And the Arthur Award goes to...
February 15, 2017 8:39 PM   Subscribe

We do this thing. We open our hearts to the world around us. And the more we do that, the more we allow ourselves to love, the more we are bound to find ourselves one day... standing in the kitchen of our life, surrounded by the ones we love, and feeling empty, alone, and sad, and lost for words, because one of our loved ones, who should be there, is missing. Stuart McLean, host of CBC Radio's The Vinyl Cafe, died today of melanoma.

The CBC obit

The introductory episode of The Vinyl Cafe.

Twitter fan commentary and reminiscences.

About the FPP title: on his show, McLean presented an annual set of awards called the "Arthur Awards", intended to "recognize the importance of the unimportant" by honouring people who have performed good deeds - big or small, unimportant or extraordinary - for example.
posted by e-man (39 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
posted by jim in austin at 8:50 PM on February 15

posted by bonobothegreat at 8:52 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]

Mr McLean died of eating turkey that was both undercooked as well as overcooked.

He will be very sorely missed.
posted by GuyZero at 9:04 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]

So long for now, Stuart.
posted by Snowflake at 9:25 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]

A dot doesn't really do him justice. His gentle voice is going to stay in the best part of my head for quite a while.

Nonetheless: .
posted by figurant at 9:39 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]

posted by mwhybark at 9:53 PM on February 15

posted by From Bklyn at 9:56 PM on February 15

I used to have to read my child the same bedtime story night after night after night.

The only thing that kept me sane was reading the story in Stuart McLean's cadence. You could read anything that way. And it would be captivating.
posted by mazola at 9:58 PM on February 15 [9 favorites]

CBC tribute.
posted by mazola at 10:00 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Grew up listening to the Vinyl Cafe. Damn. Had a story from my first year of university I always meant to write up and send in to see if he would read it on air.
posted by Canageek at 10:00 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]

I wasn't a fan for a long time, but something hooked me and I then got to see him at a live show. His voice was great, but I loved his stage presence more, especially the little foot stamping thing he'd do.
posted by Gorgik at 10:01 PM on February 15

posted by Mitheral at 10:04 PM on February 15

posted by dialMforMara at 10:05 PM on February 15

posted by northtwilight at 10:10 PM on February 15

posted by Banknote of the year at 11:23 PM on February 15

Oftentimes during high school, the only thing that kept me grounded was an old scratchy CD of some of his Dave and Morley stories. The one where Dave tries to cook a turkey for Christmas dinner.

posted by brecc at 12:00 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

Thoughts with his family, his "long suffering story editor", crew and musicians, and somehow I also think of his characters, gathering at the record shop, perhaps sharing one of Sammy Wong's Scottish meat pies and reminiscing and listening to music.
posted by chapps at 12:02 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]

Ry Cooder's Happy Meeting in Glory, the main theme most of us know.
posted by myopicman at 12:49 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

So strange to think there won't be any more Dave and Morley stories.

RIP Stuart, and thanks for all the stories.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:52 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]

posted by aurynn at 1:25 AM on February 16

My Dad is a huge fan, one of his stories got read on air (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when Stuart did a show in Cleveland). Then later he got to meet him backstage in Vancouver.

Didn't know it so well, but makes me sad for my Dad.

posted by Meatbomb at 3:25 AM on February 16

posted by Secret Sparrow at 3:37 AM on February 16

I had a nodding acquaintance with him when I was the editor of Ryerson's independent newspaper, The Eyeopener, and he was kind enough to stop me in the hall once and tell me he thought I was wrong in an editorial I wrote. But he was a journalism prof and I was Radio and Television Arts, so our paths never crossed substantially. A huge chunk of my friends wound up at or around the CBC, so there's never been more than a single degree of separation for the last quarter-century.

It's always interesting being in a proximal but not direct orbit with somebody who has enough of a media and cultural presence that people have to Have Opinions; there's a kind of challenge that always accompanies it, parsing out which accolades are sincere and which are star-struck, but also which dark mutterings are well-founded and which are sour grapes.

I think there was enough of a distance from his public gee-shucks persona and the actual fact of him as a fully rounded human being with occasional not-great moments that some people could be really shocked when they actually encountered him, as opposed to seeing him on stage. That's the lens I'm choosing to use with the sudden uptick in "well, he wasn't a saint" postings, etc. in my extended circles on Facebook, anyway.
posted by Shepherd at 4:03 AM on February 16

Admittedly, Vinyl Cafe is one of the bits of Canadiana that just never resonated with me, but my condolences to his friends and family for his passing. Melanoma is no joke. I lost an uncle to it a few weeks before my wedding.
posted by Kitteh at 4:25 AM on February 16

posted by Flashman at 4:31 AM on February 16

posted by Gelatin at 4:39 AM on February 16

Canadian radio has lost a distinctive voice.
posted by Fraxas at 5:09 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

posted by wyndham at 5:54 AM on February 16

“We do this thing. We open our hearts to the world around us. And the more we do that, the more we allow ourselves to love, the more we are bound to find ourselves one day - like Dave, and Morley, and Sam, and Stephanie - standing in the kitchen of our live, surrounded by the ones we love, and feeling empty, and alone, and sad, and lost for words, because one of our loved ones, who should be there, is missing. Mother or father, brother or sister, wife or husband, or a dog or cat. It doesn't really matter. After a while, each death feels like all the deaths, and you stand there like eveyone else has stood there before you, while the big wind of sadness blows around and through you.

"He was a great dog," said Dave.

"Yes," said Morley. "He was a great dog.”

- Stuart McLean
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:09 AM on February 16 [9 favorites]

There was one story where Sam goes to Quebec City in grade 8 that reminded me so much of my own grade 8 trip to Quebec City. I remember listening to it on the way to work and laughing so hard to myself that I was sure the people walking by me must have thought I was crazy.

Thank you, Stuart. You will be sorely missed.
posted by aclevername at 6:28 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

Stuart was someone that the whole family could and would listen to - without complaint, during our epic road-trips from one end of our country to the other. No matter how young, or old - or "obnoxiously music-stratified" a person was, put on Stuart and Vinyl Cafe and I knew they would be captivated for at least the next hour.

He meant so much to so many people - I worked at a job once, where a fan of his would read a Dave and Morley story at each weekly status meeting. Sure - it was weird the first time - but, I realized quickly that it was a great way for some common values and laughs could be shared in what was a high-stress job.

Thanks for the laughs, the sheer joy, wonderment, homey comfort - and even the odd set of tears.
posted by jkaczor at 6:42 AM on February 16

I have Vinyl Cafe in a special section of my podcasts for if I want to feel homesick.

posted by hydrobatidae at 7:27 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]

Driving across the prairies the soundtrack always includes Vinyl Cafe. I actually prefer the radio show- with the musical interludes, the letters and the local report that tried to put that towns best face forward. Many of the stories on Vinyl Cafe are funny, but many are also sad and as an expat, nostalgic. Some letters and stories are just a part of me now.

As noted the Arthur awards are an annual tradition on the show. Anyone could nominate anyone for anything. The bar was set intentionally-comically low, and the emphasis was on the appreciation of a good deed/activity/person that otherwise might go unnoticed. Stuart calls them up and gives them the award- and usually an invitation to a show, and brief conversation thanking them. There was a show where they spend a big portion of the time on the line with a helpful operator trying to track down a recipient across the Atlantic - Stuart was good at finding a way. But around 2010 there was a mistake - a wrong number. So Stuart calls up and a kid in Ontario answers. And Stuart, in that brief moment, that brief opening - just starts a conversation.

"How's it going?" Stuart coaxes an answer out. It's not going well. The kid had just moved to that town. Missed his old life. His old friends. He's lonely. And there is silences, lulls, that most people would just fill with a "it's going all work out" sort of BS. That helpful adult advice. Instead you can hear them breathe. The tentative emotional teen. And Stuart just recognizes that it can be hard. And invites him to a live show. In my imagination he gives that kid an Arthur too. And that's it. If there is another chapter I've not heard it.
posted by zenon at 7:28 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]

This isn't my original thought—I heard it expressed on the radio yesterday: we didn't just lose Stuart McLean, we lost a whole family and their community. Thankfully, they all lived in an age of high fidelity recording and we can revisit them.
posted by angiep at 7:37 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]

For those wondering what we are going on about:
  • The Vinyl Cafe podcast. If you only listen to one show you should listen to a taping of a live presentation - like this one from "the charming village of Hudson". The podcast list also features several holiday themed ones- both the "Christmas in the Narrows" and "Turkeys" are classic Vinyl Cafe stories but the order is wrong on Turkey - for the classic Turkey story start listening at the 24:28 mark.
  • The archive of shows on CBC has a longer list available, and most are two stories stitched together. I would start with the 2014 Arthur awards - the awards which are named for the dog in the fictional family that Stuart anchors the show around.
  • Letters, which the show called Story Exchange where the only rule was that they had to be short, and they had to be true. Most are written about something small but significant from some time ago or anchored by a relationship that has been separated by time or fate. Christmas During The Waror Story of Regrets. And double warning on the sads.
posted by zenon at 9:04 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]

I worked for a while as a bike courier in Toronto. My most memorable day on the job was a muggy, smoggy one in the stifling heart of August. I had a drop off/pick-up on some random street in the middle of Kensington Market which, because of the pedestrian traffic and the dead-end streets and the hard to decipher addresses and the crappy narrow roads, was one of the worst places in the city to deliver to (when you're getting paid by the package, anything that takes you out of the Bay/King financial corridor is a giant pain in the ass for couriers). So after finally finding the address, dodging shoppers and clueless vehicles, and getting nauseous on that only-in-Kensington summer stench of bus exhaust and hot garbage and overripe fruit, I was sweaty and tired and grumpy that I'd been dispatched to deliver a single envelope to a residential address in the middle of peak hours on a Friday afternoon (you don't come across a lot of hand-addressed white letter envelopes in the courier business...). I rapped shortly on the door, tapping the cleats of my bike shoes impatiently against the metal door jamb, frustrated that - since I had to pick-up from the address, too - I couldn't just drop the envelope and get out of there. I was fiddling with my phone, trying to figure out where I was headed next when the door finally opened a few moments later, so I had my head down and didn't see who answered.
But I knew that voice. Slow and unhurried, a little melancholy, but somehow also always seeming just on the edge of laughter.
"Hello there. I think you have something for me. You must be awfully warm. Would you like to come in for a glass of water?"

It was the smallest, simplest act of unnecessary kindness possible: an offer of cool water on a hot day, an invitation to step across the threshold of his home (sweaty and scowling and dirty as I was) and be human for a moment while he rustled on his desk for the letter I was to take back with me.
Our encounter lasted only a few minutes, he asked whether I liked the work (I did), how long I'd been doing it (not long), what my favourite place to deliver to was (the Beaches, because while it wasn't particularly lucrative, I could ride long unbroken stretches of road, catching glimpses of the lake and the boardwalk as I flew along). He seemed legitimately interested in my answers (flustered and shy as they were, my impatient frustration having vanished the minute I recognized that voice), not because they were particularly interesting or remarkable, but because he was genuinely fascinated by all the millions of banal, human, miraculous, ridiculous, mundane moments that make up a human life. These are the things he celebrated and reveled in in his stories, and that instinct for all that is absurd and unique and universal and simple and lovely in life is perhaps what I will remember most about him. It's certainly what he gave me that Friday, when he asked me inside, and asked me those questions, and allowed me a moment of connection in the frenzy of the day.

I declined the offered glass of water, with thanks, accepted the letter I was to take with me, and rode back into the steamy bustle of the summer market. I'm grateful to have known him, in that brief moment in which I did, and even more grateful to have grown up with his voice, and his stories, and his sense of wonder and humour and appreciation for those little, silly, inconsequential - yet monumentally important - flickers of humanity which light us all up.

I will miss you, Stuart. Thanks, again, for everything.
posted by Dorinda at 10:06 AM on February 16 [18 favorites]

posted by joannemerriam at 12:14 PM on February 16

I hope that Stuart managed to finish enough stories for a posthumous Vinyl Cafe collection - including a final story that ties together all remaining loose ends to the stories of Dave, Morley, Stephanie, and Sam, and give closure to the series.

Also, I had always hoped that he would write a story featuring Sam's nemesis, Mark Portnoy - if anybody could redeem a schoolyard bully like Portnoy, it was Stuart McLean.

Finally, what was Dave's last name????
posted by e-man at 10:37 PM on February 16

Dave and Morley are named for Stuart's friend David Morley, which might explain why they essentially don't have a last name. However, Dave’s mother's name is Margaret MacNeal.

This review is essential from the Walrus back 7 years ago.
posted by zenon at 8:06 PM on February 25

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