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The Song That Changed Your Life

The Song That Changed Your Life: Meet your judge

We're delighted to introduce you to the judge of our "The Song That Changed Your Life" challenge:  musician and writer Dave Bidini.

Which came first for you, music or writing?
Oh, writing for sure. I started when I was about 10 or 11. I used to sit at my dad’s old oak desk. The typewriter was one of the few machines or appliances in the house I was allowed to touch or use. I did it because it was fun to hammer away and make a large grotesque sound; it makes a great noise for a kid. It gave me a feeling of command to sit there. 

I was forced to play the guitar—my parents sent me to guitar lessons. I didn’t like it at first. 

How has being a musician affected your writing? 
Writing lyrics has helped me learn how to self-edit. With lyrics, you have to distill the essence of the story or the essence of feeling down to a handful of lines, only using words that count. Like poetry, you have to say more through less. It has helped with the economy of my writing because I’ve been a chronic over-writer in my career. I submitted my book Baseballisimo to my editor at 200,000 words. In the first meeting with her, after she read the manuscript, she said, “Dave, there are some problems with the manuscript. First, it’s twice as long as it should be.” That was my weakness back then. 

And vice-versa? 
Writing has fed me ideas for lyrics, especially for songs with long narratives, like "The Land is Wild" or "How Zeke Roberts' Died."

Do you recommend having a career as a musician/writer? 
If you have to do it, you have to do it. I've been lucky and I write every day and it comes from the depths of my heart. But easy, it never is. Writing is like gambling: you’re flush then broke, flush then broke. If the taste of creative euphoria doesn't fuel your life's blood: stop. That euphoria can become like air or oxygen, especially if you have any kind of success. I felt that when my first book came out— it was something I had wanted to do and dreamed of my entire life. Once you get that taste of creative euphoria, it’s such a rare and extraordinary feeling, you want to keep it as part of your life. It’s the same with music. 

You’ve written about a lot of different things (hockey, baseball, music, Gordon Lightfoot) - what draws you to your subject?
It depends. I love to travel, and sports and rock and roll provide that opportunity. Sometimes a publisher will just approach me with an idea, and sometimes I'll just have a thought, a notion, and I'll follow it through. Some are accidental projects. I must say, though, that the first six books I wrote, I'd pretty much planned out from the time I turned 30. 

Do you listen to music while you write?
I never used to, but I’ve started to recently. I remember being with Roddy Doyle, at his place in Dublin, and next to his computer was a stack of CDs. I asked him, what’s up with the CDs? And he told me, I listen while I write. It seemed impossible to me. Recently I've been working in a café, and it’s busier and louder and I needed something to block out the noise so I have been listening to music through the computer; lots of solo McCartney and Lupe Fiasco's new one and Kid Koala.

What are you working on now, in music and in writing?
I am writing a song for the Al Purdy benefit on February 6th, 2013, at Koerner Hall in Toronto, and working on a memoir about the year I turned 11, which was 1974. That was also Dave Keon's last year with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Penguin is putting the memoir out next September. An actual penguin. He edits, too.

As the judge of the “Song That Changed Your Life” writing challenge, what will you be looking for?
Clarity, humour, joy, weight, and a few good semi-colons. 

Author and musician Dave Bidini is the only person to have been nominated for a Gemini, Genie and Juno as well CBC's Canada Reads. A founding member of Rheostatics, he has written 10 books, including On a Cold Road, Tropic of Hockey, Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs, and Home and Away. He has made two Gemini Award-nominated documentaries and his play, the Five Hole Stories, was staged by One Yellow Rabbit Performance Company, touring the country in 2008. His third book, Baseballissimo, is being developed for the screen by Jay Baruchel, and, in 2010, he won his third National Magazine Award, for "Travels in Narnia." He writes a weekly column for the Saturday Post and, in 2012, he published his latest book, A Wild Stab For It.

Photo credit: John Cullen

Read Dave Bidini's story in the National Post on the song "Seasons in the Sun" sung by Canadian singer Terry Jacks. 

Tell us about the song or music that changed your life! See the details of the challenge here

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set count down final date: 11/01/2014
set count up final date: 11/01/2014
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