Stuart McLean. A born storyteller, a man who loved and did honour to his country and its people. About ten years ago, I was in Florida visiting my snowbird mother and aunt. So dull, nothing to do in the evenings, when I saw an ad in the local paper – Stuart McLean and his show would be performing nearby a few days hence. Off we went to a huge auditorium in Bradenton packed with pale-faced elderly Canadians, overjoyed to be assembled in all their Canadian-ness on a mild January night. It was a lovely show, warm, hilarious, with music by Dan Hill. Mum and Auntie Do were thrilled. It could not have been a better event for them.
I loved that Stuart McLean was doing what he was doing with stories. But though I respected him hugely, I have to say that I did not, could not listen to his show the Vinyl Café. In fact, I leapt for the radio to turn it off when it started. It was the voice – that singsong delivery, the almost preachery cadence, what felt to me like a forced folksiness – I couldn’t take it. I’ve listened with the greatest admiration to the outpouring of love and grief, as everyone in the country, it seems, remembers him fondly. He meant a great deal to a great many people. So it pains me to say that though there’s no question he was a lovely man and a great, great asset to this country, I could not listen to his show on the radio. In person, as I found out in Florida, no problem at all, and of course his work with Peter Gzowski was fabulous. The cricket – the best radio ever.
I was at a writers’ party once, lots of artsy folks, wonderful music, lots going on including dancing. Stuart was there alone, his lanky body folded into a chair. At one point he was watching the dancing and so was I, and the music was so fabulous, I threw caution to the winds and went over to him. “Do you want to dance?” I asked. He looked at me with absolute horror. “Oh my God no!” he said.
I guess he was a man who did his dancing with words. Millions will miss you, Stuart. Thank you for keeping storytelling front and centre on the radio and on stage in this country, and that one too. Bravo.
May all storytellers be so lauded by their listeners.
PS I Googled Stuart to find out about his family life and found to my amazement that he was married for years and then divorced, and has two biological sons and an adopted son from his wife’s first marriage. Isn’t it bizarre that there doesn’t seem to be a single photo of Stuart with his sons – or even with one of them? None of the three has been interviewed, at least so far, for a single article about their father. What happened?