Oscar Wilde, Laurie Brown, and the the Apotheosis of Cool

Back in the early 1990s, Laurie Brown moved from MuchMusic VJ to CBC Television’s flagship The Journal as arts correspondent and, in the process, defined a new kind of cultural journalism for the country. Inside the confines of the musty corporation she reported on Canadian art, music, movies and theatre with a leather jacket, a distinctive voice, and approach that was curious, innovative, and owed little to the CBC’s usual way of reporting on the arts.

Contrast this 1981 CBC interview with Robert Bateman by Barbara McLeod with this 1996 CBC profile of the Rheostatics by Laurie Brown, for example: McLeod was a docent whose style typified the kind of arts journalism I grew up with; Brown’s approach was so much more immersed and engaged, so much more “art is of us and for us and by us.” It was a style that she took to everything she reported, and I became a regular and devoted viewer.

Moving on from television, Brown hosted The Signal on CBC Radio 2 from 2007 to 2017, years that happened to coincide with Oliver’s bedtime, and Oliver having a radio next to his bed; he fell asleep to Laurie Brown for most of his formative years.

When Brown moved from the CBC to a self-produced podcast, Pondercast, Oliver, now with a podcast-playing Google Home in his bedroom, followed her there, and has been a devoted and regular listener.

And so when an Atlantic Canadian tour of live podcast tapings was announced for this fall, Oliver let it be known that he needed to attend one; as Oliver has seldom expressed such a definitive need for any activity, I jumped at the chance to build a visit to the Wolfville taping into his “birthday season.”

Which is how we found ourselves in the famed Al Whittle Theatre tonight listening to Laurie Brown’s words and Joshua Van Tassel’s sounds.

It was a delightful show, one that brought to mind Oscar Wilde’s similar tour of the Maritimes in 1882, a tour described like this:

In an era that saw rapid technological changes, social upheaval, and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, he delivered a powerful anti-materialistic message about art and the need for beauty.

The episode we witnessed tonight was very much in that spirit: over a bed of Van Tassel’s sonic creations, Brown delivered an extended rumination on the sea, the horizon, on memory and repetition and learning, on Darwin and evolution, on whales, and on what it is that we call home.

When I was Oliver’s age, Laurie Brown was the apotheosis of cool in Canada, turning a format on its ear and injecting new life into it; 30 years and several reinventions on, she’s managed to continue to be that still.

Do attend a taping if you’re near, you will not regret it.