Finding Stuart McLean

Update: Stuart McLean has died

It is with deep sadness that the Vinyl Cafe family announces that Stuart McLean passed away today, February 15th, 2017, at age 68. We are heartbroken.” So am I. What a loss.


Starting in January 2017, Stuart McLean and his team won’t be airing The Vinyl Cafe on CBC Radio, Sirius XM 169 or podcast. Public Radio stations in the USA will be airing episodes of Vinyl Cafe Stories until the end of February 2017. This is because Dearest Stuart, Mr.Vinyl Cafe himself, the Great Teacher of the Canadian Short Story, is very ill.

As many of you know, I was diagnosed with melanoma a year ago. At the time we figured the treatment would be swift. What can I say … things don’t always go exactly as planned.

I began my first round of immunotherapy treatment last winter. It was partially, but not completely, successful. So the plan is for me to begin another round of immunotherapy treatment in January.”

Tarnation. Not good news at all. I was so used to putting the ipad on the kitchen counter and streaming Vinyl Cafe live while I was making breakfast on Saturday mornings. I can only say, good luck Mr. McLean, from a fan who is so rabid that she actually bought tickets to one of your shows, and would’ve loved to shake your hand. Please get better soon, and live long and prosper.

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Sometimes I chance upon the most amazing things – perhaps it is a Canadian phenomenon – unexpectedly good bands, artists and authors, and now, radio shows. I’m partial to CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for those who don’t know) Radio 2, which broadcasts a range of interesting modern music in the mornings, and classical in the afternoons. It’s not just that the modern music is good and by local bands, but that the classical presenters seem genuinely enthusiastic, are very all informed and find clever themes on which to base their playlists.

On the way to Whistler for some Spring skiing the other day, we, as usual, tuned in to CBC Radio 2 and were delighted to hear a talk show on the subject of “Shirts” of all things – music and short stories about shirts. The show was The Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean – who has a superb voice, deep-toned and with clear pronunciation. (Unlike some people whose faces are only good for radio, Mr. McLean also happens to be rather dashing looking.)

Stuart McLean (Photo:
Stuart McLean (Photo:

He was reading an essay, “Clothesline”,  by Debbie Homewood from Richmond Hill, Ontario, who had participated in The Vinyl Cafe’s “Story Exchange”, a forum where listeners can submit their writing to be read out on the programme. It was well written, structured almost like a case study on “how to write an essay properly”. What I especially appreciated was the simple sentences – as short as they needed to be. Elegance has been defined as the state at which you stop reducing or taking away, from that which you have created.  She had it down to its minimalist essence. The other stories in the Story Exchange are as good. We turned up the sound and listened carefully, ignoring the scenery, and every so often I had to nod and say, yes, that is how it is.

Below are the opening lines of  her essay; beautifully short, sharp and to the point.

However, McLean, an acclaimed, decorated and awarded author, academic and radio host,  impressed me even more with his own story, “Shirts” that he read out because of a discussion about whether his short stories are in face autobiographical. He says this one is as close to the truth as he gets in his writing. It is included in his collection Stories From the Vinyl Cafe (1995), one of some seven collections of Vinyl Cafe tales.

Stories from the Vinyl Cafe

It’s very dry, very witty, very clever, and so engaging that both my husband and I laughed out loud as we listened. The short story form is devilishly difficult to master, and few authors, like Hanif Kureishi and (one of my favourite authors) E. Annie Proulx, have made it their forte and excel in the form. Apparently, so has McLean.

What a treat. I recommend you tune in to The Vinyl Cafe too, if you can, because there is nothing as nice as a seamless combination of good music and good literature – with a typically Canadian flavour.

Clothesline by Debbie Homewood, Richmond Hill, ON (May 4, 13)

“There has always been a clothesline in my life. I never really thought about it as a kid. It was just there. In fact, in the house I grew up in, my mom had two lovely and long clotheslines, each on pulleys.

I owe my affection for the clothesline to my mother. Although she would never have used the word, she deeply understood and lived the ideal of stewardship. She had no choice. There was never a lot of money. She was born in 1916, during World War One. She was a young adult during the Depression and World War Two. She knew hard times. She knew you had to take care of what you had, because you did not know if you would get anything more. And taking care of things included everything. Your home, your furniture, your land … and your clothes. Stewardship – the care of things – began as a necessity but it became part of life. She was good at it. She passed those values on to me.”

Read the rest of the story, and others, here.

Here’s Mr. McLean spinning a tale about a carrot that didn’t get eaten – and water bottles and small bladders. Seriously.


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