BOB DYLAN AND LEONARD COHEN

I was disappointed to read that Bob Dylan has decided not to go to Stockholm to accept his Nobel Prize for Literature. This is a huge loss — for him. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to attend the Nobel Prize ceremonies knows what a pinnacle they represent. Attendance is so cherished that to get into the hall (all gentlemen wearing the de rigueur white tie and tails) you must present not only your ticket, with the specific seat number noted, but also YOUR PASSPORT, to prove that you are the person to whom the valuable ticket was issued.

Jane and I still remember every dreamy detail of our 2013 day there as part of the Alice Munro party. We also remember the sense that we were part of what I can only describe as “the world at its best”.

Now, with his unfortunate decision, Bob Dylan will miss all of that.

I suspect that, even at death’s door, Leonard Cohen would not have made that mistake.

I knew Leonard, a little, because when I was the Publisher at M&S, we published his new poetry books. In the process, I worked cordially with Leonard’s charming agent, who was secretly stealing all of his money. Ironically, this crime had the beneficial effect of forcing Leonard to revive his career, making him earn new money by going on tour again, and writing and performing fine new songs.

I have two memories of Leonard that may be worth sharing. First, when he was at McGill, he studied English with Hugh MacLennan. They liked each other, and became friends. Hugh told me that once in private conversation Leonard was explaining the opportunities opened by the new, open sexual freedoms among young people like him. The older Presbyterian was scandalised , and protested: “But Leonard, you remind me of a girl I knew back in Nova Scotia. She was called “Anytime Annie”!”

Leonard did not mend his ways, to the relief of many ladies down through the years.

Once, when he visited our Toronto office in what was a busy day of interviews, for lunch we brought in to the Boardroom some unglamorous sandwiches from Druxy’s downstairs. Leonard was perfectly happy, expecting absolutely no special treatment. He chatted happily with me and Avie Bennett and Ellen Seligman, about subjects ranging from Hugh MacLennan to how to get money from a bank machine in sketchy areas in LA. In such a situation, he explained, using an on-street machine was asking for trouble, making yourself a target. So what you looked for was a bank machine inside a small grocery store. There you cased the joint, apparently immersed in reading the ingredients of, say, a bottle of Pepsi.

Then, when the coast was clear, you drifted across to the machine, still apparently deep into your Pepsi scrolls, quickly punched in your banking needs, grabbed and concealed the cash, then escaped to the front of the store with your Pepsi purchase. Muggers were not interested in a man bearing a bottle of Pepsi.

In the mourning that followed Leonard’s death, I was pleased by how seriously our newspapers took his loss. The CBC, too, devoted important hours to paying tribute to him and his work. I found myself deeply moved by the message that he had sent to Marianne, his long-time lover, when she was dying in Norway this summer. His loving message ended with the words…”see you down the road.”

On Remembrance Day came my moment of revelation. Unlike Bob Dylan, I would argue, Leonard Cohen knew what was really important. When someone came to him asking if he would recite “In Flanders Fields”, he said yes. Many major musical stars would have laughed off the idea of reciting this poem from grade school , about the First World War, for Heaven’s sake, as hopelessly “uncool”.

Leonard read the poem aloud. As the CBC ended its broadcast of Remembrance Day with Leonard reading that poem, the fact that it was happening  in the week of his death was almost too much to bear. But most powerful of all was how brilliantly he read it. No tricks, nothing fancy, just a serious, perfect reading, by a poet who knew what really mattered.

I’m sorry that Stockholm will not see him.

News from Near and Far

I’ve been neglecting my blog recently, because I’ve been in China. While I was there I gave the show in Beijing, where the organizer of The Bookworm Literary Festival, Peter Goff, described me afterwards in these kind words:

Doug Gibson’s show brings you into the hearts and minds of Canada’s literary giants, wonderful writers he has edited and published and drank with and danced with over the years. Throughout his career Doug had a gift for identifying great storytellers. It clearly helped that he’s one himself.”

Later I flew to Shanghai, where I gave the show in the Canadian Consulate. It was gratifying, and fun, although only a very small proportion of China’s 1.3 billion population were able to attend.

But in a whirlwind tour, I was able to speak twice to groups assembled in our Embassy by the very able Ambassador, Guy St. Jacques, and gave a series of lectures at universities and libraries in Suzhou and Hangzhou (don’t worry, if you don’t know them, they only have 12 million people in each city). One day our consular people picked me up at my hotel at 7 a.m., and got me back at 11 p.m. Standing on guard for thee, spreading the word about our fine authors.

An amazing experience.

NOW, AN EVENT FOR ALL ALICE MUNRO FANS AROUND TORONTO:

On Thursday, April 16, through Sunday, April 19, at The Isabel Bader Theatre, Charles Street, Toronto, the San Francisco group Word for Word will be producing a remarkable read-and-acted version of two Alice Munro Stories, at 8 p.m.
On Thursday through Saturday, I’ll be involved in leading post-show discussions from the stage.

If you love Alice Munro, please come along. It should be a remarkable evening.

A NEW YEAR, A NEW BLOG, A NEW BOOK!

You may have wondered why I let my blog slip in recent months. The answer is the best one possible, for me, at least. I’ve been busy writing a new book.

This was a major surprise to me. Whenever friends, or interviewers, asked me if I had another book up my sleeve I would answer honestly, saying ,”Look, Stories About Storytellers is about my forty years in publishing,I don’t think I’ll live long enough to come up with material for another book So no, I don’t think I’ll ever write another book.”

But then, to promote that book I turned the book into a one-man stage show, and decided to see where it would go. It went everywhere. And roaming the country from this Festival to that University, to this neat bookstore or that Library , with Jane as my “lovely and talented assistant”,  we came across dozens of stories. Too good not to share. Enough for a book.

So, in September 2015 our friends at ECW Press will bring out ACROSS CANADA BY STORY: A Coast-to-Coast Literary Adventure.

It will remind you of my first book, because I’ve persuaded Anthony Jenkins to enrich it with his caricatures, once again. This time there are no fewer than 30 of his superb drawings, of our major authors. With this book I’ve widened my range beyond just those authors that I edited, to include major figures like Margaret Atwood, Marshall McLuhan, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Carol Shields, Michael Ondaatje, and dozens of others.

As a Literary Tour the book will take you from Newfoundland to Haida Gwaii, and from Moose Jaw to Grand Manan, as we visit all ten provinces. It will set your feet itching to travel ,as I recall exciting events we enjoyed roaming around cities, small towns, mountains and islands . And as the books and authors spill out in the stories you’ll find that you’ll be tempted to read — or to re-read — dozens of our best books.

You heard it here first.

Stories About Storytellers, Now in Paperback

stories_PBAs of April 2014, Stories About Storytellers is available as a paperback! This new edition includes a new chapter on Terry Fallis, an account of Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize win, and a print version of the  Storytellers Book Club, which debuted on this site.

The paperback version is available at all the usual retailers, including your local independent, Indigo, and Amazon.ca. It’s also available from the man himself, as he continues to tour Canada with Stories About Storytellers, the show, this year. Stay tuned for more engagement dates!

On Rob Ford and Alice Munro

On Saturday, November 17 the Globe and Mail asked several “prominent Canadians” to comment on Rob Ford. Here is what Doug had to say, looking at the disgraced Mayor through the prism of Alice Munro.

It’s sad that just weeks after Alice Munro brought Canada to the admiring attention of the world, Rob Ford is dragging us all down. As a storyteller he lacks Alice’s variety; everything is based on denial (“I wasn’t there,” “I didn’t do it”), and even Alice wouldn’t invent a character who is so unbelievable, in every sense.
But her titles alone explain much of the Ford story: Something I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You (about that crack question); Friend of My Youth (they’re not gangsters, they’re good guys); Open Secrets (nothing more to hide, honest); Who Do You Think You Are?(why should I stay away from your parade?); The Love of a Good Woman (keep my wife out of this, from now on).
As he runs out of people to lie to, let’s hope that he finally takes up the suggestion in another Alice Munro title — Runaway. That would be Too Much Happiness.

NOBEL PRIZE GROOMING TIPS

ALICE MUNRO 1931– Not Bad Short Story Writer

You’ll be glad to know that I was prepared for Alice Munro to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

(Pause for arm waving, dancing and cheering.)

As I was saying, I was prepared. So thoroughly prepared that late the previous evening I did the full shower and shave thing, so that I could getup very early and sit, perfectly groomed (striped tie and all), in front of my computer before 6 o’clock. This meant that when the wonderful news came in and the ringing phones started to jump across my desk, I was able to say, “Yes, I can be in a cab to come down for CBC TV news right away,” and so on with all of the other stations.

You may have caught me babbling happily on one of the many shows that interviewed me. It was all inspiring, with every single interviewer beaming and delighted. The ultimate good-news story. A wonderful event for all Canadians with a superb author, one of ours, being honoured at last.

I’m very proud to have been part of it.