In the CBC Music Library, Mark Rheaume auditions thousands of new recordings for potential airplay every year – everything from independently produced albums by struggling artists to the latest releases from international superstars.
He appears as a music columnist on the CBC Radio shows “Fresh Air”, “Ontario Morning”, and Fredericton’s “Information Morning”. In a ten-year run from 2004 to 2014, he profiled new albums in a syndicated feature carried on CBC stations across the country. He has served as a juror for the Juno Awards and the Polaris Prize and for many years appeared regularly on CBC’s “Definitely Not the Opera”, providing a historical context for music in popular culture.
Born in Fort Smith, North West Territories, Mark grew up in Ottawa, where he bought his first piece of recorded music when he was eight years old (a 45 of “Proud Mary” by Solomon Burke). He graduated from the Broadcasting program at Algonquin College and joined the CBC in 1998. His first project at the CBC was archiving the thousands of scripts and albums left to the CBC Music Library by the late radio personality Clyde Gilmour of “Gilmour’s Albums” fame. He lives in Toronto with his wife Kelly and cat Coltrane.
Recently, a pop superstar grabbed major media attention for spewing an obscenity-laden tirade at their unhappy audience after “technical difficulties” with the stage set-up delayed the start of the performance for over an hour. Such a disconnect between musician and audience, cringe-worthy as it may be, is hardly a new development in the pop world. In 1985, one of the biggest acts on the planet resisted playing shows in Europe and Asia because, it was alleged, their complex set was too expensive to transport overseas.
I’m not going to name either of these acts, partly because their popularity won’t be affected by anything I write or say anyway. But both of those acts – then and now – could have used a lesson in stagecraft from Bruce Springsteen.
(Full disclosure before we go much further: I’m a Springsteen fan, but not a worshipper.)
Simply put, the Boss’s June 2009 performance at the Hard Rock Calling festival in Hyde Park, London, England (released a year later on DVD and Blu-Ray as “London Calling: Live in Hyde Park” and doubtless chopped up all over YouTube), is a master class for any aspiring musician – whether you’re a fan of Springsteen’s music or not.
My colleague at CBC Music, Julian Tuck, puts it best: “When you step out on a stage, whether you’re a musician or a stand-up comic, you own that stage. And it’s yours to keep or lose.”
At Hyde Park, Springsteen owns that stage and doesn’t hand it over – except of course to members of the E Street Band – through a thrilling, sweat-soaked, 172-minute extravaganza that leaves the audience as exhausted and exhilarated as the players. From the ragged opening cover of the Clash’s “London Calling” to the closing “Dancing in the Dark”, the Boss simply pours it on. He could have ended the show after the rousing sixth song, “Out in the Street” (a non-hit from 1980’s “The River”), and everyone in the audience would have agreed they got their money’s worth and gone home elated. Instead, there were 21 more songs to go!
Impressive as that is in itself, consider this: Springsteen had reached megastar status by the late ‘70s and could have phoned in his performances any time after that. The High Park show took place 30 years after the Boss earned his spot in the rock god hierarchy – and he still performed as if was the only chance he’d ever get to impress an audience.
Springsteen shares with U2 the idea that the most important show they will ever do is “the next one”. In their view, they don’t have laurels to rest on. Each show is a magic night of rock ‘n’ roll of the kind that Springsteen’s own idols - like Mitch Ryder - used to deliver.
All I could think watching “London Calling: Live in Hyde Park” is why does any performer – at any point in their career - dog it? Bruce is the musical equivalent of the aging Joe DiMaggio who at the end of his career still hustled on every play in case some paying customer at Yankee Stadium was seeing him for the first time.
I get the feeling that if “technical difficulties” were to keep his show from starting on time, Springsteen would simply come out and busk.
And you can bet he’d own that stage!