Tuesday, March 25, 2008


After a month of chastising Canadian show business, I thought it was time to follow the Thumper's Mom rule and say something nice for a change. God knows, I'm far from the crusty curmudgeon some of my new readers must mistake me for and much of what we do in this country rivals the best you will find anywhere in the world.

About a year ago, DMC, in an uncharacteristic moment of self promotion, mentioned he would be appearing on a CBC Radio 1 program entitled "Q". Not being a huge fan of CBC radio, so much so that I didn't even know there was now a 1 and a 2, I nevertheless decided to tune in and hear what he had to say.

I'd likewise never heard of "Q", knew even less of its host, Jian Ghomeshi, and fully expected that if I did manage to find the correct CBC channel on the dial, I'd probably stick around only long enough to catch the TV Panel segment.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Anyone who works in the Canadian arts industries has had the experience of meeting somebody who asks what you do, has never heard of you or any of your work and then proceeds to tell you how much they dislike Canadian movies, television or whatever.

Their prejudices are very clear and invariably firmly entrenched.

A lot of the time you can't argue with them because you're painfully aware that our Arts scene is so twisted out of shape by regionalism, subsidy criteria, social policy and the like that what they're being served has lost all connection to the normal artist-audience dynamic.

And no matter your life path, interests or priorities you almost begin to believe that they're right and if you really were any good you'd be in LA.

So you let them vent and offer an assurance that what you do is different or suggest a title or two their rant has indicated they might actually like if they gave it half a chance.

But like them, you can't fathom why Telefilm put 25 Million of their tax dollars into "Where the Truth Lies", how a show like "Jeff Ltd." ever got on the air or any of the other imponderables that separate our industry from that large lump of the population many of us refer to (not without affection) as Don Cherry Nation.

They're the people who work hard at jobs that never get mentioned in the media, put up with the same national incongruencies that we do and when they flop in front of a television just want something that entertains them as much as Don Cherry's rants on Hockey Night in Canada.

As much as we artists and that nation are almost identical, there sometimes seems to be a chasm between us that we don't know how to bridge and they have no incentive to attempt.

Five minutes into my first listen of "Q", I could hear the footings of a bridge between us being planted in place.

I've got more years than most listening to CBC arts programming from both sides of the microphone. I've been interviewed by everybody over there from Peter Gzowski and Lister Sinclair to Barbara Frum, Sheila Rogers and Andy Barry.

Most often, it was with regard to plays, movies or TV shows which they'd never seen, nor likely would see, but which had somehow touched a nerve, caused a frisson of interest or maybe just offered appropriate fill on a slow news day.

There was a distance between me and them that approximated the chasm that exists between us and Cherry Nation.

Jian Ghomeshi, who hosts "Q", is different.

In listening to this guy's interviews, you immediately sense the presence of somebody who cares, who wants his audience to understand and connect with the people who visit his show.

He's actually listened to the albums of the artists he interviews, he's read their books, seen their movies and TV series and engages them through impeccable research, asking the questions that form in my own mind as the discussions progress.

This is a media guy who wants the artists and Cherry nation to get to know each other simply because of how much he knows they have in common and how much they'll get off on one another once they get to know each other.

It's as if he's linking two nomadic tribes in the desert of his Persian ancestry.

He also made me realize that my own prejudices were very clear and firmly entrenched.

The other night, I listened to a lengthy interview Ghomeshi had done with Paul Anka, an artist I had been forced to endure during my youth and whose faux Vegas Rat-Pack persona I detested as much as his carefully (and in my opinion crassly) crafted songs.

But I was enthralled by what I heard, finding levels to the man I'd never conceived could be there.

I don't know who produces "Q", who writes or researches it. I haven't the first clue how they go about deciding the elements that make the show. But I cannot more highly recommend it.

What I don't understand is why CBC does something this good at 2:00 in the afternoon and further hobbles by creating a two hour show that only runs for an hour in most major markets so the locals can get detailed traffic reports two hours before most of them even get off work.

For the longest time, I thought I'd had a stroke or an acid flashback which had eliminated all memory of segments that had been promoted through the first hour.

The two hour version of "Q" repeats in one hour late in the evening, condensed unfortunately by eliminating the music that is much a part of the format. But once again, that repeat happens at a time when most people are doing something else.

I understand Ghomeshi has been with the CBC for a while, but it'll take better brains than the ones who appear to be running the place at the moment to find him the audience he deserves.

Luckily, somebody has been smart enough to park the show on iTunes as free podcasts.

Last week, in the middle of a particularly trying day, I climbed in the truck to hit Tim Horton's for a cup of coffee. "Q" was just coming on and Ghomeshi's guest was Sarah Slean, a singer-songwriter I'd heard a little and labeled "cute and quirky" and "not really for me".

I wasn't in a mood for droll irony and reached for the off button as I parked outside the coffee shop. But Ghomeshi's keen interest in what she was going to sing stopped me. A moment later, I was giving my full attention to a song that might be the best thing I've heard all year.

Somewhere in the bridge, the volume of the music increased and I reached for the dial. But it wasn't my radio. It was the one in the electrician's truck parked next to me. The driver was a guy in his 30's with a Leafs cap, his coffee cup on the dash next to a half eaten BLT. He rode the volume higher, a member of Cherry nation on his lunch break and as taken with this song as I was.

I felt another beam in that bridge lock into place. If either of us had had a goat, I'm sure we would have killed and shared it.

I hope those of you unfamiliar with "Q" will take a moment to sample the show. Anyone despairing at the condition of our industry will receive some healing. And, at the very least, there's ammunition for the next time somebody tries to tell you our stuff isn't as good as it could be. Because it is and with luck, Jian Ghomeshi and "Q" are delivering that message to our audience.

Here's Sarah Slean and that song as an example...

You can find "Q" here and select from an archive of past episodes at iTunes.


Nick said...

Great review, Jim. I love Q also, and Ghomeshi is a terrific interviewer; the equal of Andy Barry, in my opinion, but much more sensitive to what drives creative people, and probably more suited to interviewing them than Barry would be. Perhaps it's his own background as a musician that helps.

But I love it every time I hear it. Definitely deserves a better timeslot, but maybe CBC doesn't think people are interested in the arts as much as they are interested in current events or something. I do think Q would suffer if he had to stop every 5 minutes to read the weather and traffic report, which seems to be a requirement during drive time.

DMc said...

Jim, that's a simply wonderful shout out.

The thing that has always struck me about Q, Jian, and the wonderful team of producers and technicians that put the show together is that they are all keenly interested in the arts.

Jian takes a lot of stick, but most of it is from people who are far cattier and more cynical, and frankly, less interesting and interested than he is in the cultural workings of this nation.

You hear it in the discussions in the control room after the segments, you hear it on air, and you hear it in the letters they read on air from their engaged listeners. With Q, the full spectrum of culture finally comes to CBC. They'll talk to Anka, and follow it up with hip hop. They'll revel in bad TV and then talk to a mezzo soprano. Q's nation includes The Wire and Battlestar Galactica; Margaret Atwood and a graphic novelist; good old fashioned Canadian rock and avant garde folk.

It's all part of the stew, and Jian and his producers keep the beat, and don't apologize. I'm very proud to play whatever small part I can play on that show. It's a great listen.

(And if you choose the right stream, you can listen to the full 2 hour edition online.)

Cunningham said...

Gee, Jim -- that sounded so...positive!

New meds?

But seriously, every time Denis links to it I listen to Q even though I'm down here suffering the 80 degree heat watching the girls in their summer dresses (Thank you, ladies). I've found the show to be fun, informative and fast - making its point and moving on, allowing it all to sink in after the credits roll...

Now if we could only bring some of that production value to Geekerati... sigh!

Kelly J. Compeau said...

What a deeply moving song. I was never really a Sarah Slean fan before but I am now.

I try to listen to Jian's show when I can but it's tough because I'm always on the go. I like his interviews with DMC, though.

KJC (who is celebrating her 40th birthday today)

Jill Browne said...

Yeah, I'm pretty much a Jian fan too.

I wish CBC Radio in Calgary would play the full two hours, though I'm not sure what I would cut to make the space available.