Many people in Canada, and perhaps in other places, too, are sharing memories today of beloved storyteller Stuart McLean, who died Wednesday at the age of 68.
McLean was best known for his humorous monologues on a CBC Radio program called Vinyl Cafe that told stories about the everyday lives of an everyday Canadian family.
One such person sharing memories was Terry DiMonte, the host of CHOM-FM’s morning program. He played one of his favourite McLean monologues — the jock-strap episode. It took up about nine minutes of airtime on what is essentially a rock music station. Afterward, Terry commented that management might not be too happy about his decision to air the monologue, but he just felt it was the right thing to do. (Yes, of course it was.)
Afterward, while I was showering — I do a lot of reflecting in the shower — I thought about Terry’s comment, and how McLean was much bigger than the CBC or CHOM or any other business institution. Terry hadn’t plugged a competing station (he was probably more concerned about the monologue’s length). He had simply paid tribute to an individual who was a Canadian institution unto himself. Stuart McLean didn’t work for the CBC: the CBC worked for McLean.
And so my thought process progressed.
People like Stuart McLean, the late Peter Gzowski, Noah Trevor and so many other folks who entertain and inform us in media-related fields, including Terry DiMonte, are much bigger than the institutions they grace. They don’t work for those companies; the companies work for them, and should be honoured to have them.
And so my thought process progressed again . . . to you and me and all the other ordinary people who earn money through the various jobs we choose to perform. We don’t work for our companies; they work for us. Sure, we may be bricks in the proverbial wall, but the wall wouldn’t stay up without us. Think about that . . . I mean, what if there was a company and nobody showed up?
So, the owners should be honoured to have us, just as the CBC was honoured to have Stuart McLean and Bell Media, the owners of CHOM-FM, are no doubt honoured to have Terry DiMonte grace their studios weekday mornings and entertain and inform its listeners.
I think Stuart McLean would agree with me on this.
So, let’s toast a great Canadian storyteller, and let’s drink to the salt of the earth.
R.I.P Stuart McLean.
Top photo: Stuart McLean in March 2008. (Source: Alana Elliott/Wikipedia)
I first started listening to The Vinyl Cafe in the mid-1990’s, on North Country Public Radio in upstate NY. It was not very obvious that it was a Canadian program, it fit so well with so many places in the States, New England, many southern places, and most certainly the northern Midwest. The folksy stories and sensibilities carried across the border effortlessly. And, you felt like you knew Stuart McClean, personally, after only a couple shows, perhaps better than you know some neighbors.
I can remember where I was when listening to many episodes of The Vinyl Cafe, kind of like marking moments in time. Particularly, I remember one very warm Sunday morning, well noontime, the last weekend of this past May, sitting outside a Tim Horton’s in Ottawa, (how’s that for Canadian?) Lot of other times going back years, and I remember those moments in detail better because of that show, I think.
And, I also remember where I was, in my car on a street in Montreal, this past October when I heard that he was taking a hiatus from the show to deal with his cancer.
Stuart McClean easily is thought of alongside American public radio icon Garrison Keilor, who ended his 40 year run hosting his, A Prairie Home Companion, just last June. Although, I’m comforted to know he is still around, in fact, he just toured through Vermont the past two nights doing his small theater show of monologues.
To your point about appreciating employees, a lot of immigrants in the U.S. are testing that idea, today, going on strike to demonstrate the value and importance of immigrants to the national, and local, economies, in the face of being relegated to sub-personhood by the President’s attempted policies. In Boston’s Chinatown, many employers are supporting this strike. Ironically, this is the day after Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary withdrew, over admitting he hired undocumented immigrants at his home.
Thanks for your reflections, Jillian – I completely agree with you. To come as an immigrant to Canada and hear people like Peter Gzowski, Max Ferguson and of course Stuart McLean on the radio made this country special to me. My wife and I were fortunate (it was a sell-out, of course) to attend a Vinyl Café show in Banff several years ago – even in the back rows of the theatre, you felt Stuart was in a conversation with just you.
Your reflections on employees ring a bell; there is a big difference in businesses where the employees are the owners vs. employees are servants to the management and shareholders. We changed banks a couple of years ago from a big nationally chartered bank making huge profits to a credit union, where we all are ‘members’. A big part of the decision to change was the attitude of the counter and senior staff. All of us are happier people for using the credit union.
I searched back to find this post, because I’ve been quite dismayed to see that The Vinyl Cafe no longer seems to have a place on CBC’s regular schedule. I noticed I wasn’t finding it on at the times it used to be on with the Montreal broadcasts, and just found it not to be on at its old noontime spot on Sundays in Ottawa.
What has happened to CBC’s appreciation for this longtime program, so soon after its host’s passing?
I suppose Stuart McClean would have wanted currently produced programs to have priority for airtime, but what I see in place of The Vinyl Cafe are just rebroadcasts, (third or fourth time,) of programs from earlier in the week.
It’s sad to see the CBC schedule without this most Canadian of programs, and so soon. Relegating The Vinyl Cafe to podcasts is just not proper, in my mind.