Friday, February 24, 2012

Burying The Future

Pierre Juneau Peter Bregg CP_large

As I write this, a very old man lies in a mortuary visitation room in Outremont, Quebec. Over today and tomorrow, family, friends and probably not many of the public will drop by to pay their respects.

Perhaps the room will be silent, deadened further by the funeral home’s sound dampening carpet.

Maybe they’ll pipe in some Muzak. If that’s the case, I hope someone shows him the respect of making one third of it Canadian.

Pierre Juneau passed away last Tuesday, his death virtually unreported in English Canada for most of the day.

There’s a certain sad irony to that, since without the man, most of this country’s broadcast media wouldn’t even be here.

I probably first heard of Pierre Juneau in 1968 or 69. Most likely, I didn’t have a clue who he was and certainly didn’t know a thing about the Canadian Radio & Television Commission where he worked.

But my College roommate was an AM radio DJ in Regina named Colin Sanders –- “The Colonel” to his fans. And one of our buddies was Dave Warren, the only FM Rock DJ in the city.

Colin had to spin top 40 hits and hated the regimented playlist chocked with bubblegum as much as he envied Dave’s ability to play the full 17 minute version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and entire commercial free sides of the latest Hendrix.

But both of them were troubled when this guy Juneau decreed 1/3 of the music played on Canadian radio had to be by Canadian artists.

The rules applied to both their formats and neither believed there were enough bands or music to fill the quota. And even if there were, there was no way it could compete with what was burning up the charts from San Francisco, LA and New York –- let alone England.

This had the potential to be tragically, parochially embarrassing.

Only it wasn’t.


Within weeks, the airwaves were full of music from guys named Lightfoot, women named Buffy and even some coffee house poet from Montreal called Leonard who couldn’t actually sing -– but still...

We didn’t have a clue who they were. But their stuff was as good as the rest of what was out there and waaaaaay better than having to listen to Bobby Sherman or the 1910 Fruit Gum Company.

Within months, bands that had played local high school gyms before the ruling, like Winnipeg’s “Chad Allan & The Expressions”, had become Internationally known Platinum album artists forced to adopt the more appropriate marketing moniker “Guess Who”.

On July 1, 1971, I attended my first rock concert in Toronto at Varsity Stadium. It featured nothing but Canadian stars like “Lighthouse” and “McKenna Mendelsohn Mainline” and climaxed with Burton Cummings of “The Guess Who” (their marketing now formalized) belting the nation’s new anthem “American Woman”.

Screw that duplicitous bitch! We didn’t need to take whatever crap she was peddling anymore. We had our own!

Those of a mind might’ve wandered around the corner after that concert to catch some metal at “The Gasworks” which featured Kim Mitchell’s band “Max Webster” or a new trio called “Rush”.

And the creative explosion Pierre Juneau had wrought wasn’t restricted to music.

On your way down Yonge Street to that metal bar you passed theatres playing new Canadian movies by Don Shebib and Bill Fruet. And every mail box and telephone pole was plastered with posters announcing the debut of a “New Canadian Play”.

We had suddenly realized we were just as good as anybody else. Maybe we were even better than them.

Anything was possible.

Soon there were Canadian plays on Broadway and London’s West End. TV crews swaggered around town in ball caps reading “We don’t give a Fuck how they do it in LA!”

Dentists begged producers to put their life savings into movies.

We even had our own award shows called Genies and Geminis. The Music guys had already aptly labelled theirs the Juno.

Double Juno winner Drake poses with his trophies at the Juno Awards Sunday, April 18, 2010  in St. John's N.L.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The year I produced the Genie Awards, Burton Cummings was nominated for some song and the show was at the Royal Alex, provided for the broadcast by owner "Honest Ed” Mirvish.

During the dress rehearsal, we had to run Burton's number several times because of some complicated choreography. He did the full song every time, each rendition pitch perfect.

The 2nd time through I noticed that Ed had come down from his office to an aisle seat, quietly clapping along with the music.

The 3rd time through some guy with an overcoat and suitcase wandered in and sat next to him. It was Juneau.

He must’ve been President of the CBC by then and I’m sure had been invited to the soiree. But he explained that he'd been out of town, hadn’t expected to be back and had given away his ticket. But he hoped if he came to the theatre he could buy one.

We were completely sold out. So I gave him mine.

Later in the rehearsal, I noticed all three of those men watching somebody else's number and considered that without Juneau Burton might not have had a career and without Ed we wouldn't have a show that looked as classy. Yet neither of those guys expected anything in return for what they gave the industry.

They just saw talent and found a way to support it.

I also recall thinking I should go over and thank them. But I sensed that might cause some embarrassment -- in that way people get uncomfortable being recognized for doing what we all know is just the right thing to do.

I’ve always believed that if we’d stuck with Juneau’s simple formula (one third of all broadcast content) the continuing success of the music business would have raised our film and TV industries to the same heights. God knows the talent is there.

But instead, we’ve devolved into a morass of Tier One, Category “B”, Minority Partner co-production nonsense where the only Canadians being employed are tax accountants.

For all their good works, even our Cancon heavy public broadcaster now programs fewer hours of Canadian comedy and drama than at any time in their 75 year history.

But at a simple to follow 1/3 of Prime Time, 1/3 of daytime, 1/3 of late night we’d have an industry twice its current size and productivity.

And imagine a Canada where 1/3 of the screens played a Canadian movie. The whole country would feel like Quebec.

But the bean-counters, the equivocators and the fair-minded burghers of regionalism or political expediency have carried us far from the promised land that Pierre Juneau first let us glimpse.

Without this man, guys like me would have never believed we could ever have a career in this country. And I can’t help feeling that when he is laid to rest this weekend we’ll really be burying what could have been our future.


Barry Kiefl said...

In the years after he was president of CBC I worked on a project with him, something about measuring audience performance of public broadcasters around the world. He made me feel my work was important and vital; he had that effect on everyone at CRTC and CBC.

He was also a tenacious tennis player and never gave up on a point.

John O'Brien said...


I've been reading your blog for a couple of years now, and this is among the best stuff I've ever read here.
Thanks for reminding us why M. Juneau deserves to be remembered.

DMc said...

Note perfect. One-third. So beautifully simple.

Keith B. said...

It's unusual that in a post you should mention someone doing something to promote Canadian culture when you have been lax at doing so lately, at least with Canadian movies. I would have thought you would have commented on recent wide-release Canadian movies such as "Breakaway", "A Dangerous Method", and "Goon", but you've been silent about these movies.

DMc said...

Jesus if good old Keith B. there doesn't just have the most Canadian attitude ever. "Hey guy who writes things when nobody ever has the balls to speak up and do it, how come you're not doing more?"

He wrote. Anonymously.

Story of the feckless, cowardly, mewling, cowering industry. We deserve every shot we take.

nick mancuso said...

disunity and regionalism, fractional and unidimensional thinking has been the root in this most disunited state of canada- artists are unifiers-therefore make sure they cant do their jobs-its been the history of the nation since day one and the creation of the ross rifle-well said jim and i agree your writing gets better and better- you are an inspiration!
nick mancuso

Matt C. said...

Just discovered this post (and your blog). Nice work.