Lincoln Alexander Centre 160 King Street East
About a year ago, I Heart Hamilton joined in when we as a city threw our proverbial hat into the ring to get Q – the arts and culture show hosted by Jian Ghomeshi – to come to our hometown for a live broadcast. Although we lost the bid to London, I was excited to learn we would get the chance to give Jian a warm welcome when Hamilton was one of his book tour stops to promote his memoir 1982.
Hosted by Bryan Prince, Bookseller, the independent bookstore did a fantastic job organizing the event and proceeds from the evening were to benefit the Carnegie Gallery building fund. Earlier in the week Bryan Prince asked people to submit suggestions via Twitter for an 80s playlist. Settled in our seats the night of the event, we were treated to some tunes, some of which were specifically chosen because they appear in 1982: The Police’s “Roxanne,” Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” and, of course, the Queen and David Bowie classic “Under Pressure”.
Here at I Heart Hamilton, I love a good Playlist and I really like how Jian’s book is structured like a mixtape. Music is inextricably linked to memories and Jian weaves anecdotes from his youth together with the soundtrack of his formative years (the book’s namesake 1982 being a particularly significant year for him). Even though the decade of the 80s is a generation removed from me, the way Jian describes witnessing life-changing concerts and idolizing musicians (David Bowie featuring so prominently that he counts as one of the book’s main characters) is so relatable.
What resonates most about the book is the way Jian describes feeling like an outsider, something that seems to be universally felt. My heart went out to the fourteen-year old Jian while reading the book as he relates his experiences growing up, facing all kinds of rites of passage that we all do. It made me think about my own awkward and slightly painful middle and high school years and reflect on what would make my own version of 1982. Of course, for Jian, the challenges he faced are made all the more difficult by having immigrated to Canada and struggling with his cultural identity as well. The book made me chuckle out loud as much as it pulled at my heartstrings and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It must be noted that the event was held at Lincoln Alexander Centre – a beautiful venue that I had never been to, and couldn’t even picture where it was, attached to the Crowne Plaza building on King East. It was a tragic twist of fate to be in that space – the Honourable Lincoln Alexander passed away that morning, a loss that was felt deeply in the city and across the country. Jian opened his appearance by saying it was an honour that fate brought him to Lincoln Alexander Centre on this day. He began his talk by reading the essay he wrote, a tribute to Linc, that he had prepared to read on the following Monday’s episode of Q. Jian described Linc as “one of Canada’s great role models,” and expressed that his passing is a “tremendous loss for Canada.” It was a touching and fitting tribute.
Jian has such a warm, approachable presence. His first words being “Hi there,” (any regular listeners of Q understand how cool that would be to hear him say live) Jian stepped out from behind the podium with a relaxed approach that really engaged the audience. We were treated to a couple of excerpts from 1982, and seeing and hearing Jian read some of the passages himself really brought the book to life. The book reads in Jian’s rhythm and I could already hear his voice as I read it. I’m sure those who hadn’t already read the book left with a copy, courtesy of Bryan Prince.
The talk was followed by a Q&A portion which opened things up to the audience. There were a few moments that stood out to me. One person asked Jian where he sees himself in the future, career-wise. His idol’s presence was still going strong: “We’re destined to be chameleons like Bowie,” Jian noted. “We can be multi-faceted people.” That resonated with me, particularly being at this stage in life when you’re expected to choose something to “be” and “do”. It was inspiring to hear – just look at Jian’s career – he’s a writer, musician, host, interviewer, producer. We don’t have to be just one thing and stick to it.
Another question that hit me was when Jian was asked if there is anywhere in Canada he would still like to visit. At this point, Jian really has been everywhere (much like the song, he joked) and he noted that as Canadians, we don’t travel enough within the country. I agreed with that comment and it reminded me of my own concept to “Be a tourist in your own city,” which is the approach I’m taking here in Hamilton. I later mentioned that to Jian when I met him during the book signing. He replied that my blog concept is a “great idea” and I was pumped to get Jian’s stamp of approval!
When it was time for the book signing, Jian was so thorough and took his time with everyone, signing messages in each book and pausing to chat. The 80s playlist was back on, and I couldn’t get over that when it was my turn to walk across the stage to meet Jian, what tune should be playing? “Under Pressure”! (If you’ve read the book, you know he draws particular attention to it.) Perfect!
Little did I know – a year ago when we were campaigning to get Q to Hamilton – it would turn out that I would meet Jian the following year. Another classic full circle moment for I Heart Hamilton, and one I’m thankful for.
To be continued, Jian – come back any time!