David Bowie, hair gel, and a girl named Wendy
Long before he was a member of the satirical ensemble band Moxy Früvous, or the host of CBC Radio One’s daily cultural affairs show, Q, Jian Ghomeshi was a self-conscious 14-year-old boy with a love of hair gel and New Wave music who was desperately trying to fit in.
Ghomeshi paints a vivid portrait of his ninth-grade, neurotic self in his first book, 1982. The book is memoir that focuses entirely on the year 1982 — and the people, events and music that shaped the world of the then 14-year-old Ghomeshi. Going beyond his dual obsessions of that year — David Bowie and an older girl named Wendy — Ghomeshi also explores the pop culture of the early ’80s, as well as the experience of being a first-generation Canadian.
Ghomeshi recently sat down with Calgary Journal reporter Karry Taylor to
Photo courtsey of Penguin Canadadiscuss 1982, the nature of nostalgia and why so many of us can identify with an awkward 14-year-old boy.
What is it about the universal experience of being a 14-year-old kid that resonates with people?
All that you have to do, at some point, is to have felt like a loser that didn’t fit in to identify with this book. Fortunately I am discovering that a lot of people have had that feeling — in Grade 9 especially. High school is hard, but Grade 9 is especially tough as you try to navigate who you are and how to get people to like you and figure out what it all means.
Anybody who grew up in the early ’80s will “get” this book. But on the flip side, you have managed to create something that readers who are much younger than yourself can also identify with. How important for you was that?
I did keep in mind that, while there are many people who are in my generation, I never wanted the book to stray too far from the broad strokes. The broad strokes are feeling like an outsider, coming-of-age love, the passion for music and some of the Canadian experience — in particular, the immigrant experience. Those are all universal themes. So when a Chinese-Canadian woman who is in her 20s tweets me from Montreal and says ‘this book is my story,’ it makes me feel great. The reaction to this book has been so heart-warming.
Did that surprise you? Did you ever feel like you were taking a risk by putting yourself out there like this?
I felt like I was taking a risk much more so after I finished writing the book. My publisher and a few friends read it before it came out and started telling me that I took a risk. But you know, I don’t really feel that I could tell this story without the warts that were so much a part of the experience. So no, ultimately, I don’t feel any trepidation about putting myself out there.
But it’s weird because, with social media, at any moment of the day you get a constant update of things like ‘girl in Victoria is reading your book right now.’ And so I am sitting there thinking things like ‘oh wow, all these people are reading about me wearing a mini-dress.’ So it’s been an interesting experience.
Where is the line between memory and nostalgia?
That’s a great question because I think I have crossed that line. I think that almost everything, in a way, past a certain point becomes nostalgia. I feel like when enough time passes, everything that you’ve lived through becomes a part of your story, and therefore starts to take on a nostalgic hue.
I wouldn’t be caught dead in Grade 9, with my new wave/punk aspirations, listening to Hall and Oates. But now, if a Hall and Oates song were to come on the radio right now, I would be like ‘hey, remember Hall and Oates? They were so great!’ It’s completely irrational nostalgia. But because Hall and Oates are part of my collective experience — and music, especially, is such a touchstone — it all starts to become attractive. But where that line is and what the turning point is, I’m not sure.
What was the most surprising thing about writing this book?
Photo by Karry Taylor I learned very quickly that I couldn’t work for 12 hours at CBC on Q and then go home for a half an hour and write my book. I really needed to get into the right headspace. So I went away. I wrote at a little rock-and-roll hotel in Los Angeles. I would get up at 6 a.m. and put on Bowie and Talking Heads and The English Beat — music of the era — which served as a trigger.
What surprised me was that once I started getting into that headspace — the book is written from the headspace of a 14-year-old in the 80s — things started coming back to me. It was like a portal window opening in the clouds.
I don’t think this is a special quality that I have. I think anybody can do this if you really focus intently on one period of time. So I feel like I have a clearer picture of this time in my head in my life than I have of 10 years ago. I would think: ‘what did I do 10 years ago? Where was I?’ I couldn’t remember anything. But once you start making those links, all of a sudden it’s like a jigsaw puzzle — you start to see the whole picture.
Editor’s note: questions and answers have been edited due to length.
An extended interview with Jian Ghomeshi is available at calgaryjournal.ca