As many of you already know, not only was April 22nd Earth Day, but the entire month is Earth Month, the perfect time to take a moment and really think about the impact that we all have on the planet we share -- and that we all rely on to sustain us -- and that’s just what my conversation with Grant Lawrence of CBC Radio 3 and author of the newly published book "Adventures in Solitude" was all about. Read on to find out what he had to say about CBC Radio 3 and "Playlist for the Planet," his new book, and much more.
While many people know about your show and CBC Radio 3 in general, for those who haven’t heard of the contest and the resulting album, can you talk a little bit about what it is and how it came to be?
Sure. "Playlist for the Planet" was something that The David Suzuki Foundation, which has been around for 20 years, came up with. They approached CBC to partner with them to come up with an environmental soundtrack of sorts, and CBC thought that Radio 3, being the home of Canadian independent music, was a perfect fit for that. They came up with the title "Playlist for the Planet," and what we invited people to do was submit their songs that are about the environment or about nature, about wilderness, animals, the betterment of the earth, and a playlist would be determined. We weren’t really sure what the response would be, but over 600 artists from across Canada submitted songs, and then we held it to a public vote. One artist from each province was selected, and one artist from the north, and they were chosen to give a musical voice to Canada’s environmental conscience, so to speak.
AD: I think it’s a great idea to just publicize what’s going on [climate change], that this will make people more aware.
GL: Yeah, I think it’s really nice. So all of those winners join 20 other Canadian recording artists that were preselected and in late March the "Playlist for the Planet" was released in stores all across Canada as well as on iTunes. Some of the bigger artists on it were pre-selected, people like Joel Plaskett, Bruce Cockburn, k-os, and others. I guess my one issue with it is I think it’s somewhat -- I’m not totally sure what ended up happening, but when I interviewed David Suzuki about this I thought that it would be somewhat contradictory and hypocritical to actually release this as a physical product, because unless the package is environmentally-friendly, I feel CD packaging is quite wasteful. So, I was into it being available just on iTunes, I wasn’t into it being a packaged CD, and I did ask Dr. David Suzuki about that -- that’s actually posted on DavidSuzuki.org, my interview with him-- but he was not sure what was going to happen, and I’m not sure what ended up happening. I haven’t seen a physical copy yet.
AD: I remember that. I’ve been listening to your program for a while now, and I remember you talking with him shortly before the album’s release -- I guess toward the tail end of the year. I remember you asking him about that. He said he didn’t really know why the decision was made to have a physical album as opposed to just as a digital download.
GL: I think I kind of caught him off-guard a little bit. You know, it was a challenging question, and I do care about that, and it’s something to think about. As David Suzuki pointed out in that interview, being an environmentalist does come with it’s contradictions. David Suzuki is a man in demand. He just celebrated his 75th birthday. He needs to fly, and so the irony is that one of Canada’s -- and one of the world’s -- greatest environmentalists has a fairly heavy carbon footprint, and that’s just one of the contradictions that we deal with in life.
The good thing is that I suppose you could say his carbon offset is the many, many decades of awareness that he has been out there ringing the bells of environmentalism and ecology, and of reducing, reusing, and recycling and everything. I first saw Dr. David Suzuki speak in the late 1980s, when I was a young teenager, and so that was 25 years ago. As long as he can be a positive influence, I’d say they can forgive him for his flights or his CD packaging, but it’s something to keep in mind.
AD: I think that at least if everybody tried to do their part, and that’s what he’s trying to get them to do, we’ll be headed in a positive direction. Hopefully through listening to him people will learn something from him -- like I did. I think that sort of makes up for the travel and whatnot.
GL: When I talk to climate change deniers, my argument is whether the planet is warming up or not, isn’t it just generally a good idea to clean up after yourself? We do it in our homes, most of us don’t live in pigsties. It’s seen as unhealthy and dirty not to clean up after yourself. We bathe our bodies to clean up the stink. Why can’t we just do it with the planet as well? That’s why I get frustrated with the climate change deniers. Don’t you just want to clean up after yourself a little bit? Don’t you want to take some personal and social responsibility to just make sure that your own backyard -- that being the planet -- is cleaned?
AD: That’s the thing. I was just reading a book, and it seems like some people are putting it out there as an either/or proposition. Either we have the resources we need, in terms of energy, transportation, or what have you, or we do what is environmentally responsible, as if we can’t meet our needs and also live in an eco-conscious way, which is not the case. I don’t get it. When I interviewed Ian Hanington, who is from The David Suzuki Foundation, he was saying that it is about as close as you can get to 100 percent consensus that global warming [also called “climate change”] is happening. Yet there are still people saying ‘Well, you know, it’s not as a result of human activities.’ It’s all a bit shocking.
GL: I agree. I prefer the term “climate change” to “global warming,” because people say ‘We’ve had a horribly cold winter, so much for global warming.’ I think the better term for more widespread recognition of what’s going on is “climate change” so people can acknowledge that global warming affects all different types of weather, and deniers can understand “climate change” a little more than they can “global warming” when they’re freezing their a** off in Winnipeg.
AD: At least, if nothing else, this [album] will get people who might not otherwise even think about their impact on the environment to think about what they can do.
GL: I think this record, "Playlist for the Planet," will, to a certain extent, preach to the converted, but if it gets a certain amount of people to change the way they think or change the way they do things, mission accomplished. It certainly is not the first time art and environmentalism have been combined, but it was a really fun exercise for CBC Radio 3. We weren’t sure how it was going to go, and it went really, really well. So, we’re really happy about that.
AD: If you can pick one song from there ["Playlist for the Planet"], what would be your favorite and why?
GL: One of my favorite songs easily, hands down, is Danny Michel’s "Feather, Fur, and Fin." Not only do I think it has a very salient message throughout it of the encroachment of human beings onto wilderness habitat, but it also is an amazing song.
AD: I know that late last year, you wrote your book ["Adventures in Solitude"]. I really enjoyed reading it. Is there anything that led you to write the book now in particular or -- is that something you’ve been wanting to do for a while?
GL: Thank You. I wanted to write something, I just wasn’t sure what it was going to be, and so it turns out that I had written for years when I was in my band, The Smugglers -- we had played Chicago many times -- I kept tour diaries, so I thought I was just going to compile all of those into one spot, and then when The Smugglers wound down I really started spending a lot of time up at my family cabin, in Desolation Sound. I started being taken by, quite frankly the environment and the beauty and nature of that area of Canada. I think what really pushes stories ahead are great characters, and I realized there were a ton of great characters up in the Desolation Sound area. I first started telling those stories on the radio, and eventually a CBC producer said ‘You should really write these down,‘ so I started writing them down and I figured out that I could put them into a narrative that made sense. I really worked on the book for about the past five years, until it was published in September.
AD: It seems like part of it, anyway -- to me that is, having read it -- it is a kind of chronicle of your appreciation of nature. It seems like at first, when you were little, you were more reluctant to be out there in the wilderness, but that changed, and you learned the importance of nature, you recognized the connection and interdependence that we have with nature. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so who or what would you credit with that? I don’t know... maybe I’m reading too much -- or the wrong thing -- into it.
GL: No, no. I appreciate you recognizing that. I do have a very, very deep appreciation for nature, and for wild animals, for flora and fauna, and I truly love it and truly love being around it. When I was a kid, I was very, very nervous of it, but I fully credit my dad for taking me out into the wilderness and showing me that -- you know, no pun intended, I’d love to say the wilderness doesn’t bite, but it actually does. It can bite in many different ways, large and small, but he just taught me to respect it and to not fear it, to be careful but not fear it. I know I’m still nervous, I mean I’m up in an area where there are really big predators, like bears and cougars and wolves. I’m careful, and I’m hyperaware of my surroundings, but that’s not to say that -- if a cougar wants to attack someone, it just attacks someone. Chances are a person will never even know it, until the cougar is on top of you, so I take precautions, but I would credit my dad for that. I’ve always had an incredible and deep respect for the wilderness, but I’ve also had a certain amount of fear being in the wilderness, just because of the wild creatures that exist back there. I love them, though. Whenever I see one I’m completely and utterly fascinated. In just a week in Desolation Sound I can see at least 10 species of animals.
AD: It seems that now, more and more, rather than spending time outdoors, a lot of kids spend time indoors in front of the computer, watching the TV or playing video games. So, do you think that in the 21st century, with some many of us spending time indoors, do you think that the majority of people recognize that connection with Mother Nature and how interdependent we are on it and Mother Nature is on us if we’re to have a sustainable future?
GL: I would say the answer is yes and no. The general population of the world is an urban population. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, human beings have lived primarily in cities. That’s where we group together, in cities. That’s where we live. So for a long, long time the percentage of the population that doesn’t experience the wilderness on a regular basis is vast and large, and I think in recent years there’s been an eco-boom, in such that people have been trying very hard to get back to nature in some way, shape or form. I do still think that it’s a small percentage of the population. I know people that have never left the City of Toronto in their lives, and I’m lucky here in Vancouver, because here nature is all around us. I mean, I can go from a beautiful beach on the ocean to a mountaintop in 10 minutes, and be completely surrounded by nature, but most cities aren’t like that. So I would say that’s been an issue with the human population for at least 125 years.
AD: Do you think then -- because, as you say, in major urban centers people don’t really experience the outdoors -- do you think that there’s a certain role that parents or schools should play in getting kids out there, and getting kids to recognize the connection and interdependent nature that exists between people and planet, and if so, what?
GL: Absolutely. I think it’s a lot easier said than done. If you take a look at New York City, the most urban -- I mean they don’t call it “the concrete jungle” for nothing -- there’s very little green space, and even the green space they have is compartmentalized.What concerns me is the ability to have access to nature is becoming somewhat elitist and is becoming somewhat of a rich, upper-class access. A lot of the lower-income status does not have that easy access to nature, or to the great outdoors, because they’re in big cities and they don’t go out a lot. I would say -- again I would say kids living in the inner city, probably 90 percent of them don’t even know what camping is, and it would be great if schools had outdoor programs, except the thing is -- you know I went to outdoor camp when I was in school, and it was fantastic. But, there’s a lot of schools where they’re just trying to get the kids into the classroom, let alone take them camping. You know what I mean? So, I think it would be great, but I think it’s a larger social issue, and I think it’s a classist issue, unfortunately.
AD: It’s a surprise that there’s not more talk about that. You have talk of this sort of disparity between access to technology, and yet there’s no talk of this at all.
GL: It’s just that people have to prioritize the issues. I think education is always a huge issue, but environmental education not so much, not for kids, even though, quite frankly, it’s always a great idea to start the education of things like environmentalism at a very young age, because the kids can have a real effect on the parents.
AD: Are there any resources you would recommend to people if they are interested in learning more about this issue [of climate change]?
GL: I think that the site I mentioned, David Suzuki’s site is very good. That’s DavidSuzuki.org. I always recommend that one. Then I also recommend his television show, “The Nature of Things,” which is one of the longest running CBC programs of all time. Dr. Suzuki is kind of the person I follow. After that I tend to generally do my own research, and my own reading. Right now I’m reading "The Tiger" by John Vaillant, and that book is set in Siberia, so I’m learning all about the nature of Siberia and the issues that it’s faced with all of it’s mining.
AD: Any other books that you’re working on?
GL: Yeah, my wife [Jill Barber] is actually trying to light a fire under me to get going on another one, but quite frankly I want to enjoy this one a little bit longer. It took me so long to get this one out, and it’s been received really well, so I want to enjoy it -- enjoy the fruits of my labor. I‘m not sure what it will be. It might be The Smugglers story. I’m not sure just yet. I met a young hairdresser in Mexico. He was this hairdresser in Los Angeles in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and he cut the hair of every single rock band. He invented the shag haircut. He just has millions of stories from his barber chair. So I’ve been going back and forth...to see if there’s anything there, because I love stories of any kind, and I’m a music journalist, so the next book will probably be a music book.
AD: It sounds like there could be quite a bit there. It sounds interesting.
GL: Whatever it will be, it will be completely different than this one.
AD: Last question. What’s your favorite book?
GL: My favorite book of all time is "To Kill a Mockingbird." I think that’s one of the greatest stories ever told. I also really love "The Kon-Tiki Expedition" by Thor Heyerdahl, but I would say "To Kill a Mockingbird" would be number one.
AD: I have to say I’m in complete agreement. I read it I don’t know how many times, and I saw the movie several times afterwards.
GL: It’s one of the rare situations where the book and the movie are equally brilliant.
Grant Lawrence is host of “Grant Lawrence Live,” which can be heard Monday through Friday from 11 AM to 2 PM Pacific (1 PM to 4 PM Central) on CBC Radio 3 (at www.cbcradio3.com) and Sirius Satellite Radio channel 86, host of the CBC Radio 3 Podcast (released every Friday), and author of the recently released “Adventures in Solitude,” which was published last September by Harbour. You can find out much more about Grant, his radio show, the CBC Radio 3 podcast, and his book by logging onto his website, www.grantlawrence.ca.
Update: Beginning on Wednesday, May 4, 2011, CBC Radio 3 will be moving from Sirius Satellite Radio channel 86 to channel 152.