‘Peter Gzowski’s Book About This Country in the Morning’

I don’t know how I thought of it, but somehow I remembered a book I used to pore over as a young lad (along with Monty Python books and car magazines): Peter Gzowski’s Book About This Country in the Morning, the latter show being a precursor to Morningside.

(The Archives has Gzowski’s final clip on the show. See an old ad. Pictures of the book.)

Book cover, with a bird flying away and a sunny wildnerness scene visible through the title Peter Gzowski’s Book About This Country in the Morning

The book came out in ’74, but there’s no way I was reading this when I was nine years old. It must have had some staying power, some pass-along power, back then.

“Content”

It isn’t really a tie-in book of the sort we’re familiar with today. In 230 pages there are over a hundred chapters, or at least sections. There are seemingly verbatim transcripts of Gzowski’s interviews with prime ministers. (I remember Trudeau’s interview, and an idiom he used, tel qu’en lui-même l’éternité le change, which I still don’t understand.)

It’s got puzzles and games; recipes; a running “gag” in which people “resign” from things like adulthood, the lawn, and spiders; letters from a pregnant lady; essays from a housewife about women’s liberation and the frustrations of being housebound with kids.

Some of what we’d now call the “content” is dated, obviously. There’s a recipe for a kind of Bachelor Chow (“Now with Flavour!”) – here it’s clam chowder made mostly from cans. The first instruction is “Heat electric frying pan to 300 degrees.” (If that doesn’t summon up childhood memories, you must be under 40.) Somebody pays good money every month for an “answering service.” There’s a picture of a telegram. (A real telegram. A CBC-internal telegram.)

Design

There are tons of illustrations by David Shaw, in a blousy Yellow Submarine style that makes everything look like it’s made of clouds. The illos are very much of their time, with wide swaths of Letratone conspicuously applied.

And the whole book is typeset in a widely-reviled typeface of the era, Souvenir, that really shouldn’t be reviled. It works here, despite the erratic spacing. (The cover, which also works, is in Gill Kayo.) Marginalia ticks its way through the letters of the alphabet, with kooky fonts (like Baby Teeth) and corny limericks attached to each letter. So it looks like a book from the ’70s.

A diary of a pre-fragmentation CBC

You glance at this book and all that surface business is what you see first, especially if you’re big on typography or whatever, which I know everyone here is. A fetish for period accuracy is now the mark of the hip intellectual – The Ice Storm, Far From Heaven, Mad Men. The book is period-accurate all right.

But the book is a diary of a pre-fragmentation CBC. A time when having the radio on pretty much meant having CBC Radio on. (They say “I had the radio on” in the book.) For a large class of people, including opinion leaders and journalists and educated housewives who could listen to the radio all morning, having the radio on meant having Gzowski on. Then classical music on CBC Stereo in the afternoon maybe.

It probably didn’t mean having a commercial radio station on. I know they were pretty good here in Toronto during many periods of its history, but CBC was in a different universe compared to CKCW in Moncton when I was growing up. I didn’t know a thing about pop music till I was about 14 but I could name that classical tune within ten notes half the time. I remember Don Harron quitting and Peter Gzowski taking over. (Though was that really the sequence?) I watched 90 Minutes Live, Take Thirty, the earliest Nature of Things with the harpsichord closing theme song.

Some of the cultural concerns of the Gzowski elite are still in play today. The book recounts an epic trip to and across the Northwest Territories, with all the genuine wonder and laboured lyricism you’d expect from, say, a lit major who had just read Survival a week before. (That book is a kind of Atlas Shrugged for Objectivists of Canadian nationalism.) Now in August of ’09 the papers can’t shut up about how everything is still borked in the North. Even the prime minister is going to visit there.

It’s all true, but even in Gzowski’s time weren’t most of us living in cities? Why is there such a feel of apology for Toronto, an unwillingness to imagine living in a dwelling smaller than a detached house? (There’s a little joke about a lady suffering from carbon-monoxide depletion who has to run into town, but that’s about it.)

Conversely, why is there just an accepted understanding that really we’re all Canadians and we have the same ethics and goals and general feel? The same sensibility? All very gentle (and genteel) and middle-class (and patrician). Blindingly white-collar. And pretty much just white, except occasionally “Eskimo.”

One cannot regzowskify the CBC

CBC stopped being a unifying force when cable TV hit, then it shattered for good when noobs finally got online. One cannot regzowskify the CBC. This dream of unity just does not work anymore. Consensus culture has been replaced by fractal culture, and several other things. There isn’t a shared Canadian culture that CBC can use as a nucleus around which to coalesce the country. There isn’t a countrywide feel that could drive the creation of a radio show, or a book. Even a book itself divided into a hundred little chapterettes.

Peter Gzowski’s Book About This Country in the Morning let me revisit my youth for a while, but I’m like everybody else here. I don’t have an answer to the questions “What does the CBC do today?” or “What is the CBC for?”

Back in the day, Gzowski and his listeners and his readers might not be able to give you a punchy one-liner in response to those questions, but they could sit you down for a while, make you Red Rose tea in their harvest-gold kitchen while the dog runs around the yard, and at least talk about it. They have something to talk about. There is a nucleus. They’d be hitting the same set of emotional landmarks the way designers put together a mood board before they start a project. They could tell you an emotional tale about the CBC.

What would be that tale today? I don’t know.

16 comments:

  1. Anonymous
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 12:38 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I am about the same age as you and I had this book as a child also. I have no idea where it came from, but I absolutely loved it. I was reading it around age 10 or 11. There was something fascinating about all that stuff together between the pages of one book, and added to a sense of feeling part of something bigger.

  2. Allan
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 11:55 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Many statements made in this post are as dumb as they get.

    (consider that a teaser, joe)

    • Fake Ouimetjoined April 10, 2009
      Posted August 21, 2009 at 12:40 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

      Postings about the Tea Makers go on Meta Tea Makers and will be moved there if placed somewhere else.

  3. Allan
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 11:53 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    you keep implying that you are in some way in charge of this blog, joe, when you are not.

    • Fake Ouimetjoined April 10, 2009
      Posted August 21, 2009 at 12:40 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

      More accurately, you aren’t.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 8:02 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    People don’t always talk about it but it’s the producers behind the show that help the host achieve that resonance. Metro Morning and Here and Now have great producers working with great hosts. They reflect the diversity of the city and make an effort to capture that day to day. Diversity in this regard is not just socio-ethnic, but also intellectual. While The Current and Q have a certain degree of socio-ethnic diversity neither are intellectually diverse, and this shows in the programming. They both have an arrogance or elitism that comes with being a national program. A little more populism would do both shows a whole world of good.

    • Anonymous
      Posted August 21, 2009 at 1:40 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

      I wholeheartedly agree. A lot of the national shows could learn a lot from Metro Morning and here and Now (and maybe their equivalents in other cities, I don’t know).

      Sure, it’s easier to accurately reflect a city than a nation – but it’s the tone of these shows and especially their hosts that make them so good… They’re confident but not cocky, friendly but not smarmy, and tough when they need to be but not nasty. As you point out, this assuredness comes from having good producers behind the scenes.

      I was going to slag a bunch of national hosts as pompous and insecure – but in the new spirit of Teamakers I will leave it at that.

  5. Fake Ouimetjoined April 10, 2009
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 12:06 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I was thinking about this some more. In the era of this book you expected your National Governing Broadcaster to give you everything you needed. If it wasn’t there, you didn’t really need it (QED).

    Hence the book version of the flagship show has to contain everything you and your whole family need for entertainment for months at a time †puzzles, recipes, illustrations, essays, interviews, limericks. One-stop shopping.

    But we don’t “consume” entertainment like that anymore, do we?

  6. Anonymous
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 9:44 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I’m happy to see this discussion on Teamakers by the way. If this is a sign of your new direction, I like it. Very thoughtful essay on CBC past and future that raises many important questions.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 9:37 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    You may be onto something here. As It Happens does the best job of capturing some sort of national zeitgeist. Gzowski vet Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe does the whitebread Dave Barry version. But The Current and Q sure don’t seem to hit it – if, indeed, there is anything left to hit.
    On the other hand – Metro Morning and Matt Galloway really do reflect Toronto nicely I think. Maybe in Gzowski’s day it was easier to reflect Moose Jaw and Toronto at the same time? I really couldn’t say…
    Also, a fragmented, more diverse, more savvy audience with more options isn’t a bad thing… and having a monopoly (eg “having the radio on meant having CBC radio on”) is a goal best left in the past anyway – it’s impossible to do now, and it’s just not how people use the media available to them.

  8. Fake Ouimetjoined April 10, 2009
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 8:29 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Allan, you’re going to have to try a lot harder. You aren’t above the rules.

    • Allan
      Posted August 20, 2009 at 12:42 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

      Censoring comments is not the way to advance this blog.
      And to put yourself above the other contributors here is completely out of line.

      Would you prefer I make my views known as a full post?

      • Fake Ouimetjoined April 10, 2009
        Posted August 20, 2009 at 10:27 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

        Call it censorship if you want. This is the standard dodge of people who think they have a right to destroy an online community if they fucking well feel like it. They don’t. You don’t.

        I don’t have to “advance” this blog; I just have to keep it functioning. Which it wasn’t before. Due largely to shit in the comments pool. Which you added to.

        Highly critical comments are one of many forms that are perfectly welcome here. You know what kinds of comments aren’t. So don’t submit those and we’ll be golden.

        • Allan
          Posted August 21, 2009 at 6:51 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

          No one asked for you to intervene or “improve” Tea Makers.
          And nor does it rely on you to keep it “functioning”.
          You’ve chosen to impose your will on everyone when you’re a guest here like the rest of us.
          Back to joe’s reign of terror.

          • Fake Ouimetjoined April 10, 2009
            Posted August 21, 2009 at 8:38 am | #

            I didn’t wait to be “asked.” What I’m imposing is order. And guess what: Even if you think you don’t need it, I’ll be protecting you from the anonymous cowards who have polluted the comments section since the week this blog started. Your attitude of “How dare you take any independent action!” isn’t gonna fly here.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 8:25 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    The recent mystery novel Old City Hall has a national radio host character that is regozkified. Fiction indeed.


Post a Comment

Your email is never shared.

Upload Files

You can include images or files in your comment by selecting them below. Once you select a file, it will be uploaded and a link to it added to your comment. You can upload as many images or files as you like and they will all be added to your comment.

Write for us