Cat Dedications, Al Martino & A Penchant For Radio

cat at radio

I listen to a lot of AM radio and I find that the lower bandwidth creates a more pleasing sound than FM.  I also prefer the sound of long playing records to digital CDs.  It’s the analog versus digital thing, I guess and from what I can tell, I’m not alone.

The analog sound, so full of warmth and roundness, is one that I find particularly useful as a model for tone production at the piano.  That is to say, that when I am practicing, I try to create as golden a tone as possible and boy did those pianists from the early days of recording (Ignacy Paderewski, Alfred Cortot, Moriz Rosenthal and the lovably eccentric Vladimir de Pachmann to name a few) know how to make a beautiful tone!  Piano playing aside, this is a post about another side of radio and the sweet, little Gouldian moment that the AM dial gave me on a cold, snowy winter evening.

About a month ago, I was driving home listening to one of those caller request programs that always seem to be wafting over the airwaves on Friday nights.  You know the scene, you’re alone, listening and picturing those folks “out there” who are busy shopping, clubbing, dining, hanging with friends or, in other words, not listening to the radio, at least not willingly.  But I love solitude and I love these little experiences that only radio can give.  I’ve always found there to be something secure and safe about the airwaves.

So, on this particular evening, a number of people called in for this song, for that song.  One man asked for Bad Timing by Blue Rodeo.  I had heard the song, but didn’t know the title or the artist and so had one of those little radio moments where you say to yourself, “oh, so that’s the song!”  The caller had wanted to connect the song to lost loved ones.

Suddenly, a cheerful female voice called in to the program.  “Yes, hello, I’d like to request Al Martino’s I Love You Because.  It’s for my cat.”  And cue:

Admittedly, I don’t know the life story of Al Martino however, I’m fairly certain that the music of Webern, Gibbons, Bach and Sweelinck were not on his list of future recording projects.  Still, this caller’s request is so very Glenn because it illustrates precisely (and sweetly) the reasons for which Glenn preferred the medium of radio above others.

Now let’s be clear, Glenn detested the McLuhanesque type of “linear” radio (yes, both AM and FM are notorious for this).  Speaking in 1971 with John Jessop about “Radio as Music,” Glenn said that these types of programs came out sounding “‘over to you, now back to our host, and here for the wrap-up is’ – in a word, predictable.”

Glenn loved radio.  As a boy, he would listen to theatrical radio programs of the 1940s, commenting that, “a lot of that kind of ostensibly theatrical radio was also, in a very real sense, documentary making of a rather high order.  At any rate, the distinctions between drama and documentary were quite often, it seemed to me, happily and successfully set aside…I was fascinated with radio theatre because it seemed to me somehow more pure, more abstract, and, in a certain sense, it had a reality for me that, later on, when I became familiar with conventional theatre, that kind of theatre always seemed to lack.”

I know that had Glenn lived beyond the age of fifty, his plan was to ease up on piano playing and devote the bulk of his time and energy into making radio documentaries.  I think why I like the cat dedication story so much, is that it emphasizes the very thing Glenn loved most about electronic technology, the ability it has to create an intimate, direct-to-listener experience.

“Technology is a distance,” he said, “something that places itself between the audience and the point of origin – the artist, the work, or both.  That placement is not only moral in a biological sense, but it also affects the final product by the fact that, if properly handled, it can change and improve it, and introduce new elements that otherwise might not be introduced.”  (From the article, “The Glenn Gould Contrapuntal Radio Show” by Robert Hurwitz, The New York Times, January 5, 1975.)  In other words, through the sheer fact of technology having put space between you (the listener) and the performer/creator, you have, in turn, the opportunity for a very direct and personal listening experience which, for Glenn, was the sort of acoustic environment for which no concert stage could capture.

Back to the cat dedication of I Love You Because.  The story is ever so sweet, of course, because it involves animals and we all know how Glenn adored his four legged friends.  It seems to me that if a person is to dial up a radio show to request and dedicate a song to their cat, they not only love their pet, but also, there is – though perhaps not acknowledged as such – an appreciation for the unique qualities of radio.  The direct-to-listener space that one gets through radio is surely not as easily attained on television.  Dedicating a song to your pet over a cool medium like television is rather silly.  So then, radio – even the linear type programs that were a far cry from Glenn’s densely textured contrapuntal radio documentaries – is still a trusty vehicle for delivering personal and moral listening experiences.  And as Glenn’s best friend, Lorne Tulk (a retired CBC Radio technician) told me, radio is a much simpler medium than television.  You don’t have lighting, sets, camera angles, etc.  It’s just sound.

Glenn worked very hard at being a good person.  It’s something that I’ve touched upon in nearly all of my posts, in particular Glenn and Corduroy and Why Glenn Gould Loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  It also served as the point of departure for 1982 Times Two, a post about Glenn’s humanitarian efforts and his having left his estate to the Salvation Army and the Toronto Humane Society.  Glenn used to say that he got along much better with animals than with humans.  And so it is, that the world famous pianist who, during his historic 1957 Russian tour, sent his dog, Banquo a charming post card – and who would, later on, be criticised for having abandoned the concert stage in favour of working in front of a microphone – could very well have penned, as a letter to his own four legged friend, the lyrics from our radio cat lover:

I love you because you understand, dear
Every single thing I try to do.
You’re always there to lend a helping hand, dear
I love you most of all because you’re you.
No matter what the world may say about me
I know your love will always see me through.
I love you for the way you never doubt me
But most of all I love you ’cause you’re you.
I love you because my heart is lighter
Every time I’m walking by your side.
I love you because the future’s brighter
The door to happiness, you open wide.
No matter what the world may say about me
I know your love will always see me through.
I love you for a hundred thousand reasons
But most of all I love you ’cause you’re you.
(Song by Leon Payne, 1949).
I think that, apart from perhaps Lorne, nobody truly understood Glenn as well as did his animal friends.  In many ways, I Love You Because is a perfect song for Glenn.  Now, look at this next photo and tell me the shoe doesn’t fit.  (P.S. Thank you to The Glenn Gould Foundation for sharing this and other photos of Glenn and kitty.)
To the lady who called in to request a song for her cat, I say thank you for giving me an idea for a blog post.  To the fellow who called in the Blue Rodeo song, thank you for just plain picking a good song!




Glenn and Corduroy


The funny thing about being profoundly influenced by someone you’ve never met, is that whether you realize it or not, they’re almost always on your mind.  Just when I think I’ve parcelled away my Gouldian ideas for the night – ideas about voicing in the music of Bach, or about the similarities between Art of Fugue and Walden  a seemingly unrelated yet strikingly appropriate connection comes to mind.

One such moment happened when, after opening the drawer to my nightstand, I found the cover of one of my favourite story books, Corduroy by Don Freeman.  I am comforted by the sweet and innocent cover of this 1968 classic, it’s no wonder I keep it where I can see it before bedtime instead of hidden away on the top shelf of my bookcase.

While I’ve no way of knowing whether or not Glenn ever read Corduroy, I’ve a hunch that he’d have found in it, a simple depiction of some of his deepest values.  If you aren’t familiar with Corduroy, then I highly recommend checking out a copy from your local library (you’ll find it under “X FREE” in the Junior Paperback Picture Book section).

Corduroy is the story of a wee stuffed bear, living amongst fancier toys in a department store.  While out shopping with her mother one day, a young girl named Lisa, passes by and walks up to the bear.  Longingly, she looks at Corduory and pleads with her mother that this is the bear she has always wanted.  Lisa’s practical mother has no time for the bear, remarking that they’ve already spent a great deal of money and furthermore, the bear has lost a button to one of his shoulder straps.  Exit mother and daughter.


Thinking that if he could only find a button for his overalls then the pleasant little girl would come back for him, Corduroy sets out in search of a button.  After store hours, when all is quiet and the lights are off, Corduroy travels from department to department, up and down the escalator where, after seeing a mattress button, attempts to pull it off only to have an accident in which he knocks over a lamp.

The adventure ends when, after hiding under the comforter of one of the beds, the night watchman shines his flashlight on two little ears poking out from under the covers.  Dutifully, the watchman carries Corduroy back to the toy department and places him next to the other, mainstream stuffed animals.  Poor Corduroy, his plan to find the missing button in the hopes that he would no longer be neglected, had failed.  He would forever remain shabby and therefore unloved.  Or so he thought…

Having emptied her piggy bank, Lisa returned to the store the next morning to buy the bear.  Refusing a gift box, she carried the buttonless little friend in her arms back home, where she gave him a new home and a button, too.  “I like you the way you are,” she said.

On the one hand, this is a story about the simple life, about helping others and being a good and generous person.  These notions are very Glenn, however, what I want to point out is the way this story relates to Glenn’s penchant for turning to neglected creatures and things, as if opening the door for many little ecstatic experiences and meaningful communication.

Glenn’s choice of repertoire, for example, favoured the works of neglected composers such as Orlando Gibbons, Paul Hindemith and Arnold Schoenberg.  As for the music of J. S. Bach, let’s be clear that it was not crowd-pleasing works such as the Italian Concerto or the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue which Glenn admired, but rather, the composer’s thorny, old-fashioned and unconventional final work, Art of Fugue.

Let us not forget how as a boy, Glenn would bring home every stray pet in the neighbourhood, including a skunk.  Glenn’s obsession with solitude and neglected northern landscapes and remote highways, is not unlike Corduroy and his trip through the abandoned department store.  We might even go so far as to say that Glenn’s preference for polyphonic music symbolized a desire to give all voices equal attention, to undo them from the neglect that results from homophonic textures and their dominant solo part or melody.

This aspect of Glenn having given his attention to the neglected, can also be seen in the spirit of his compassion for those less fortunate than himself.  That is to say that he left his entire estate to two charities, the Toronto Humane Society and the Salvation Army. Since Glenn’s death, many neglected people and animals have benefitted from his generous spirit.


As intellectually stimulating as Glenn’s recordings, radio documentaries and philosophical writings are, his human side – made evident by these seemingly random, unmusical connections to things like children’s storybooks and 1970’s television shows (see blog post #2 “Why Glenn Gould Loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) – is an aspect that we might do well to contemplate.  Whether your artistic role model is Glenn Gould, Pablo Picasso or Tina Turner, look for the unexpected connections that bring these people close to us.  All of the great minds that have come and gone have much to tell us in their own unique and unconventional ways.  Like a finely tuned radio (I know, another Glenn reference) we ought from time to time, to tune into the human frequency, adjusting our receivers accordingly and picking up some truly meaningful connections.




Harnessing Gouldian Thought in a Distracted Age

Autumn in Ontario

In my first post, I explore ways in which twenty-first century artists might use Glenn Gould as a career role model.  The moral fibre of Glenn’s creative output, his pursuit of solitude as a means for ecstatic experiences and his efforts to remove himself from the centre of a society in order to see it more clearly, serve as the backdrop to this audio essay.

Listen here: