Chapter Thirty

The script reproduced in the last chapter started with a reference to two ‘youth programs’ running on CBMT in 1966: Teen ’66 and The New Generation. I turned thirty-seven that year. What role could I have played on either ‘youth program?’ One that I was to become all too familiar with: we used to call it the “here is, that was” function.

Of the two programs, I took the most substantial role on The New Generation, the brainchild of the CBC producer Larry Shapiro. It was a TV program aimed at the college crowd, and tried to reflect the first stirrings of a revolt that soon had the continent’s campuses in an uproar.
Some sort of union requirement forced The New Generation to use a staff announcer, particularly for introductions and closings. Quite rightly, the producer didn’t want me to be seen on camera: I just didn’t blend in with the college crowd. But I got to do a little voice-over narration and even a bit of writing, for which I was never paid.
Compensation of a sort came from the contacts I made with two of the program’s guests while they waited to appear on the program: Phil Ochs and William F. Buckley, Junior.
I knew that the two men represented the opposite poles of the political spectrum; there might have been quite a scene if they had appeared on the same program. But their recorded segments were scheduled to appear several weeks apart. It’s interesting, I think, that I came away from my conversations with both guests feeling I had been treated very well.
I helped Ochs restring his guitar, following his instructions. We chatted casually as we worked, about our different countries and the state of the world. He seemed genuinely pleased that I liked his music and had played it on the air.
Buckley was a total surprise. I guess I expected a rightwing harangue, but he kept the conversation to Canada and Montreal and what he planned to say on the program, speaking softly in that famous drawl.

On Teen ’66 I took over for Colin Fox, one of the two men Jim Shrum and I had replaced when we were transferred to Montreal. I don’t know who the other man was, but it was obvious that many producers and technicians were worried that either Jim or I would follow in his footsteps. It would explain a lot of cold shoulders and hate stares.
Colin Fox, who went from Montreal to Toronto and a successful career in acting, left a totally different legacy. The first day I reported for duty on Teen ’66 I was regaled with examples of his generosity and reliability.
– Colin would spend his first few minutes in the studio making the rounds, handing out candy.
– Colin was never late.
– Colin had a kind word for everyone.
– Colin was always ready to do you a favor.

Hint, hint.

Teen ’66 was the CBC’s answer to a very popular teen program running on a rival private station in Montreal. The format was identical: the studio – the station’s largest – was filled with teenage couples dancing to recordings of that week’s most popular songs. A small stage had been set up at one end of the studio where the occasional guest artist would stand at a dead microphone and lip sync to his or her latest recording. A trio of attractive teenage girls directed by Wayne Grigsby (later to emerge as a prominent TV producer) would often stand behind the guest to go through some basic dance steps to the music.
I will repeat the basic question: what possible role could a 37-year-old play on such a program? I suspect the same union rule came into play. Mine was the first voice you heard. Standing well off mike and completely off camera, I would scream:

“It’s six on six, it’s Teen Sixty-Six!”

And a hundred or more legitimately youthful voices would then join in with screams of their own. My task fulfilled, I could then leave the studio for the hour the program was on the air, or find some corner where I could watch the show – as long as I stayed off camera.
Though I was only involved in the first ten seconds of the program, the Announce Office had given the producer of Teen ’66 two hours of my time, most of it before the program went on the air. It went on my time card as “rehearsal”. I got to know most of the people associated with the show and was introduced to each of the guest artists.

The popular music scene in Quebec was evolving on two distinct levels in the 1960’s. Innovative artists like Felix Leclerc, Claude Léveillée, Pauline Julien and Gilles Vigneault were the royalty of the top level; while an equally popular but often-reviled group formed the lower one. And there was an ill-defined area between them.
What would thrust an artist solidly into the lower level was a constant stream of ‘covers’: recordings of American and British hits with French lyrics to replace the English. And it was these cover artists that usually showed up as guests on Teen ’66, singing in French.
I particularly remember the sultry little beauty that took the stage to gyrate to her recording of “Oh, Sheriff, Oh” – a note-for-note copy of the Petula Clark hit. And the shock that came twenty years later from seeing what they had done to Michelle Richard.
Another lip-syncher was a chunky, omelet-eyed crooner in the Gilbert Becaud mold, Marc Gélinas, who proved to be popular with everyone on the show and quite approachable. Marc was no teenager in 1966, and he wasn’t to be classified with the Michelle Richards of the world, either. He wrote his own melodies and put some drama into his presentation. I liked Marc’s songs and asked him if he had ever considered English lyrics for them. He responded with a copy of his latest, and Pat McDougall, Adaptation, was born.

Marc Gélinas probably never knew how much he had done for me by agreeing to let me write English words to fit his melodies. We both knew it would never be possible to make Marc as popular in English-speaking Canada as he was in Quebec, but we hoped we could at least interest the rest of Canada in his songs. We never came close.
However, the word got around Montreal that there was a ‘bloke’ out there who was willing to take your French song and write English words to it. And according to Marc Gélinas, the bloke’s English words fit well enough for your song to be re-recorded in English using the original music tracks. All it will take is a few hours of studio time.
Before long I was approached by a procession of Quebecois who wanted to try. The first was Stéphane Venne who wrote the official theme song for Expo ’67. He had produced a record album for Columbia that featured his compositions as interpreted by Renée Claude, a very popular Quebec singer at the time. Working with the French album, I churned out English lyrics for all of the music, including Dizzy Gillespie’s lovely “Con Alma.”
Then came Pierre Lalonde who spoke flawless, American-accented English. He wanted English words for the theme song for a beauty pageant he was to host: a sort of “Here She Comes, Miss America” for Miss Canada.
Georges Dor took a reluctant shot at singing my words to his Quebec hit “La Manic,” urged on by his record representative. Gutsy Ginette Reno used my services for a promotional disc. And, much later, the equally gutsy Diane Dufresne and her boyfriend François Cousineau worked hard to produce an English album that combined their talents.
The results?
Columbia Records shelved Renée Claude’s English album permanently; I never learned why. The Dufresne-Cousineau LP was a sound-track record for a Quebec ‘skin flick’ that did well in both languages. The film did well: the record bombed. In fact, all of my efforts to popularize Quebec singers failed, and Pat McDougall, Adaptation made less than five hundred dollars out of all them combined.
Several other Quebec artists tried to record successfully in English back then – without my help. Ginette Reno came closest with her solid hit “Second Hand Man” but soon faded from the English scene. All of which makes the success of Celine Dion truly remarkable. On balance, Dion started with about as much going for her – or less – as any of the above; a not particularly attractive Quebec girl with a pleasant enough voice but a very shaky grasp of English. She had enjoyed early success in Quebec but had to start from scratch to penetrate the English market. And need I tell you how she came through?

Back to Marc Gélinas: Like many Quebec singer-songwriters of that era, Marc had built a small industry around his success. He would – for a fee – coach and advise aspiring pop singers, and he appeared as a singer and actor on the top TV and radio shows.
Marc sometimes acted in English and did well. He took a key role in David Fennario’s Balconville, the gritty stage play about Montreal’s poor that attracted sold-out audiences in Canada but fared poorly at London’s Old Vic, where it only lasted about a week.
One of Marc’s many regular contacts was Marcel Lefevbre who wrote lyrics to his melodies. French lyrics, of course. I met Marcel through Marc, and we hit it off immediately, despite our language difficulties: my French being as minimal as his English.
Marcel had been a singer-songwriter himself but had set the performing part aside to pursue a career in advertising. Here, Marcel’s persistence paid off. His was a distinctly Quebecois sound, based on the catchy rhythms associated with Madame Bolduc.
At first, Marcel and his Bolduc-inspired commercials ran into a bureaucratic brick wall: In the 1950s and 1960s, the Montreal advertising agencies routinely submitted their French commercials to the CBC for approval, in an effort to keep Anglicisms and other unacceptable French off the air. Marcel’s slang-laden commercials were rejected at first as demeaning and improper, but, with nationalism on the rise, Marcel’s style won through.
My first involvement with Marcel’s music came with a Hydro-Québec TV commercial. He had mentioned me to Guy Fournier of the French-language advertising agency Verseau. Besides running the agency, Guy wrote a humor column for La Presse, Montreal’s only broadsheet daily published in French, and this is the persona he adopted with me: the wily joker. Guy has an identical twin brother, Claude, a ranking Quebec film director. The first time I saw them together, they had dressed identically to wander from one CBC studio to another, popping up side by side in control rooms to unnerve the announcers trying to work on the other side of the glass.
Fournier spoke and wrote English quite well, but at the sight of me he became a caricature. Some sort of nasal problem added to his impersonation. I can still hear the twang he added to the characteristic greeting he bellowed from his office door:
“‘ere ‘e come! My favorite Irish-man!”

After several attempts, I finally abandoned efforts to convince him I was actually Scottish by origin.

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One Response to “Chapter Thirty”

  1. Linda Moses Says:

    Trying to locate Larry Shapiro.

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