An excerpt from Something Technical:
In 2006 I recorded several instances of a show called The National Playlist. The show was essentially a competition between a bunch of famous guests to choose ten songs for “the national playlist.” Compared to much of the stuff I did it was an extremely easy gig, and I enjoyed listening to the tunes and the opinions of the guests.
One day one of the guests happened to be Ra (pronounced “Ray”) McGuire of Trooper. This is the man who wrote “We’re Here For a Good Time”, “Raise a Little Hell”, and “The Boys in the Bright White Sportscar,” to name just a few of his hits. Unfortunately Ra was in Vancouver so I didn’t get to meet him in person. We were communicating with him via something called a “Switched 56,” which was basically a high falutin’ telephone line. He was in a studio that was successfully sending his voice to us, and he could hear all of us in Toronto in his headphones, but he couldn’t hear himself in his headphones, which was odd.
One of the producers of the show phoned Vancouver master control to try figure out what the problem was, and this person reported back to me that, according to the technician in Vancouver, I would have to send Ra’s voice back to himself to make it possible for Ra to hear himself. I was highly sceptical of this, because doing so would result in an extremely distracting echo for Ra. It would be difficult for Ra to do the show with such an echo in his ears. So I phoned Vancouver Master Control myself to ask what they were smoking.
The tech there said that yeah, he knew it would result in an echo, but the Vancouver studio was wired in such a way that the only way Ra would be able to hear himself in his headphones would be if I sent him back to himself. This was a real head scratcher. Why would anybody build a studio that way? I expect there was more to the story but I don’t suppose I will ever know. Embarrassed that there seemed to be no way around this problem, I broke the news to Ra. He took it like the pro that he was.
Ra seemed like a decent fellow. During the show he came off as intelligent and well-informed. In fact, he seemed like such a nice guy that I did something I usually don’t. When the opportunity presented itself, I separated him from the mix and spoke to him down the line. I just wanted to thank him for the music. In my entire career I’ve only ever done this twice.
He thanked me for complimenting his music, and then I asked him if there was a story behind his classic song, “We’re Here For a Good Time, Not a Long Time,” which is one of my all-time favourite songs. It accompanied me when I lived in France in ‘93 and is inextricably interwoven with my memories of Aix-en-Provence.
“Absolutely there is,” he said, and told me that he was feeling quite stressed about coming up with new material for Trooper’s third album. His driver (I’m pretty sure he said it was his driver) could see that he was worked up and asked him why. When Ra told him why, his driver/friend told him that he should probably just relax, and then uttered the immortal words: “We’re here for a good time, not a long time.”
Which, happily for Ra and the rest of us, resulted in a fantastic tune, and I appreciated hearing the story behind the song from the man himself, Ra McGuire.
Ra was just one of many “sort of” famous people I met while working for CBC Radio as a tech. Sometimes the people I met were, like Ra, just a little bit famous. Niche famous. Although I’m pretty sure most people in Canada have heard Ra McGuire’s music, probably most wouldn’t recognize him on the street or even know his name. I’ve met plenty of others in this category, musicians and politicians and authors and filmmakers and so on. And a few rather more famous—we had all sorts through the door when I worked on the show Q, for example.
Most of the time I would pretend that I didn’t know who these people were. I found it easier to deal with them that way. I found it levelled the playing field. Still, meeting certain people was sometimes undeniably neat. I could pretend that Eric Idle was an ordinary human being just like me (and he is, of course) but my God, it’s Eric Idle of Monty Python, and he just said my name on the air! When Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford of Genesis showed up one day I couldn’t help but tell them how much I loved their work (I remember them nodding at me and saying, “Thanks! Means a lot,” and I think they actually meant it, dammit.)
A weird thing about having famous people come through the door was that I didn’t really feel like I could talk about it afterward. Nobody likes name dropping (like I’m doing right now). After recording him on Q I’d have a great chat with David Cronenberg about martial arts and afterward I’d think, “hey, that was pretty cool,” and I’d want to tell people about it but I couldn’t really because it never felt right. Chatting with the likes of David Cronenberg was just a fact of my life at the time but I was pretty sure that people would think I was bringing it up just to impress them. So I would settle for savouring the experience silently. Even mentioning it here feels problematic, like broaching this entire topic was simply a sly (and ridiculously transparent) means of name dropping, akin to humble bragging.
My wife, for example, would never fail to be singularly unimpressed when I told her about some famous person I’d met that day.
“Who?” she’d ask, not necessarily because she didn’t know who they were, but because she just didn’t care. Whoever they were put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us, and if I really wanted to proceed with whatever story I was about to trot forth it had better be about more than just who this person happened to be.
Which is why I think I’ll leave my Joni Mitchell story for another time.