Thursday, December 09, 2010
Don Cherry, Exit Stage Right
Rob Ford, Toronto's new mayor, hasn't done much yet to change the shape of his office or the city he's taken charge of, but his mastery over a largely antagonistic media is truly remarkable. The coiffed heads holding out the microphones don't like him, and Ford is often his own worst enemy when he chooses to answer their questions. And yet this week he managed to come out looking sharp, by pulling a sleight-of-hand that completely hoodwinked the camera's (and public) eye. Ford craftily delivered on a flashy, one-time power-play custom-made for voters who'd grown weary of high-minded political prevarication (more later) while conscripting from the audience a loud-mouthed rube to further distract from the mayor's own less-than-appealing public image — one Don Cherry.
Cherry is always game to grab the spotlight, the mic, the camera, the audience member by the ears if he has to. With his pink double-breasted jacket — “For all the pinkos out there riding bicycles and everything” — and his sledge-hammer wit (ibid) Cherry performed to spec, explaining to City Council and the public exactly why Rob Ford “is going to be the greatest mayor this city has ever, ever seen,” specifically referring to the first act Ford did as mayor-elect: personally and publicly correcting a single instance of bureaucratic bungling that the Toronto Sun had taken on as a cause célèbre. “And put that in your pipe, you left-wing kooks.”
I was in my car, listening to the broadcast on the radio, and when Cherry put the emphasis on “kooks” I burst out laughing. Ford took the mic next, and, thanks to this splendidly manufactured contrast, came across for the first time in his life as a gentleman of understated and considerate character. I wanted to stop the car and applaud, but behind my revelry was an edge of nervousness that kept me from truly enjoying the moment. Not for Toronto, mind you, or even for myself: left-wing kooks like me actually take a perverse pleasure in public humiliations that prove us, beyond all shadow of a doubt, completely wrong. Those giddy moments bolster what's left of our flagging faith in humanity. No, I was nervous for Don Cherry, because I think I'm watching him write his own final chapter. And it's looking pretty sad.
Don Cherry has paradoxically managed to charm his way into the hearts of millions of Canadian television viewers (including my own) simply by being who he is. He talks about what's important to him, and what's important to him is often what's important to the people watching him: chiefly hockey, of course, but also the fate of our soldiers, and other hard-working joes having a tough time making a go of it. Like many of the extreme-right blowhards to the south of us, Cherry is incredibly showy, but unlike many of the same it is never just for show. The impression most of us have, thanks in large part to the masterful massaging touch of Ron MacLean, Cherry's HNIC straight-man and long-time friend, is that Cherry will never say something he doesn't believe, or force himself to believe something he's been asked to say.
MacLean, however, is carrying more and more of Cherry's weight these days. Cherry's age is showing, and the moments when MacLean has to feed or finish one of Cherry's lines are increasing. And that's just hockey. As for the politics, once the cheerful questioning of a respectful side-kick has been removed, Cherry's perspective on things starts to look shopworn or, worse, naïve.
Adding his bellow to the bullhorns wielded by Ford and Julian Fantino is unfortunate for Cherry. No doubt they're fine fellows at a backyard barbecue, but professionally they have already proven themselves to be slippery and frequently contemptible politicians. The lift Cherry gives these candidates will be temporary. Their final effect on him, on the other hand, could likely stick, and not smell nearly so sweet.
That's a lousy way for one of Canada's “national treasures” to go into that good night. But there it is: it's a sin to entice your sidekick into the grave with you, because the Longest Journey is inevitably a solo one. Cherry seems intent on taking those initial steps now.
Text and audio here. It's sheer speculation on my part, but I wonder if this isn't the piece Cherry was railing against — a must-read for any fan of "Canada's Game."