning author of Life of Pi, Yann Martel. His latest novel, The High Mountains of Portugal, is equal parts bizarre, beautiful, and tender.
 
Our interview explores Yann’s creative process, his unique use of imagery and symbolism, his fascination with the human/divine relationship, and — something he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for — his strange yet tender sense of humour.
 
It was a huge honour and thrill to chat with one of Canada’s greatest authors — I do hope you enjoy the resulting conversation.
*          *          *

I am extremely excited to stream our summer #TrentVoices Literary Series. The impressive alumni lineup, which includes a who’s who of Canadian authors, is perfect listening for the dog days of summer. Tune in from your dock, deck, patio, or summer sanctuary.

We hope that you’re as excited as we are.

This is a Trent University Alumni Association Podcast.  Please visit here for more great interviews.  And be sure to follow the Trent Alumni “From the House” blog for future episodes.

This Week:

Yann Martel

From Penguin Random House Canada: “Yann Martel is the author of Life of Pi, the #1 international bestseller and winner of the 2002 Man Booker (among many other prizes). He is also the award-winning author of The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (winner of the Journey Prize), Self, Beatrice & Virgil, and 101 Letters to a Prime Minister. Born in Spain in 1963, Martel studied philosophy at Trent University, worked at odd jobs—tree planter, dishwasher, security guard—and traveled widely before turning to writing. He lives in Saskatoon, Canada, with the writer Alice Kuipers and their four children.”

His most recent work Is this year’s New York Times Bestseller The High Mountains of Portugal.

 

Also in the series:

Leah McLaren: August 5th — click here for the the full interview.

From the Globe and Mail: “Leah McLaren is a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. She’s published two novels, The Continuity Girl (2007) and A Better Man (2015) both with Harper Collins Canada and Hachette in the USA. The first was a Canadian bestseller, though the second is actually much better. Leah is the Europe correspondent for Maclean’s and is a regular contributor to the Spectator magazine (UK) as well as Toronto Life for which she won a gold National Magazine Award in 2012. She’s been writing a column in the Globe since1999. She lives in Ontario and London, England where she shares a home with her husband and two boys.” 

 

Linwood Barclay: September 2nd

From linwoodbarclay.com: “Linwood Barclay is the #1 internationally bestselling author of thirteen novels, including Trust Your Eyes, A Tap on the Window, No Time for Goodbye and that novel’s follow-up, No Safe House. Last summer, his thriller Broken Promise, the first of three linked novels about his fictional upstate New York town Promise Falls, was released. Book two, Far From True was released earlier this year.  The finale, The Twenty-Three, will be released this fall.”

 

Janette Platana: September 9th

From Tightrope Books: “Janette Platana’s cheerfully disturbing, gleefully outraged, and chillingly beautiful stories break open the lives of apparently ordinary people who struggle and sometimes succeed in living without compromise, refusing to sacrifice the world they sense to the world they see, and where things can be true without ever being real. The range of this accomplished and poetic voice may cause vertigo, owing, as it does, as much to the Clash to Stephen King, to Caitlin Moran as to Flannery O’Connor, and something to David Sedaris. A Token of My Affliction will make you laugh while breaking your heart wide open.”

 

Richard B. Wright: TBA

From Simon and Schuster: “Richard B. Wright is the author of thirteen novels and has won the Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, and the CBA Libris Awards for Author and Book of the Year. His most recent novel is 2016’s Nightfall. He lives in St. Catharines with his wife, Phyllis.”

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