Two marvellous events to recount: last night, Ira Glass at Roy Thomson Hall, and this afternoon, Tom Allen’s musical drama, J.S. Bach’s Long Walk in the Snow, at Hugh’s Room. Delicious and nutritious, both of them.
Ira Glass — who’d imagine a skinny bespectacled Jewish egghead who specializes in radio documentaries would pack a concert hall? Last time I saw him in TO it was at Massey Hall, a humbler venue. Ira is the producer of This American Life on NPR and talked about “7 Things I’ve learned,” which, I see from Google, he has been doing for some time. It consisted of him talking, backed by a big screen for graphics and video. He has a wonderful sense of humour and is, of course, a superb storyteller.
Though one of the seven things he learned was “It’s normal to be bad before you’re good,” which he personalized for us in telling how very bad he was when he started his media career at nineteen. He even proved it, with a clip from the early days of his portentous delivery from an Oreo cookie factory. He outlined good storytelling: PLOT — a sequence of events always moving forward, plus IDEAS, to illustrate a point or feeling and make listeners feel they know you. (Exactly what Dinty Moore said in his webinar the other day.) Jesus, Ira told us, used this format and was a great storyteller.
Another great storyteller, he told us, is Chris Christie, who managed to convince a group of Trump-loving anti-vaxxers to get the vaccine, not by trying to convince them with facts, which we know mean nothing, but by telling them his authentic personal story about how he got Covid and what it did to him and others, including killing two close family members. Glass was illustrating one part of the dark times we live in, where truth is dying, and sides are entrenched. “On the other hand,” he said brightly, “television has never been so good!”
There were marvellous segments about a kid who dismissed love, only to recant ten years later; about another kid whose joy at doing his dream job in an amusement park lifted everyone around him; about how Americans refuse to believe that key figures in the States — Peter Jennings, William Shatner, so many others — were Canadians. “But Canadians are so … off,” said one disbeliever. He finished with a segment about the extraordinarily elusive Vivian Meier, who shot hundreds of thousands of superb photographs which no one saw during her lifetime and were only discovered later by chance. In an interview he showed, it was clear she lived exactly as she wanted and would have hated the posthumous attention. “Does it matter what the dead want?” he asked. “Where are they, anyway?” As Vivian did, artists, he concluded, must make their art for themselves first.
Easy to say when you’re talking to thousands of people on another of your endless successful tours. He’s a wonderful man and speaker. I was sitting in the cheapest seats, in the gods, and the people around me were kindred spirits. 100% enjoyed.
Tom Allen and I became friends when I read a lot of essays on his CBC show Fresh Air (the best are reprinted in Midlife Solo). It was a great sadness to me when he was bumped up to the afternoon show and I lost that easy on air camaraderie. He has gone on to acclaim as a broadcaster and now as a writer and producer. The show follows Johann Sebastian Bach at age twenty, when he left his job and walked 300 miles north to Lübeck, to live and work with the famed Buxtehude. Tom narrates, backed by five fabulous musicians who play Bach pieces and also music by a diversity of others, including a rendition of Lesley Gore’s feminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me.” Hugely enjoyable, in the lovely new high-ceilinged Hugh’s Room, a small former church a ten minute bike ride from here, with the afternoon sun glowing through the stained glass.
There’s a big sporting event going on right now, I gather, and some pop superstar flew in from Japan to watch her big hulking boyfriend. What a wonderful feeling to say, I do not care. Not one tiny bit. I will watch All Creatures Great and Small — poor James has just gone off to war, we are filled with trepidation — and prepare for a big day of audiobook reading tomorrow. Filled to the brim with good art. Which is a good thing because there’s not much in my fridge. How long can your faithful correspondent live on sandwiches and art? Stay tuned.