The Back Page

JUST IGNORE THE WHINERS

The Downsview concert offered relief from the usual national neuroses

PAUL WELLS August 11 2003
The Back Page

JUST IGNORE THE WHINERS

The Downsview concert offered relief from the usual national neuroses

PAUL WELLS August 11 2003

JUST IGNORE THE WHINERS

The Back Page

The Downsview concert offered relief from the usual national neuroses

PAUL WELLS

WE ARE A nation united by the most pathetic whining. The morning after the Rolling Stones concert at Toronto’s Downsview Park, I woke up to watch a CTV NewsNet report about Vancouverites complaining that they didn’t get a concert. “Toronto,” some gormless twit in downtown Vancouver told the reporter. “Centre of the universe, get everything they want.”

Toronto did indeed get a concert and Vancouver didn’t. Toronto also got 42 dead people and Vancouver didn’t. Tell you what, lady. You can have a concert, too. Just tell us who should die first.

By demonstrating her stellar ability to vanish up her own fundament, the lady in Vancouver joins the oversubscribed Canadian all-star league of regional moaners. Everybody join in. The collapse of the fishery proves the rest of us hate Newfoundland. The mad cow crisis proves the nation has abandoned Alberta. When SARS is not being held up as proof of Ontario’s special privilege, it is held up as proof that the rest of the country has forgotten Ontario.

When you are in the business of billing your misfortune to somebody else’s account, it is always handy to invent a precedent. So we are informed that the nation, or at least the national piggy bank in Ottawa, is less generous to the latest petitioner than it was during the Quebec ice storm. Yet during the ice storm, the Quebec branch of the Usual Gang of Accredited Whiners complained Quebec was being short-changed, too.

Which is why the day-long concert at Downsview offered such a blessed vacation from this nation’s most persistent neuroses. Four provincial premiers were on hand, but in an act of infinite mercy they declined to hold a conference on the fiscal imbalance. Bernard Landry was unable to attend, to explain patiently, as if to idiots—the only audience he ever thinks he is addressinghow SARS proves Quebec must separate. The massive crowd was in no mood to harm a fly, but one effect of its immense and benevolent presence was to warn politicians

against indulging their worst habits.

Stephen Harper and the editorial board of the National Post weren’t on hand to address the sun-drenched legions to explain to us that none of this would have happened if we had been nicer to George W. Bush. The Toronto Star returned the favour by declining to explain how SARS is Bush’s fault. Canadian, British, Australian and American bands stormed the stage, and nobody engaged in cheap nationalist scorekeeping. It was a kind of miracle.

The stupid rivalry between Toronto and Everywhere Else was banished for the space of a day and a night. Dave Bronconnier, the canny Calgary mayor, sent his barbecue legions and hosted a simulcast at the Saddledome, offering the beleaguered residents of Hogtown the surprising news that “Calgary loves you.”

Dennis Mills, the Toronto MP who dreamed up this nutty idea, worked like a demon for a month to make it real. In a world where Sheila Copps thinks the Juno Awards are about her, Mills did something almost no politician would have the guts

to do: he left the stage and the spotlight to the musicians.

I watched most of this from the media tent, about three counties away from the stage. The looming video screens that brought news from the distant bandstand to the paying customers were nowhere near our vantage point. Our fridges were unstocked with beer. A few colleagues whined. Imagine, giving the bored emissaries of the press corps worse seats than what the paying customers got. It is unheard of. But it was that kind of day.

The politicians didn’t behave like politicians. The reporters weren’t treated like kings. The rock stars forgot to bring their rock-star attitude. Somebody pelted Justin Timberlake, the dewey-eyed teen heartthrob, with a water bottle. It made perfect sense, he shrugged later: If he was out there waiting to see AC/DC, he said, he wouldn’t want to see Justin Timberlake either.

I most assuredly wasn’t there for AC/DC, but you have to give credit where it is due. Judging by T-shirts alone, the Australian band built around Brian Johnson’s throatcurdling vocals and the permanently convulsing face of guitarist Angus Young had more genuine fans than any band at Downsview, including the Stones. And AC/DC rewarded those fans more generously, with one megaton anthem after another. Arena rock doesn’t cut it in an airfield; only AC/DC had a blast radius sufficient for the occasion.

Only one other band rose to the challenge presented by that ridiculously large crowd. Every year the Guess Who looks more and more like grandpa’s embarrassing party band. Burton Cummings wore a T-shirt with the logo from the Superman movie, which came out before two-thirds of this crowd was born. But I will never forget the jolt of excitement that rocked this crowd, after six hours of sun and music, halfway through Taking Care of Business. Some bands have it. Some don’t. The Guess Who still has it.

The Stones? They played, too. The fans seemed to like Mick and the boys just fine as they streamed to the exits. No point getting stuck in traffic. An orderly crowd. Generous. Weary after the sort of year no city should have to face, but happy. A teeming admonition to the whiners who never manage, despite their worst efforts, to bring the rest of us down. lüü

To comment: backpage@macleans.ca