Monday December 18, 2017

How the Christmas stories on Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe brought people together

The Christmas compilation includes stories The Vinyl Cafe listeners have enjoyed over many winter seasons.

The Christmas compilation includes stories The Vinyl Cafe listeners have enjoyed over many winter seasons. (Penguin Random House Canada)

Listen 16:43

Every December for 20 years, Stuart McLean travelled the country with The Vinyl Cafe Christmas Tour. The show became a holiday tradition and favourite stories about Dave and Morley are read and listened to year after year. Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe is a new collection of holiday-themed stories, published together for the very first time.

Stuart McLean died in February 2017. His longtime editor, Meg Masters, and producer, Jess Milton, spoke to Shelagh Rogers about McLean's holiday legacy. 

An extended family

Jess says: "I look back on those years so fondly — it's as if I got to do Christmas 41 times! Life on the road was like travelling with a family. We had this group of people that got to spend the holidays together every single year. Over the years, it became a tradition for so many fans. I would start to recognize faces and they would recognize mine. They would bring their kids and I would watch them grow up coming to the shows. There were so many fantastic memories."

Collaborative storytelling

Meg says: "Stuart had the idea for a story where Dave forgets to buy the holiday turkey. I thought that was maybe straining verisimilitude. I discovered years later Stuart had indeed done that in college; he didn't bother explaining that at the time. As we talked through what would happen in the story, we started to giggle. When we got to the part where Dave cooks the gravy over a light bulb, I was laughing so hard I couldn't sit up straight!"  

Jess adds: "Like all family stories, these stories grew in their retelling. Dave would have to come up with new ways to improve on the year before. We had to come up with ways to do that too."

The generosity of letter writers

Jess says: "Stuart and I both loved the mail. He would buy decommissioned stamps because they remain legal tender. He would send letters to many of us — sometimes it was something really simple like a receipt, but he would take the time to plaster the outside of the envelope with beautiful stamps from years gone by. He took a lot of pleasure in the mail; maybe it comes from all those years travelling across the country that we have some respect for the travels these letters do. On the Christmas tour, I would write Christmas cards on the turbulent plane ride and it drove him insane because he had beautiful handwriting. He was really drawn to the idea that mail and Christmas cards connect us. Sending a person a card is a lovely thing because it forces us to think about them in a time when we are increasingly less connected."

Meg Masters and Jess Milton's comments have been edited and condensed.