A reporter called this week looking for an interview on the national anthem. Got me remembering a few things.
Nineteen years ago the long-haired morning man at a hick Ontario radio station lamented the fact no decent version of O Canada existed to open his show with. Why was that, he wondered on air? Why no ‘We Are The World’ rock star-studded version of our anthem to inspire kids and melt jaded hearts?
So he started a crusade to create one. But being a DJ from Smallsville, he struck out. So called his local MP. And after one minute, I got it.
First I went to the federal government for funding to finance an updated recording, and to send a copy to every school. After all, it was the 125th anniversary of Confederation, and Ottawa has a giant pot of money to throw around.
But I was rejected. The mandarins, led by Joe Clark, told me point blank O Canada was ‘too divisive’ and would not resonate with Quebeckers or ethnic voters. So I told them to get stuffed.
Four months later I’d raised a million dollars from the CEOs of companies like Ford Canada, Coke and Canada Post. I turned this over to the DJ, who had devoted his life to the project, and he actually pulled it off. A pop version of the song was done, featuring a mess of big name artists, and a new symphonic version which you can now hear late at night when TV stations expire. And, yes, we sent a CD to every school in the land.
Then, on Canada Day, with the Queen in attendance, we arranged for all these rock stars to take to the stage on Parliament Hill and perform the anthem. In the darkness, a hundred thousand people sitting on the grass suddenly stood and belted it out. I wept.
That night in a packed hotel room, the rockers passed around a gold pen they all used to sign the body of a Fender Telecaster electric guitar Randy Bachman had played on stage that day. Then he gave it to me.
‘Thank you, man,’ he said. ‘This was my best day.’
Canada does that to people.