Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard the news that Stuart McLean died today, Feb. 15. I don’t know how you could have missed it – it blew up my twitter feed.

Anyway.

“Devastated” is not a strong enough word to describe how I feel about Stuart’s death. There really are no words that adequately express the extreme sadness I feel.

I don’t know when I first discovered the Vinyl Cafe. It may have been in my university days. I know for certain the summer of 2009 I would lie on my couch listening to the show every Sunday I didn’t have work. So I’ve been listening for at least seven years, and probably longer.

Then, when I got into podcasting, it was no longer appointment listening, so I never missed a show (although I have suspicions the podcast wasn’t exactly the same as the show, but that’s neither here nor there).

I can’t tell you how much Stuart and the Vinyl Cafe has affected my life.

I fell in love with the stories and the characters. I remained steadfast in my belief that while the stories could have made an amazing TV show, I would hate to have actors’ faces become the faces I see when listening to the stories.

Then there’s the music. I found a lot of great musical acts through Stuart.

If it wasn’t for the Vinyl Cafe, I would never have discovered:

  • The Once
  • Madison Violet
  • Ann Vriend
  • Hannah Georgas
  • Jadea Kelly
  • The Good Lovelies
  • Kathleen Edwards
  • Whitehorse
  • Said the Whale

And many others.

When Stuart announced his melanoma diagnosis, I was incredibly disappointed. I had bought tickets to his Edmonton Christmas show in 2015, and it would have been my first show. But obviously health comes first.

Then in late 2016 he announced the radio show would be on hiatus while he focused on treatment. That was disheartening, because it definitely made his health situation sound worse than he wanted to let on.

Then I’m scrolling through my Twitter today and I see a few references to Stuart dying.

I rarely tear up when people die. I didn’t even cry when I lost two of my grandparents in the last few years (I’m not cold-hearted; I had been out west for a long time by that point, and I had had less contact with them, so it was just a continuation of the separation that already existed). But I started to tear up.

Stuart and the Vinyl Cafe had been such a huge part of my life since university. I wouldn’t say the show kept me sane as I moved around Western Canada and went through ups and downs. But it was a constant. It was something that was there and something I felt comfortable with.

I laughed at Dave’s misadventures. I cried when Stuart read stories about war, especially the letter from the man who wanted to play his bagpipes at … I want to say Vimy Ridge. Being able to almost recite along with some stories.

He and the show were just a part of my life.

I think it speaks to the power of radio that my reaction, and those of countless others, has been so visceral. I and thousands of people welcomed Stuart and his guests into our homes on a weekly basis. We were soothed by his voice. We laughed along with his stories. We learned of new, predominantly Canadian, artists. We formed our own family.

Stuart would almost always end his shows with four little words: “So long for now!”

No, Stuart. So long forever. We miss you already.

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