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Master Storyteller

IF YOU WERE TO ASK STUART MCLEAN what his biggest impact has been on Canadian culture, the award-winning journalist would tell you that, truth be told, he hasn’t really thought about it. But he’s clearly doing something right. Every week, more than 700,000 listeners tune in to hear his radio show, The Vinyl Café on the CBC, a show that features up-and-coming Canadian music and the quirky, misadventure stories of Dave, the owner of a small record store in Toronto, his wife Morley and their family.

McLean has won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour three times, and his Vinyl Café books have made him a Canadian best-selling author. McLean brings his Vinyl Café Christmas Show to Calgary’s Jubilee Auditorium Dec 6 and 7, for an evening of seasonal stories, and a showcase of Canadian musical talents.

What do you like about doing the Vinyl Café Christmas Show?
It’s become a Christmas tradition, both for me, and the people who come to the show every year with their families. I like that people come together around the stories. I like rituals, they’re small but important things.

Who will be performing with you this year?
We’ve got Danny Michel, who is a young, singer-songwriter, and one of Canada’s great, undiscovered musical talents. It’s one of the things we try to do with the show—to shine a light on up-and-coming singers. We have a fabulous girl from Vancouver, Allison Russell, who’s in the group, Po’ Girl. We also have old friends—John Sheard who plays the piano and Chris Whiteley, who is a many times over winner of the Maple blues award.

What can fans expect from this show?
They’ll get to meet these young musicians, plus there’ll be two new Dave & Morley stories, a favourite story, and some other surprises.

What makes Calgary a unique city?
Some of my favourite places are there. There’s a fabulous record store in Calgary, [Megatunes]. I always go there when I’m in town if I have the time—the guys who work there always introduce me to great new music. I love walking around the river that runs through the city. I love that it’s where my old friend W. O. Mitchell used to live. Bill Mitchell is one of my writing heroes, and I miss him dearly. I used to visit with him whenever I came to town, so I can’t come to Calgary without thinking of Bill Mitchell.

What is your favourite memory of Calgary?
Backstage in 1967 at the Calgary Stampede, hanging out with the guys in Herman’s Hermits. They were a goofy British band. (pauses) Hitchhiking to Banff that same summer. I worked in Calgary on a construction job, and we used to hitchhike there on the weekends.

What drew you out this way?

If Dave & Morley came to Calgary, what kind of adventure would they have?
I think they’d end up in the mountains somewhere and probably go camping. Certainly Dave would be anxious about the bears, but I’m not sure what would happen to them, I’d have to send them there to find out. Dave would probably buy a bear repel gun and get himself into trouble with it. Use it inappropriately somewhere.

Have they become like real people to you?
Yes—they feel very much like people I know. It’s one of the things that makes me want to keep writing: I want to know what happens to them, and it’s only by writing about them that I can find out.

Do you prefer to tell stories that make people laugh, or cry?
It is very seductive on stage to tell a story that makes people laugh. Sometimes the laughter will hit you like waves of the ocean, and with the occasional really great line there’s almost a physical sensation. But I can get lost in a very intimate moment—everything goes away and I’m in the darkness, almost disembodied, caught up in this moment of sharing.
E.B. White says that humour can take you to a place where you can’t trust your emotions, and that’s the place where laughter and tears meet and when it takes you there, you’re close to a higher level of truth. So I like telling stories best when you achieve a marriage of the two, when take you take people to a place where they’re both laughing and crying at the same time.—Laura Pellerine

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