From St-Denis to stardom: Montreal songwriter Andy Kim on music & mortality

As Andy Kim is honoured with a Hometown Star from the Canada Walk of Fame, he reflects on his life, musical career, and his relationship with his father.

Montreal musician Andy Kim honoured with Hall of Fame Hometown Star

Andy Kim performed at a charity concert in Montreal at Place des Arts in December. (Submitted by Griffin Sokal)

As Andy Kim looks back on his musical career — the accolades, #1 hits, the sold-out crowds — he thinks about his parents.

"The more I think about it, the more I miss my mom and dad, because they never really understood what I was dreaming about," Kim told CBC's Daybreak.

The child of Lebanese immigrants, growing up in mid-century Montreal, Kim said that making music was "a dream that was beyond my reality" — something his parents couldn't grasp.

They never lived to see their son get inducted into the Canada Walk of Fame. 

Kim was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame last year. On Friday, Kim unveiled the commemorative plaque that will be placed in the city his immigrant parents chose — Montreal.

"I can't believe that 50-some odd years later, that the kid that grew up on St-Denis Street and de Castelnau ... is now being honoured in his hometown."

A young man, looking south

As a kid dreaming of making it big in the music scene, Kim would listen to American stations through his transistor radio. At the time, it seemed like going to New York City was the only way he was going to make his dreams come true — and he told his father so.

"My dad didn't really understand it. He would always ask, after I told him all the things that were going to happen: 'Will this make you happy?' And I said 'yes.'"

"And his next question was: 'How will it make you happy?'" Kim said. "Well, I had no idea how it would make me happy. All I knew was that I wanted this."

Andy Kim signed the City of Montreal's Golden Book on Friday. (Submitted by Griffin Sokal)

There were times when Kim, still enamoured with the idea of going to the States, would ask his father why they decided to come to Canada. 

His father told him that Canada would teach him a sense of community he couldn't find south of the border.

"'It'll teach you about love, about understanding your neighbourhood and your neighbours. And most of all, it will teach you about forgiveness,'" Kim said, reciting his father's answer. 

"And the truth is, I had no idea what he was talking about. But those words stayed with me."

Even after he did make it to New York, "I never got rid of the Montreal in me."

Of music and mortality

Over the years, Kim wrote famous hits, including Sugar, Sugar with The Archies, Rock Me Gently, and How'd We Ever Get This Way, selling more than 30 million records over the course of his career.

But all that came to a sudden halt when his father died in 1976.

"I'm one of those guys that that I — I don't accept some facts," Kim said. "I was hibernating in Los Angeles and didn't pick up the phone. I didn't want to start talking about having lost my dad."

It took time for Kim to work up the courage to go back to Montreal. But once he was there, he found himself writing songs again, thinking back on some of the things he had learned.

"You're only as good as your last two minutes and 30 seconds. That was a mantra that was stamped on me from the beginning," he said. "I realized that we all have a shelf life."

Kim said he knew he was never going to be like Elvis and The Beatles — but that was OK.

"I was mortal, and I was as happy as I could be, making records, writing songs," he said. "When I became irrelevant eventually, I was as happy as I could be."

Now in his 70s, Kim still performs at charity concerts, with proceeds going to the Starlight Children's Foundation. He said there's a simple reason he keeps doing music.

"I have no known skills is what it is," he said, laughing. "This is all I know how to do ... but I'm a great cook, by the way!"

We speak with singer-songwriter Andy Kim. He's in town for his yearly benefit concert, and to unveil his new Canada Walk of Fame Hometown Star. We'll also speak with the CEO of Canada's Walk of Fame. 16:39


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