Tell me a story: A quiet celebration in the name of storytelling

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 picked up this holiday edition of Dave Cooks The Turkey with every intention of reading it to my family on Christmas Eve. Then we got lazy and fell asleep before i had the chance.

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?



  • January 5, 2012 - 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I know this isn’t completely the same thing but I loved Andy Forgie as a child just because of his storytelling through song. Most songs are stories of sorts but his music could be read normally or sung, whether it was “My Stuff” or “Socks & Underwear”.

    I still remember the words.

    • Sara Hamil
      January 6, 2012 - 10:23 am | Permalink

      Children’s entertainers know where it’s at. Although I’m referring more to storytelling in the form of spoken word, both you and Bryna (below) and totally right when you point out song as being a viable form of sharing stories.

  • Bryna
    January 5, 2012 - 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Storytelling certainly isn’t a hapless relic! Although the way we deliver those stories (i.e. less campfire-kumbaya and more multimedia-home-entertainment-system) has changed, people yearn for stories. I’m of course using “storytelling” in a broad way – movies, books, blogs, podcasts, televisions shows, even art, dance and music – they all tell stories. There are so many media by which we can share our world views, values and experiences. It’s truly wonderful. Storytelling is at the heart of all communications. The spoken word is not lost – theatre, opera, songwriting, poetry – it’s all still a large part of the way we consume stories.

    The other day I was speaking with an adult male friend who said his perfect day would (in part) consist of someone reading to him. I hadn’t thought of that in a long time, and it struck me as funny that a (nearly) 40 year old construction worker (read: tough guy) would have that desire. I thought it was great.

    • Sara Hamil
      January 6, 2012 - 10:11 am | Permalink

      Oh, I’m definitely not saying that storytelling in general is dying. I love a good book, movie, play – heck, even this blog is nothing but a lot of stories. But for the purposes of this post, storytelling refers to the verbal act of relaying a story to an audience. Theatre, opera, song, etc. definitely count (and I’m glad they’re around!) but I’d also love to see more good ol’ fashioned, “Gather ’round, folks. I’ve got a tale to tell…” Y’know?

      As for your friend, I agree, that IS great :)

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