"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Monday, November 05, 2007

Big Boys don't cry...much
Damn you, Stuart Mclean.

Since reaching adulthood, I am not easily moved to tears - I don't cry at weddings, or even at funerals usually. I'm not one of those people who gets misty eyed at graduations or retirement speeches or that weeps at television dramas or movies (except Old Yeller - Anyone who doesn't get choked up at the end of Old Yeller is a soulless frickin' android as far as I'm concerned). I don't cry when I get stressed out, tired, depressed, disappointed or angry. I am not generally a crier.

Don't get me wrong, I am not some sort of emotional cripple without feelings. I am often very emotional, I just don't shed tears. And I am not necessarily condemning those who do cry often and publically, whether at weddings or Julia Roberts movies or where ever (except those who still cry about the "tragedy" of Princess Diana - get a grip). I don't think it's wrong for men to cry or anything like that, I just don't do it much.

I'm fairly cynical when it comes to the media and twenty year of newspaper work has left me a bit of a thick skin. You do enough stories about children with cancer or people dying too young and you get a little less emotional about it over time I'm also a little uncomfortable with public displays of grief or other strong emotion-- I come from solid WASP stock, stiff upper lip and all that. My people just aren't that demonstrative in public. Growing up I sometimes thought most of my family would sooner lose a limb than make a public scene.

It isn't that my buttons can't be pushed -- See my earlier comment on Old Yeller. My kids know better than to ask me to read "Hachiko" or The Velveteen Rabbit (or as my daughter calls it: "Dad's crying book") to them at bedtime. Movies don't usually get me as I can usually see the emotional manipulation coming and avoid any tawdry attempt to tug the heartstrings. I've occasionally teared up at TV news reports about children killed or wounded in Iraq.

But lately, I've been bawling like a baby once a week.Which brings me back to Stuart Mclean.

For those who don't know his radio show and books about the world's smallest record store - the Vinyl Cafe - its proprieter Dave, his wife Morley and their children Stephanie and Sam, the closest comparision I can think of is Garrison Keillor's tales of Lake Wobegon. Both are great radio: audio situation comedies of error that delve into the characters inner lives as only radio and print media can, delivered in a dry deadpan, and both occupy a similar cultural niche. Where Keillor focuses on the doings of a small town and his own personal reminiscences and is often larded with nostalgia, McLean tends to focus on family dynamics, neighbors and the characters' personal stories. I enjoy Keillor a great deal and listen to the news from Lake Wobegon "Where the women are strong, the men are good-looking and all the children are above average" on podcast every week.

I listen to the Vinyl Cafe too, but I am going to have to stop listening to it on the train because of goddamn Stuart Mclean.

He makes me cry.

Every single goddamned week.

And it isn't like he cleverly sneaks in some crafty emotional manipulation or touchy-feely device or sets up some lachrymose maudlin scene. There no trite Paul Harvey moment ("And that little boy who liked to drop water balloons from the church steeple grew up to be Curtis LeMay...and now you know the rest of the story") I can see it coming a mile away. I know where the story is going - I know Dave is going to give Stephanie's old stuffed velor bunny to the little neighbour girl to help her get rid of her nightmares. I know Sam is going to kiss the Quebecois girl he meets on the grade eight class trip. I know Stephanie is going to suddenly become attached to the elderly great aunt she spends a holiday with in London. I know Dave and Morely's anniversary canoe trip will be a disaster they will cherish.

I'm not sure how the rotten bastard does, but he does it to me every single time I listen.

Maybe it's the commonplace, slice-of-life nature of the stories. You can identify with the characters because they are so mundane. They are the people next door. They are just like you and me - they aren't rock stars or astronauts or billionaires. They aren't trying to save the world, they are just trying to deal with everyday concerns like missing the little girl who's gone off to college or trying to catch up with the rest of the class after getting left behind by the bus on a trip to Quebec city or learning about the family history or celebrating an anniversary.
All I know is that about two minutes into most of Mclean's stories I say to myself, "shit, he's gonna do it to me again" and sure enough about 15 minutes later the waterworks start andI'm like Ed Norton in the first part of Fight Club.

But they are big, manly, macho tears. Honest.

As for Stuart Mclean, go buy his stuff or download the podcasts

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You'd best stay away from Love You Forever - Robert Munsch