Back when I underwent Operation: Laser Eyes, I had been pre-warned by my wise Twitter followers to be prepared for what was sure to be a long and boring day of resting with my eyes closed. Knowing that I would be unable to read or watch TV, I decided to download some podcasts.
My go-to choice? CBC’s The Vinyl Café with Stuart McLean.
It was the perfect choice and much of the time that I was awake was this spent listening to it blindly, looking almost as if I were sleeping, save for the periodic string of irrepressible giggling. To anyone that came across me, I’m sure the sight was one part entertaining and one part just plain freaky.
It was a good way to spend a mostly blind day.
Despite my fandom for McLean and his quirky collection of tale featuring a fictional but funny family from Toronto, I didn’t actually discover the program until I was halfway through university. The first Vinyl Café story I ever heard was “Dave Cooks the Turkey”; a hilarious Christmas-themed story that had me in tears. It was love from that point on.
I love a good story, and have a special place in my heart for short fiction. I went on to read through a number of his stories in the years that followed. As enjoyable as they were on their own, it didn’t dawn on me until I was listening to those podcasts that listening to McLean tell his wonderful stories is that much better.
When I got home I purchased a ticket to see him on tour when he came to the Empire Theatre in Belleville last October. I sat front row centre (*cough*of the balcony*cough*) in a nearly packed auditorium. I almost didn’t go because I had to leave the following day to be part of an out-of-town wedding I barely felt prepared for, but I’m so glad I did.
McLean, along with his talented team and their special musical guest, White Horse (also very good. Give them a listen), spent two hours delighting the completely enthralled audience. In his signature storytelling style, McLean brought the listener along through fantasticically entertaining tellings of some of his classic stories and shared a hilarious new one too. Songs were sung, laughs were shared and by the end, the whole scene felt like a big family curled in a living room listening to a favourite uncle weaving stories around the fire.
As I walked home after the show, I got to thinking – storytelling is one of the oldest (if not the oldest form of entertainment and information sharing in human history. It’s powerful, classic, and brings the mind to life. Yes, reading is awesome and TV and movies are cool (reverse the two is that is how your priorities aligned), but listening to a talented voice share a good story is just as enthralling and brings people together.
Needless to say I was thrilled when I learned last week that Stuart McLean had been awarded the Order of Canada (a great honour here in the Great White North that “recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation”). I think that the art of sharing stories is a valuable one and I’m glad that there are people around like him to continue the tradition.
What do you think of storytelling? A lost art or a hapless relic? Have you experienced any good storytellers? What other fading tradition would you like to see make a come-back?