In 1982, Jian Ghomeshi put on the pointy boots, picked up the purple eyeliner and went through countless bottles of hair gel hoping to fit in with the cool kids.
Despite a fortunate change in Ghomeshi’s fashion sense, the host and co-creator of CBC’s cultural affairs show, Q said he hasn’t entirely escaped his teenage insecurities.
“If you take a position in favour of gay marriage, or against a war, or for funding to the arts, there’s going to be people who don’t like that,” said Ghomeshi over the phone from his Toronto office. “Sometimes that can send me right back to the kid who wanted to fit in, but it doesn’t ever prevent me from making my case. So I think that’s always been in me.”
Ghomeshi’s “somewhat naive” 14-year-old voice takes readers through one pivotal year of his teens in 1982, which hit bookstores in September. He will read from the memoir and answer audience questions at the Wilmot Church on Saturday as part of the Shivering Songs festival.
“I’ve really had a good time in New Brunswick in general but I’ve got a good feeling with Fredericton. We were there very early on with Q in 2008 for the ECMAs and it was pretty sweet. So, I’m looking forward to coming back and saying ‘hi’ to the folks in Fredericton.”
Of Iranian heritage, Ghomeshi was born in London, England before moving to Thornhill, Ontario, a white-bread suburb of Toronto, when he was seven. He wanted nothing more than to be like his idol, David Bowie. This was seemingly impossible because of his olive skin and “industrial-sized” nose.
He includes the word “nose” 18 times in 278 pages. They aren’t all references to his nose, but noses in general. An impossible-to-ignore, defining feature for a young immigrant.
“It was very obvious I was different from others, and there was this real desire for acceptance and wanting to fit it, but having said that, I’ve also, from a young age… I did have a critical mind.”
That inquisitive nature has helped earn him a national audience that’s spilled over the United States border. Q is aired on CBC Radio One, shown on CBC Television, and was picked up by Public Radio International.
Q is the highest-rated show in the late morning time slot in CBC history and enjoys the largest national audience of any cultural affairs program. Ghomeshi’s smooth voice first greeted listeners over the airwaves on Q in 2007.
Since then, he has conducted a range of high-profile interviews from Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, to music icons Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen, not to mention the infamous on-air set-to with Billy Bob Thornton.
“On a visceral level, music always affected me. I can listen to some of that now, whether it’s The Clash, or Bowie, or Dépêche Mode, music of that period, it’ll set me back there right away. It’s such a trigger for me, and it’s been such an important part of my life and obviously continues to be.”
1982 is told in 12 tales, each appropriately titled with a song and musicians ranging from The Clash, Rush, Culture Club and of course, Bowie.
New Wave music was emerging, experimenting with electronic sounds. Ghomeshi tried desperately to be a New Waver, which meant looking like you didn’t try. This proved difficult.
He hung around the theatre room at his high school, and eventually became part of its coveted theatre troupe. He also formed a few bands and was in the vocal group.
Despite his desire to fit in, he was constantly putting himself in situations to stand out.
Ghomeshi bought tickets to an alternative music festival outside Toronto, The Police Picnic. This is where the book forms its spine.
“It’s a major coming-of-age moment. It all kind of comes to a head.”
Ghomeshi recounts discovering his new favourite band, Talking Heads; inviting a girl who looked like David Bowie; and letting go of the one thing that was holding him to childhood – his red and blue Adidas bag.
“Here I’m dealing with trying to impress this blonde cool girl; I’m younger than everyone else at this amazing music festival that’s all about the music that’s such a trigger for me… All of that’s happening on one day and it was pretty epic.”
His parents are still not used to their son on such a public platform and profile. In the book, his mother compares him to the white neighbour’s children; and his father never could understand the passion he had for music and theatre.
He dedicated the book to them and gave them a copy before publication.
“It can be really annoying and difficult for them, even though I think they are ultimately proud of me,” he said. “Given their druthers, they would prefer that there would be a book called ‘How I became successful in medicine and also engineering, by Jian Ghomeshi.’”
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