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Cranky Joni Mitchell a reminder of Winnipeg shortcoming   Print

by John Einarson
Winnipeg Free Press
August 1, 2013

What's eating Joni Mitchell? Last week the respected singer songwriter dissed her former hometown of Saskatoon for its failure to come up with an appropriate way of honouring her legacy.

"I feel that it's very isolated, very unworldly and doesn't grasp the idea of honour," she insisted. "I need to be in a place that recognizes the international achievements."

She went on to declare the residents of Saskatoon "an extremely bigoted community. People don't get me there. They don't get my ideas," likening the city to the American South.

In a rare CBC interview with Q's Jian Ghomeshi in June, Mitchell came off irritable, impatient and dismissive. National Post columnist Joe O'Connor this week dubbed the one-time hippie songbird "a cranky, chain-smoking, female version of Don Cherry."

The composer of Woodstock, aged 70, is most certainly not going gently into that good night.

While Joni rails at everything around her, the city fathers and community leaders of Saskatoon who, despite her trash talk, do indeed want to find a way to celebrate their most famous contribution to the world since Gordie Howe, are left with a dilemma: How to move forward without Mitchell's support and endorsement?

To her credit, Mitchell rejects the notion of an inert statue, instead suggesting some manner of broader, ongoing cultural centre.

Beyond the petulant outbursts of a spurned artiste, there is a larger issue here. How do we as a society honour our pop-culture contributors in a way that not only celebrates their accomplishments but also engages, educates, illuminates and inspires further generations in a meaningful way?

Look around Winnipeg. There is little evidence of the major musical, artistic and cultural icons that emerged from our fair city and by extension, our province.

No plaques, no signage, no maps, no booklets, no local or provincial tourism initiatives and no museums dedicated to venerating the extensive and envious list of cultural contributors that includes the likes of Bob Nolan, Deanna Durbin, Monty Hall, Lucille Starr, Lenny Breau, Juliette, Neil Young, Daniel Lavoie, Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, Charlie Thorson, Ray St. Germain, Tracy Dahl, David Steinberg, Aubrey Tadman, Evelyn Hart and Len Cariou to name but a few.

Many are celebrated in the wonderful array of murals throughout the city but those only present a face or an image with no details of their accomplishments.

Each summer, independent of Tourism Winnipeg and Tourism Manitoba, Heartland Travel operates the Magical Musical History Tour of mainly music-related sites. The most common response from patrons at the conclusion of the three-hour excursion is pride, awe and amazement that so much talent is associated with Winnipeg and yet few are actually aware of it.

In recent years, other cities have come to the realization that celebrating their pop-culture history is not only a worthy endeavour but also a financial boon. After decades of ignoring the Beatles and their British-Invasion contemporaries, Liverpool now embraces and champions them in any and all manner possible including the Beatles Story Museum.

Beatles tourism alone accounts for tens of millions of pounds each year. Against all odds, Cleveland aggressively pursued and won the right to host the coveted Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. It has become that city's No. 1 tourist attraction. Macon, Ga., houses the Georgia Music Hall of Fame; Lubbock, Texas is home to the Buddy Holly Museum; Helena, Ark., boasts an impressive blues museum; New Ulm, Minn. features the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame; besides the Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville also includes the Rockabilly Hall of Fame; Kannapolis, North Carolina is home to the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame; and on and on.

Almost all 50 American states have a music or otherwise cultural Hall of Fame.

So how do we here go about creating some kind of permanent recognition of our internationally renowned artistic and cultural achievers that will offer a uniquely celebratory experience as well as earning the support and endorsement of those individuals or groups? It's a daunting task. With each passing year, more and more of these individuals are passing on and their archives and collections are being lost to further generations to study and draw inspiration from.

Over the past 11 years, several initiatives to kick-start the creation of some form of Manitoba Music Hall of Fame and Museum have tried and failed. Not because it's a bad idea; quite the contrary, support from prominent civic movers and shakers was widespread and grassroots enthusiasm high. Endorsement of the concept is also strong within the provincial government.

However, the way things work these days is through what is known as PPP: private-public partnerships. For any initiative to get beyond the discussion stage, it needs some civic, community or business leader to step up to the plate.

More significantly, many of our cultural icons have indicated if we build it, they will support it. Imagine what a world-class facility we could host.

Maybe Joni Mitchell might even visit to see her old buddy Neil Young's artifacts. After all, they first met here in Winnipeg.

John Einarson is a Winnipeg author.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2013 A11

 

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