Before he was an award-winning CBC-Radio interviewer, a famed Billy Bob Thornton antagonist, or a member of Moxy Früvous, Jian Ghomeshi was a neurotic ninth-grader with a massive crush on a girl named Wendy and an even bigger one on David Bowie. The Q host recounts these boyhood obsessions in his new year-in-the-life memoir, 1982. We caught up with him at the Rivoli to discuss hair gel, romantic deal-breakers, and the trouble with kids today.
1982 reads like a love letter to a bygone era, when phones were attached to curly wires and making a mix tape could take months. Was that what you had in mind?
It’s funny, because for 20 years, it was like, “Fuck off, boomers, we get it. You had a great era—John Fogerty or whatever—but enough with your nostalgia and your reminiscing.” And now my generation is doing the same thing. It’s obnoxious, but it’s necessary. We’re revelling in what was our period and, to a certain extent, all of it becomes fond.
It also felt sort of like a John Cougar song, which is probably a huge dis to a new waver like yourself, but, you know—that bygone era where kids hung out all summer without any plans. Are today’s youth missing out on something essential?
Well, just look at what buying a new album used to entail. You had to forage out into the wild: Get on the Markham transit, get on the Finch subway, down to Yonge and Dundas, into Sam the Record Man. By the time you get home, you’ve already invested a lot of time and effort. So, without veering too far into grumpy-old-man territory, the question is: Does that make your relationship with the music more significant than being able to just press a button and buy whatever song you’re looking for? And then, half an hour later, buy another song. There is so much instant gratification.
One of the focuses of the book is your almost restraining-order-worthy obsession with a high-school crush named Wendy. Are you guys still in touch? What does she think of being immortalized on the page?
She does know about the book. We hadn’t been in touch, but I found her for the sake of the book. I can’t say how I got in touch with her. I can’t even confirm that her name is actually Wendy. I did see her, though—she’s remarkably unchanged.
Why all the secrecy?
I just want to protect her privacy. I don’t want her to be bothered just because I decided to write a book that she is basically the star of.
Your love for David Bowie was even more fervent than your feelings for Wendy. What is it about him?
I don’t think I would have understood this back then but, looking back, Bowie was the champion of the outsiders and that’s what I identified as. The song “Changes” is all about that. He was like Lady Gaga with her little monsters.
Have you ever gotten a chance to meet him?
No. I’ve seen him play a few times, but never met him.
You had a pretty serious relationship with hair product as a young person. Describe your daily 1982 grooming routine versus today’s.
If we’re charting my gel use on a graph, it’s pretty high in the ’80s and then it peaks in the ’90s. Me 30 years ago would have thought me today looks like a banker.
Okay, let’s talk a bit about your radio show. I heard a rumour that you start every Q story meeting by asking your team, “Who’s our next Billy Bob?” Is the rumour true?
That is completely false. None of us talk about Billy Bob. Only people outside of the show talk to us about that.
But it was a pretty big deal.
For sure. It put me and the show on the map and turned into this kind of amazing thing. I joke about it, but I know that there may be nothing I ever do again that will get that much attention.
You were recently named best radio host at the New York Festivals International Radio Awards. In Canada, that sort of thing makes us worry that you might make a run for the border.
The first opportunity. Should Radio Wyoming call me, I’ll be on a bus. I’m kidding, obviously. I really love what I’ve been able to build with the public broadcaster in Canada. I know that there are gigs in the States where I could make a lot more money and have people know who I am, but I would hate myself.
I’m sure you know you have a reputation for being a bit of a ladies’ man. Are you dating anyone in particular these days?
No, I’m not. The only reason I have that reputation is because I have often been single over the years, so I don’t show up with the same person at every event for 20 years straight.
Does your dream girl have to share your taste in music? Like, if I said I hate Rush, would that be a deal-breaker?
No, that would make you a girl…or a woman. But if you said you hate Bowie, that would be the beginning of the end.
Lightning round, Bowie edition!
Best Bowie song?
Most overrated Bowie song?
Favourite Bowie alter-ego?
Best Bowie cover?
No one should cover Bowie.
Ghormeh Sabzi (it’s Persian).
Ghormeh Sabzi or Bowie?
Coffee or Bowie?
Sex or Bowie?
Immortality or Bowie?