I knew him to be a charming, if temperamental, narcissist who desperately wanted to be adored—and he was, until it all came crashing down. Now he’s surrounded by a small circle of admirers who either believe he’s innocent or have forgiven his sins
By Leah McLaren, TorontoLife.com ‘The Informer’
June 17, 2015
(Image: George Pimentel/Getty Images)
Jian Ghomeshi and I first met in February of 1999. I was in my early 20s, and I’d just been hired as an arts reporter at the Globe and Mail. My editor sent me to interview the band Moxy Früvous, who had been gigging around Toronto since I was in high school. They were a terminally geeky folk band who name-checked Margaret Atwood in their lyrics for airplay on CBC Radio. At the time I met them, in a café on the Danforth, they were selling out mid-size venues filled with NDP supporters in itchy Ecuadorian sweaters.
I spent an amiable hour with the band, listening to enthusiastic and semi-delusional talk of their enormous Grateful Dead–style following and imminent U.S. breakthrough, which never happened. Jian, the band’s drummer and singer, was a weedy-looking guy, about a decade my senior, with a penchant for winking after his jokes. He went out of his way to weave an odd mix of earnest liberal values and sexual innuendo into the conversation, referring to the band’s “pinko politics” and then telling me the story of his new favourite “superfan”—an exotic dancer named Moxy who stripped to their song “Michigan Militia” in a combat outfit. In the next breath he was plugging their upcoming benefit for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics. There was something unsettling—and also engaging—about Jian’s habit of mixing the prim with the pervy. Even back then he enjoyed flipping back and forth between politically correct and sexually inappropriate. In any case, he was quotable. Reading over my piece 16 years later, I noticed he was the only one of the band members who got much ink.
After the interview, the band dispersed and I ended up walking and chatting with Jian. We stopped at his car, a tiny vintage pastel-green sports coupe. And then, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, he said, “I’m going to this orgy tonight, do you want to come?” I don’t recall actually saying no, only both of us bursting into laughter as though the whole suggestion had been a big joke. I decided then and there that I liked him. He was weird, but also charming.
I’d learn later that even Jian’s apparent lack of a filter was carefully calibrated for maximum effect. Long before he was a household name in Canada, he was a master of calculating what other people wanted and presenting them with it—so long as it didn’t conflict with his own ever-pressing desires.
After that first meeting I didn’t see Jian for several months, but we kept in touch. Or, to be precise, he kept in touch with me. Moxy Früvous went on a U.S. tour and Jian would write me long, tortured emails from the road, asking for career and dating advice. Although I can’t recall the specifics now, I remember that the emails went on and on and were full of unfulfilled longing, which would prove to be a perpetual theme for Jian. He always seemed in desperate need of something just out reach—engaged in a never-ending quest to find the balm for his restless soul. He was self-involved in a way that would have been insufferable—one of those people who drone on at the party about their own tedious existential struggles—if he hadn’t also been so culturally literate and charismatic. Also, he spent quite a bit of time buttering me up.
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