Journalist Peter Goddard chases The Great Gould

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Driving home one Friday afternoon, a book about Glenn Gould stuffed into my satchel, I heard on the radio Michael Kaeshammer introducing The Goldberg Variations as one of his CBC playlist picks, saying it is one of the best performances of all time.

For someone who knows nothing about Gould, it seemed a fortuitous springboard and an emphasis of the influence that Peter Goddard is writing about in his new book, The Great Gould, which I was to spend the weekend reading.

“The Gould effect and legacy now occupy our minds as much as his immediate history,” writes Goddard.

The author, who has close ties to Creemore, also a pianist and ethnomusicologist, was at the Royal Conservatory of Music when Gould “could still be found walking its halls” and later “crossed paths” with him at the CBC. He also interviewed Gould several times when he worked as a music critic at The Toronto Star.

Gould was part of Goddard’s musical landscape in the early 1950s, having been born into a family of piano players.

Goddard said there has been a lot written about Gould but he found that the pianist, being one of the most famous Canadians of all time, was a heavy influence on modern music, sometimes unbeknownst to the musicians, and at the same time was also becoming forgotten.

As he delved into the archives in search of some yet uncovered nugget, Goddard said he ended up chasing a man – a very complicated guy.

He writes about Gould as enigma, media star, media manipulator, intellectual, parodist, animal-lover and creator of personas. He describes Gould as a persona “larger than the music itself”.

“How much did he really share? I think he was completely unable to express himself,” said Goddard.

“Many believe the Gould enigma is one code that is not likely to be cracked – a view encouraged by Gould himself,” he writes. “It accounts for the paucity of intimate personal detail in his voluminous notes about, say, his love life just for one instance.”

He says in Gould’s own prolific writing about himself – and that Gould’s favourite interviewer was also himself – that Gould buried the truth and only left clues about the reclusive genius.

He was not a prodigy, a term rejected by Gould, according to Goddard, and his advancement of his skills as a piano player was more gradual. He had an unorthodox way of playing and certainly had his critics, said Goddard. He had a sense of belonging at the CBC, where he had a desk, and the personal approach to this biography includes a story about Gould popping in to one of the editing suites where Goddard was working.

Goddard also explores Gould’s impulse to retreat to the family cottage on Lake Simcoe and his “The Idea of North” as an examination of the condition of solitude, all of which makes a person want to devour any of Gould’s works that have been posted to YouTube.

Goddard is an award winning journalist, having won a Juno and a National Newspaper Award. He is the author of The Sounding, a novel, and books about Ronnie Hawkins, the Rolling Stones, Genesis, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Frank Sinatra, The Who, Cyndi Lauper and Duran Duran.

Goddard will be signing copies of his new book at Curiosity House Books from 10 a.m. until noon on Saturday, Dec. 9.

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