Stu told stories.
I wasn’t always a fan of Vinyl Café.
Growing up, Stuart McLean was the weird voice my father loved to listen to in the car on weekend afternoons. He told funny stories about this guy named Dave, and my dad would giggle while I fiddled with my karate gear in the back seat, hoping we would stop for pizza on the way home.
All that changed sometime in high school when I started to fall in love with radio.
I started paying more attention to the interviews in the morning, and actively tuning in on the weekends with a cup of tea. My mother and I listened to radio dramas, and weekend shows on the CBC, curled up with a blanket on the couch in winter, or using extension cords so we could lie out in the sunshine listening to Quirks and Quarks.
Vinyl Café, was my first introduction to radio drama, and one of the first experiences I had with the power of sound and simplicity.
It was engaging, it was emotional, and it was all thanks to Stuart.
The story of Dave and Morley was really the story of Canadians. Whether you lived in Toronto or Moosejaw, Thunder Bay or Happy Valley Goose Bay, you could find a connection. You may have never forgotten to buy a turkey for Christmas, or struggled with your daughter’s first boyfriend’s; but that’s where McLean’s skill truly shined
Any story he told became your story.
Using his soft, deliberate and careful tone, every word he said felt like an emotional punch. Whether it hit you in the gut or the heartstrings, it was like he brought us back to ancient times, when sitting around a fire and hearing the stories of old was a regular and meaningful occurrence.
During a family trip to the Hillside Music festival in Guelph, I got to see Stuart live. That weekend, there was also a huge thunderstorm.
Even with the clouds overhead and pouring rain, he captivated a crowd, and we sat huddled under umbrellas on muddy ground, desperate to hear every word.
No one could tell a story like Stuart McLean. But thanks to his work as an educator at Ryerson, and his touring with Vinyl Café, thousands of Canadians now know that their story doesn’t have to be exceptional or dramatic to deserve to be told.
I am now an audio storyteller. A part time journalist and podcaster, and obsessed with the medium.
I’ve never been taught by Stuart McLean, nor did I ever get a chance to meet him. He never knew I existed, but the impact he had on my life and to be honest my career choice, was huge.
And I do believe I’m one of a great many people who feel that way.
Because Vinyl café was storytelling at its finest, and as any great thing does, it leaves its mark on many generations of Canadians.
And in an era with fake-news and 140 character updates, Stuart McLean’s skill for spinning long-form yarns will be sorely missed.