Canadian Artists Recall the Meanest Things People Have Ever Said to Them
Featuring Buffy Sainte-Maire, Broken Social Scene, Gordon Lightfoot, Carly Rae Jepsen, Nardwuar and more
Published Jul 24, 2020The many moving parts of a live performance can present unique challenges for touring artists; worn-out equipment, bad sound, unruly weather, shady bookers and poor scheduling can really make or break a set. Anyone worth their salt in the industry knows it's best to adjust to the demands of their environment.
This adaptiveness to strife, this perseverance, becomes one of the most valuable tools in the kit of any successful artist — but almost nothing can emotionally prepare even the most experienced among them for dealing with irate or heckling fans.
For years, we've been asking Canadian artists about the mean things people have said to them at work — whether before, during or after a gig, via email, or straight from grandma's mouth — for our Exclaim! Questionnaire interview series.
And in lieu of this year's all-but-dead touring season, we've compiled some of the rudest comments this country's musicians and entertainment figures have had to endure in their careers.
Here are some of the mean things people have said to Canadian artists:
We were doing the [Schitt's Creek] live shows, and there was usually a crowd of people when we came out of the stage door. Emily [Hampshire] went out first, and everyone was like, "Emily! Emily! Yeah!" And then I came out and everyone was just kind of quiet. I was like, "Hi, guys!" and they just went back to losing their shit over Emily. I think it was in Denver. It wasn't my city and I'm trying not to take it personally. They really didn't give a shit about Annie Murphy.
Born Ruffians' Luke LaLonde:
I had a group of girls in the front row at a show in Ottawa all go: "One... two... three... Luke! You're an asshole!" To this day I have no idea what I did.
I remember what a music teacher said one time when I was in grade four: "You sounded like a little frog on the radio." But nobody ever said anything, I don't recall other than maybe a record producer might have said, "Well, I don't think I like that particular song." But nothing really bothersome at all.
This cranky old man was just mad. He did not like my selections. He was literally talking to me, telling me how much he hated my performance right there in front of me. It was uncanny. I'm not sure exactly what he was saying, but he was literally shaking his head, like "No, this is really bad."
I don't know if this counts, but I will always remember the NME's review of the "Brian Wilson" single in 1992. It said, "Fat, beardo, painfully provincial. Obviously all of the litter-spiking jobs were taken where this lot are from."
Somebody yelled at me that I suck during a gig. I had somebody who once, a long time ago, wrote a blog post just laying into me after I played a show, and it was more than just them not liking the music. It was a personal attack. So, that wasn't very nice.
Geez, how much time do you have? There are so many. I remember one time a guy just said: "Mays, your hair looks stupid!" I don't know why it stuck with me, because you don't listen to guys like that, but then I was like "Man, does my hair look stupid?" I kind of fell for it, and my hair probably did look stupid, but whatever. This was like, last year. It was an in-between hair phase, it wasn't my fault!
Simon: Before a gig, a reporter for a Vancouver arts mag once compared my hair cut to Liza Minnelli right before going on stage. Needless to say, I had a very insecure performance. During a gig, I once overheard the sound guy in my in-ear monitors tell my current girlfriend that she is a wonderful kisser. After a gig, a disgruntled fan attacked me with an eraser. He got half of my left shoe before security subdued him.
Milo: When Simon said "You're dead to me" after I played a wrong note in a concert.
Arkells' Max Kerman:
We opened for Billy Talent in Germany once, and I think some people in the crowd were expecting heavier music. These kids came up to the merch table after the show and said, "Your set was very interesting. It was not heavy. I don't know how much I liked it. But good try." Germans can be very frank people, but I think they meant well.
Whitehorse's Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland:
Doucet: I used to hang out at the Blue Note Café, in Winnipeg, in the late '80s when I was a young teenager. In fact, I stole my mom's car one night to go drop off a demo tape for Curtis Riddell cause I wanted to play there. So he was like, "Okay, you can play" so I would play there once a week with my band from junior high school.
There were these guys who were probably, well, my age now —they were in their early 40s and they were musicians, and they would hang out there. They were people we all looked up to. One night, coming off stage, one of them said to me, "You know, you should really focus on being a songwriter; guitar playing's not really your thing." About five minutes later, his buddy turned to me and said, "You know, don't worry about being a songwriter, cause it's not really your thing. You should focus on being a guitar player." There are two ways you could have taken that: you could have taken it as "Hey, that's really great. Between these two people, they think I'm great at a lot of things." But I took it as a backhanded compliment from two people I looked up to.
I've had this conversation with both of them since, and they had a laugh and said, "Oh if you'd have known how much coke we were doing back then, you would have forgiven us."
McClelland: The horrible thing about putting yourself out into the public is that it is kind of like being back in high school in the bathroom and you accidentally hear two girls talking about you. Some things you just don't want to hear about yourself. This is a mean question!
A couple of months ago a girl just wrote a kind of personal, scathing review of one of our shows. She's not a journalist. She wrote it on my Facebook wall. And I thought that was mean. You know, she's entitled to her opinion, but I felt like posting it on my wall for me and my friends and family to read was not necessary. Just cutting up the show.
One thing that has gotten under my skin before is sometimes, and this has happened with journalists, is where they will credit a lyric of a song to Luke that I wrote. It shouldn't totally bother me, cause as soon as we formed Whitehorse what's mine is his, what's his is mine, it's a marriage of sorts. But you know sometimes that gets under my skin, because I don't know if it's a sexist thing sometimes, or I don't know where it's coming from, but in those moments I do have a flash of protectiveness of being acknowledged for what I have put out.
Carly Rae Jepsen:
My grandma, actually, is adorable, but she will, in the sweetest way, be my toughest critic and I love it. She'll be like, "Car, I don't think you should've worn those shorts! Those shorts — not a good decision!" It's like, "Okay, thanks Grandma!" It's love, so you just chuckle at it.
When I was just starting out and singing "The Universal Soldier" and "Now That the Buffalo's Gone," my father said to me, "Maybe you could be a success if you sang more like Connie Francis."
"You sound like the Doors." That was dark.
Man, I played a gig out in Halifax as Black Mold and it was a fairly bad show. I told a story about getting on an airplane. I'm like six-foot-six, so I don't fit in the seats anywhere. Anyways, I got jammed into the seats with a bunch of other massive people, and this lady took it the wrong way. I was literally just telling a story, it wasn't supposed to be a joke, and she took it the wrong way and was just really upset about it. But I couldn't have a conversation. She kind of refused to have a conversation about it with me afterwards so I just went home feeling really, really, really shitty. I also didn't feel the need to apologize, because the sentiment was supposed to be me just really feeling like a freak and she took it the wrong way. I may be overly sensitive in those moments as well, because all my other friends were like, "Where the fuck did you go? You just disappeared." I went back to my hotel room and called Sara [Bagg, his wife] and was like, "Am I just, like, a giant fucking asshole?"
Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew:
"That was the worst show I have possibly ever seen." Portugal: we were supposed to go on at 1:30 a.m., we got on at 3:30 in the morning. We had just arrived from Germany and the band just proceeded to have a great time backstage and quite possibly consumed too much of this liquid that has this thing called alcohol in it. And when we took to the stage, it was a disaster. It was an absolute disaster. And it wasn't even that we were drunk or anything, we were exhausted, we were tired, all our gear was all backlined, and it was all rented. Nothing was working. Songs were going in and out. It was the first and last time ever that our drummer Justin just threw his drum kit out on the stage and walked off. Our sound guy Marty wore the wristband from the show for years after as a reminder that we should never, ever, ever, ever go there again. So I remember I got offstage and I just bolted to this tent that was throwing this party and I walked right into this tent and I bumped into this tall guy and he said, "I love you, I love everything about you guys — that was the worst show I've ever seen," and I looked at him and I said, "Thanks, bro," and I turned around and went back to my hotel. It's hard when you have a really bad show, but sometimes when you're touring — and this goes for anything — when it's just a bad moment, it's just a horrible feeling. It's no different than a relationship when things go sour and you end on a bad note.
I've had lots of shit. "Commie!" That was a great one. Like, "You commie bastard!" We have a song called "Canadian Dream" and the refrain is spelling out the word "socialism" near the middle of the song. But again, that's not even a bad one. What was funny about that was that it was such an '80s American insult.
Alexisonfire/City and Colour's Dallas Green:
Probably when people yell out, "You guys fucking suck." That's pretty mean.
There's a song of mine called "Love This Town." It's about an experience I had in Kelowna, back in the Thrush Hermit days. We played at this club called Flashbacks and this guy came up to me after the show and said, "Hey man, were you in the band?" really enthusiastically. I told him I was. Then he said, "You fucking sucked." The enthusiastically posed question really set us up to knock us down.
The meanest thing was somebody saying that it was "unbelievable." I didn't know how to take it. It doesn't matter what I was doing, just that the performance was deemed "unbelievable."
Dave Macklovitch: It would have been with a particularly unappreciative audience. It was silence, but that silence spoke volumes.
Patrick Gemayel: Some guy in Victoria, he came onstage really drunk during "You're So Gangsta," and there's this sax solo in the backup tracks because we don't have enough hands to play it live. He came onstage during the show, and he was like "Where's the saxophone, man?! You're not even playing it!" But the meanest thing that was ever said to me personally was in an article by somebody who really didn't like our stuff. They called me "Ali G after a KFC binge." Imagine. Can you imagine? That article was really destroying.
We were just about to go onstage at the Troubadour and I was standing in the way of the waitress. And just before we went onstage she said, "Get out of my fucking way!"
"Nice shirt." That's always such a weird, condescending thing to say to someone. I mean, how do you respond to that?
The most brutal thing I ever had to deal with was opening for De La Soul, years ago. I worship De La Soul and was over the moon about the chance to open for them and play some dates, my goodness. What happened was, right away, going onstage and pouring my heart out to a roomful of people chanting "De La! De La!" Looking back on it, it's not something I should've taken personally; they have such a strong following and it wouldn't have mattered who was opening. Those people were there to see De La Soul. And it's coming at you in loud waves and you gotta endure it.
This is the meanest thing, but I actually thought it was kind of funny, at the time. We were playing in Brisbane, Australia and we were having technical difficulties. I had just learned a Go-Betweens song called "Love Goes On," so I played it acoustically. The Go-Betweens were from Brisbane so I thought, "This will go over well." It went over well, but in the bridge, I screwed up on one of the chords. Afterwards I apologized and said, "Damn! I got that chord wrong!" And I heard this voice in the audience say, "You're not the first person to take a shit on that stage." I thought that was a pretty good heckle... everybody sucks at some point in their life.
A director recently said, "Tell the little girl to slap him in the face and call him fatso."
Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning:
Maybe back in the hHead days, "You guys aren't as good as the Doughboys."
"I'm gonna fucking kill you!" in Toronto at the Harbourfront Centre. He then waited for me outside the show and threatened to beat me up. I've also read that someone had to be held back from attacking me after I opened up for De La Soul in Vancouver.
I remember once I was really young, it was right at the beginning, and I just finished singing this ballad that I thought I had really, really nailed and maybe technically I did nail it and the guy said, "Okay, now let's hear it with feeling." I was so mad at him at the beginning, but over the years, that comment always rang in my head and I wondered what he meant. As I get older, I realize what he meant. Not because of him, but it has subsequently been my number one journey or driving force of my singing, that I try to be as honest and as present in the song as possible.
Oh, Christ, that's a list. To be honest with you, given my nefarious media-fueled reputation, that would be long enough to wrap around an apartment building. A lot of it is after the fact, second-hand shit, but obviously fans don't say that kind of thing when they come up to talk to you. But there are people who yell stuff. For the most part, it's mostly emails for me because I am so accessible on the net. I get a lot of people that just email me anonymously, rather cowardly, that just spiel a whole bunch of shit.
I remember a show with the Allies where we got booked at some random, wack ravish show in Oakland where we were just like, "Why are we here?" We collectively got people in the crowd saying, "Just play the record!" I remember coming off the stage and thinking, "Fuck! We shouldn't even be here. This sucks."
Nardwuar the Human Serviette:
I'm so happy just to play gigs that I don't take any of that kind of stuff into account, it just doesn't stick! Although, one incident that does come to mind time happened in California, after we'd played our song "United Empire Loyalists," which is kind of about how Americans and Canadians share a lot of history and kinship, and some punk rock kids took offence and scrawled graffiti all over our van that said, "Go back to Canada, you fuckin' douche bags."
Blue Rodeo's Greg Keelor:
Fairly early in our career, I was eating in a Subway before a gig and a guy came up and said, "Aren't you that guy from Blue Rodeo?" This didn't happen very often, so I thought it was cool. Then the guy said that we sucked.
"You suck." That's always a funny one, but it doesn't really happen that often because, honestly, we're pretty loud and it's hard to hear. Oh wait, I've got a good one! Change of Heart played in Regina. It was an awful, awful, terrible show with hardly anybody there and I kind of flipped out during it, which, oddly enough, happens a lot in Regina. It's to the point where friends of mine have said, "Maybe you shouldn't play Regina because you've had some problems there." Anyway, we finished the show with "Stress Monkey" and I started tossing my guitar around and decided that, "This guitar is evil and it should be broken." So I broke it but it was a Telecaster and it was really hard so I had to keep smashing it and smashing it to get it to break and eventually I broke the neck in half and ripped it off the guitar. I walked off-stage and then walked back on and continued smashing the guitar because I was crazed or whatever, and this guy leans over the balcony and goes, "Don't give up your day job." But I didn't have a day job then so fuck him!
I had just been singing and this drunk woman in Aspen came up to me and said, "You suck." The next song I had to sing was "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen and the first line was: "I heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord, but you don't really care for music, do you?" So it kind of came out directly to her.