Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Vinyl Cafe

We first discovered the Vinyl Cafe three or four years ago, on a ferry to Vancouver Island. One of their books was for sale in the bookstore, and we bought it for the camping trip. By the time we got home, we were hooked. It was like the Prairie Home Companion stories, only...better. Much better. More like our lives, anyway. And funny in that sneaky way that starts out all deadpan and ends with you gasping for breath, laughing aloud in public so that people edge away from you as you wipe away the helpless tears and clutch your legs together to keep from peeing. And just when you couldn't laugh any more the story would hit you with a sucker punch and go all touching. We were ready to sign away our firstborn in exchange for more Dave and Morley stories, any way we could get them.

And then, miracle of miracles, we got them. Our Seattle public radio station was the first one in the U.S. to license the Vinyl Cafe radio show, and we tuned in as soon as we heard about it. At first, it was weird to hear Stuart Maclean's voice. He sounded sort of, well, sort of snide and nasal. Not at all the warm, mellow narrative voice I'd been hearing in my head when I read the stories to myself. But I got used to it after a while, and we began to plan our Sundays around the 4:00 hour so that we could hear the show, or at least be home to tape it. Even MG liked the Dave and Morley stories, though she didn't always understand them. We liked the music, too, and the genuine appreciation and admiration he seemed to have for musicians, and the way he took care to highlight Canadian music. In fact, the show was almost like an introduction (or re-introduction, in RW's case) to Canadian life, in all its familiarity and slight strangeness.

So when we heard that the Vinyl Cafe was coming to Vancouver for its annual Christmas Show, in December of this, our first year in Canada, it wasn't even a question: of course we were going, and hang the expense. I booked our tickets as soon as I could, though not soon enough to get us seats any closer than the middle of the Dress Circle.

And when we awoke this morning to find that last night's light blanket of snow had become a heavy swaddling, and that more was coming down in big, blizzard-y flakes, and that our street was no longer driveable, and that Translink was reporting bus delays, the question became how early we'd have to leave to get there on time. We ate a hearty breakfast, bundled up in coats and hats and mittens and scarves and warm boots and warm socks, grabbed a book off the shelf in case Stuart Maclean was signing, and set off for the bus stop.

We were prepared to walk the mile to the SkyTrain station if need be, but the Hastings Bus pulled up just as we'd finished skidding and slipping down our hill, so we even had time for lunch before the show started.

The show itself was everything I'd hoped for: Stuart Maclean was funny and offhand and understated, the musicians were terrific, there was a silly skit with a radio drama and a sound-effects guy (that part reminded me the most of PHC), and the Story Exchange story was touching and lovely. He called up a couple of kids to help with a CD giveaway in the middle of the show, and the interplay between the three of them (the girl was a total ham) was priceless. And he read three--three!--Dave and Morley stories, the last of which, about Dave's attempt to give Morley the perfect Christmas present, is a new classic up there with the iconic "Dave Cooks the Turkey." And there was the thrill that always comes with any live performance, especially one where you've heard it in other formats and feel like you know the players but have never seen them in person.

The only thing that marred the day for me was that the Mermaid Girl was not, shall we say, at her best. She had a meltdown before we left that almost sidelined the whole trip; she was clingy and needy during the performance, hissing questions all through the stories and glaring when we asked her to be quiet and wait for us to explain it later. She insisted on sitting on RW's lap, and kicked me in the legs. At intermission she sulked and stormed because she didn't get the biggest cookie. She calmed down a bit during the second act, but even so I was just about ready to drop her off the balcony.

With MG so fragile, we weren't sure if we should wait around to have our book signed. But I'd bought a CD for the friend who'd discovered the books with us on that very first ferry trip and wanted to get it signed for her, so we stuck around and waited in the slow-moving line.

We let MG present the book. Stuart Maclean was very focused and serious with her--as he'd been with the kids onstage--and asked whether she'd liked the show, and which part she liked best. Then she asked him if she could ask a question. "Sure," he said. "How do you think of all those great stories?" she asked. "Well," he said, "Mostly I think of them when I'm writing them. I think of them by writing them down." He asked her if she was interested in writing, herself, and she cast her eyes down modestly and said, "I want to be an author."

"What's your name?" he asked her, and she told him, first and last, and spelled it. "Well," he said, "I'll be looking for your first publication, in a while. It'll probably be a while, won't it. But I'll be looking for it." He signed our book, and then opened the front flap and wrote something else in it. "Here," he said. "Here's my e-mail address. If you have any questions about writing, you send me an e-mail. And remind me of where I met you." She nodded solemnly, clutching the book, and we said our goodbyes.

She seemed different, picking her way through the slush on the way back up to Hastings. A little taller, a little calmer. Like she'd taken on the mantle this famous onstage person had offered by taking her seriously: not a little no-count kid, kicking and whining for a shred of attention, but a peer, a potential colleague, a future Author. A person in the world. And by seeing that in her, and honoring it, he helped me see it too.

It was almost like the end of one of those Dave and Morley stories.


Blogger parodie said...

This story makes me grin - what a beautiful ending. And how wonderful, too, to find that Stuart McLean would be as careful and deliberate in person as he sounds on the radio. Vinyl Cafe is a wonderful Canadian classic.

4:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, now I want to hear it!
Maybe it's on itunes? I'll look.

5:21 AM  
Blogger Melanie said...

How sweet of him to take the time with her!! That's something she'll remember!

6:14 AM  
Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

Oh my goodness. What a lovely story.

6:43 AM  
Blogger chasmyn said...

That got me a little weepy at the end. How fantastic!

Now to investigate those links :)

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Arwen said...

Sundays, John and I get caught every time, tearing up as the sentimentalists we really are (as opposed to the world-weary urbanites we pretend to be).

But he's like that in person? That's just the right way to be with a young author, and after a show, and while signing books. That tears me up, too.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous rachel said...

That is really cool.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Not sure how I stumbled upon your blog but I think your writing is wonderful. Not only have I had fun reading your blog but now I'm hooked on the Vinyl Cafe! Is there a station that plays it in Seattle?

Thanks for the great writing & I look forward to reading more!

11:12 AM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Hi Anna--

Thank you for the kind words! That's really nice of you to say. Vinyl Cafe plays (or at least I think it still plays) at 4:00 on Sundays on KUOW, 94.9 FM, in Seattle.

now must snuffle my way to bed for a nap. Posting again soon! one day! soon! maybe when this cold is successfully fought off.

12:16 PM  
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12:02 PM  
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8:45 AM  

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