Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

Inductee: Mary Margaret O’Hara

Reluctant genius: Mary Margaret O'Hara. Courtesy Bill Robertson/Apartment Hunting Productions.
Reluctant genius: Mary Margaret O'Hara. Courtesy Bill Robertson/Apartment Hunting Productions.

Reason for Induction:
For achieving international music legend status on the strength of one 17-year-old album, and for refusing to play celebrity.

Citation:
Strange for a musician, but silence has defined Mary Margaret O’Hara’s career as much as her fluttering, uncatchable song and dance. Of course, there has been noise, too: Michael Stipe declaring her “a national treasure”; Morrissey and Jane Siberry enlisting her talents on their records; Mojo, the influential, list-happy British magazine, naming her 1988 album, Miss America, one of the best 100 albums of all time.

But 1988 was a long time ago. And then silence. And then a Christmas record in 1991. And then silence. And then in 2002, a movie soundtrack. And now more silence.

For a certain kind of celebrity, obscurity perpetuates adoration. The J.D. Salingers and Brian Wilsons play hard to get, pulled by their demons towards privacy, shoving back at our hunger for their talents. Fandom is masochism, and we beg for more.

For 30 years, Mary Margaret O’Hara has kind of been ignoring us. She was a fixture on Toronto’s then-hipster Queen Street in the early ’70s, before the Gap and Club Monaco and their like began to clog the bar-and-restaurant artery. In vintage clothes, her long hair tumbling from clips, she was ridiculously arty, a student at the Ontario College of Art, painting, sculpting, designing. She appeared in photographer Robert Frank’s legendary film Candy Mountain. She created the lettering for the sign on the landmark Queen Street club The Rivoli.

Growing up in Toronto in a big Irish Catholic family, O’Hara and her two sisters, one of whom is SCTV-alumna Catherine O’Hara, would sing three-part harmonies together. Goaded by Catherine into taking the stage with a local band called Songship (later the Go Deo Chorus), she sang with a strange, polyrhythmic voice that sounded tiny and then ballooned into angry shouts, dropping back down to a girlish twitter. Sometimes the whole jazzy-experimental thing grates a little, let’s be honest; there’s a touch of Yoko in the woman. She dances like a tree sprite and says things like: “My instrument is the human body.”

But then again, there’s something hauntingly unique and timeless about her music; Mary Margaret O’Hara sounds like no one else. Virgin Records noticed, signing her in the ’80s, but it was a nightmare. After four years of recording, tinkering and fighting with the label, the album Miss America crawled out in 1988, battered and unpromoted, but music lovers nurtured it to life. She sings those first words, held up by just a tinge of guitar, almost reluctantly: “You take a walk…I’ll be your side…” So damned pretty and then the damaged, tear-jerking chorus: “I still feel for you…”

Body’s In Trouble was the single, a hiccupping pop song written nine years before the album’s release. In the video, O’Hara slaps her hips and weaves like a more poetic Joe Cocker. The phrasing is strange, the lyrics nonsensical, the song perfect.

What to do next? Something of a delicate soul – she rambles a bit in interviews – O’Hara reportedly felt scarred by the Miss America experience, and she retreated. In 2002, as a favour for a filmmaker friend, she recorded several songs for the soundtrack to a movie called Apartment Hunting (never content to be one kind of artist, she appeared in the film, too). Critics raved, but it was a comeback that came and went back.

Once in a while, O’Hara can still be spotted, usually unannounced, on Toronto stages. Often she appears backing some musician or other who worships her, and it’s always a pleasant surprise, a welcome recollection. Most recently, her distinct falsetto drifts in the distance on an album by a lovely young Toronto songwriter named Justin Rutledge, who’s not even 30. She is only willing to give this much of herself, and for now, that will have to be enough.

Katrina Onstad writes about the arts for CBC.ca.

Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

World »

CIA says Russia intervened to help Trump win White House, U.S. official says
The CIA has concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help president-elect Donald Trump win the White House, and not just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.
CBC IN HONG KONG Are democracy's days numbered in this former colony?
The push is on to strengthen Chinese control of Hong Kong. The red flags are flying, the loudspeakers are at full volume.
5 killed in Bulgarian explosion following train derailment
Five people were killed in northeastern Bulgaria when containers of gas exploded on a derailed train this morning.
more »

Canada »

Broken barge leaves Shoal Lake 40 residents stranded, resident says
​​A barge that acts as a lifeline for the First Nation that provides Winnipeg with its clean drinking water has broken again, leaving band members stranded.
Racial profiling studied as N.S. Human Rights Commission turns 50
Social work students examine Sobeys racial profiling case and how anti-black racism manifests itself in many different ways, like in cases of racial and criminal profiling.
Toronto FC bandwagon fans, here's your guide to MLS Cup
Toronto FC takes its shot at the Major League Soccer championship on Saturday, and that rumbling roar you hear in the city is thousands of fans jumping on the bandwagon.
more »

Politics »

Analysis Trudeau's climate deal points the way to 2030 - with more arguing to come video
Friday night, Justin Trudeau was able to appear on stage with the premiers and declare himself "very happy" to have general agreement on a pan-Canadian framework deal on climate change. But that means there's still lots of talking to be done.
Trudeau announces 'pan-Canadian framework' on climate — but Sask., Manitoba hold off video
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a "pan-Canadian framework" to fight climate change and meet Canada's commitments to cut carbon emissions by 2030 — but a day of intense talks failed to get all premiers onside.
It's about to get easier to set up supervised drug injection sites in Canada
In the midst of an opioid crisis that has claimed thousands of lives, the federal government is going to make it easier to set up supervised drug injection sites.
more »

Health »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Arts & Entertainment»

Video Teen troubles and Tony Stark abound in debut Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer
Spider-Man: Homecoming promises a jaunty return to the webslinging title character's teenage world, with a debut trailer that centres on high school drama, learning to juggle a double identity and testing boundaries set by new mentor Tony Stark.
Questions raised about Trump's continued role in Celebrity Apprentice
Donald Trump's continued stake in television's Celebrity Apprentice adds to questions about potential conflicts between his personal and public responsibilities, while raising new ones about NBC.
Well-known Days of Our Lives villain dead at 87
Joseph Mascolo, who played the iconic bad guy Stefano DiMera on NBC's daytime serial Days of Our Lives, has died. He was 87.
more »

Technology & Science »

Photos On Lennox Island, no one debates whether climate change is real
A small Mi'kmaq First Nation community in Prince Edward Island is a kind of canary in the coal mine when it comes to climate change. It's one of the places in Canada where you can see the effects of climate change happening right now.
Scientists hunt for carbon monoxide poisoning antidote
Scientists are on the trail of a potential antidote for carbon monoxide poisoning, an injected 'scavenger' that promises to trap and remove the gas from blood within minutes.
'Sexist' banquet joke riles researchers at Arctic science conference in Winnipeg
A group of researchers released an open letter protesting what they call a sexist joke at the conference's gala banquet, which the executive director is defending as a 'linguistic misspeak.'
more »

Money »

Major New York markets hit second consecutive day of record highs
Major New York indexes hit a second consecutive day of record highs, while the Toronto stock market inched up to continue a six-day rise.
Ad revenue outlook sees continued big gains for digital media in 2017
Digital advertising will continue to outstrip other media forms this year and next when it comes to bringing in ad dollars, according to a new forecast from media buying company GroupM.
Photos From Hatchimals to Tickle Me Elmo: 10 toy crazes
When these toys, action figures and play sets burst onto the scene, parents toppled over each other to get one and store owners struggled to keep the shelves stocked.
more »

Consumer Life »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Sports »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Live World short-course swimming championships video
Watch the heats Saturday at 9:30 a.m. ET as several Canadian Olympians, including Katerine Savard and Sandrine Mainville, compete at the world short-course championships in Windsor, Ont.
Coming Up Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final video
Catch all of the live action from France as Canadian figure skaters in every discipline compete at the Grand Prix of Figure Skating's Final event.
Kylie Masse advances to 50m final with personal-best time video
Canadian Kylie Masse continued her solid performance at the FINA world short-course swimming championships on Friday by qualifying for the 50-metre backstroke final.
more »

Diversions »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
more »