Canada has lost one of its most beloved storytellers: Stuart McLean, longtime host of The Vinyl Cafe, passed away from melanoma on Wednesday, Feb. 15.
Generations of Canadians have grown up listening to McLean’s distinctive drawl. His radio show, which debuted in the summer of 1994, featured music, essays, and stories, but the focal point of the show soon became the timeless tales of the fictional Dave, Morley, and their two kids Sam and Stephanie.
McLean once said that he wanted his stories to take people to the place where laughter meets tears; through Dave and Morley he succeeded time after time. His stories, though simple descriptions of one lovable Canadian family, professed truths that continue to resonate throughout Canada and the world. With his passing, the flow of those stories has ceased, but his reservoir of brilliant writing and speaking is still available through books, radio, and podcasts.
Whether you have yet to experience the captivating, quintessentially Canadian world of The Vinyl Cafe, or are looking to reminisce through McLean’s 22-year catalogue, here are a few suggestions of his best to get you started.
“The Answering Machine”
Short, sweet, good old fashioned slapstick. This story begins with a classic Dave goof-up and escalates to incredible proportions. McLean’s story-crafting skill and attention to detail create a narrative full of wonderfully comedic imagery and tension. Though the time of physical answering machines has passed, this story delves into themes of mistrust and miscommunication through technology that will live on for ages.
“Polly Anderson’s Christmas Party”
This is a beautiful example of a simple premise executed to perfection. Like many Vinyl Cafe stories, Dave makes a critical mistake, and the story is set in motion. In this case, it involves two punch bowls and a house full of neighbours. “Polly Anderson’s Christmas Party” is easily among the funniest Vinyl Cafe stories of all time.
“Dave Cooks the Turkey”
Morley’s stressed out about the holidays, so Dave takes charge of Christmas dinner’s main course. But the search for a perfectly cooked bird takes him to places no one would’ve expected. Perhaps the most iconic of all the Dave and Morley stories, this is the bird-cooking escapade to end all bird-cooking escapades. Though it’s set at Christmas, this story is hilarious any time of year. Frequently alluded to in many stories since, “Dave Cooks the Turkey” is a wonderful jumping off point for any new Vinyl Cafe fan.
A touching story describing how Dave and Morley first met, “Holland” is a charming example of McLean’s ability to illustrate landscapes and scenes in vivid detail. This story is certainly not the most humour-based of his work (though it’s still full of laughs), but it gives a rare glimpse at the depth of the show’s two main characters. In a story collection chock-full of comic hijinks, “Holland” is a rare glimpse of calm and contentment.