Radio host Grant Lawrence turns author

The world works in strange ways. While still a youngster, the father of CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence purchased a cabin located in Desolation Sound, B.C. Little did Grant know at the time but his father’s purchase not only provided his family an annual summer getaway (for better or worse) but also inadvertently ended up turning Lawrence into the dynamic, knowledgeable music personality that he is today. Lawrence’s first novel documents his love-hate affair with Desolation Sound, from wishing he was anywhere but Desolation Sound as a child and a teenager to rediscovering the quiet, relaxing solitude that the area brings him as an adult.

Grant Lawrence is coming to Metro Moncton to celebrate the release of his novel at the Laundromat Espresso Bar on St. George Street on Sunday afternoon. Admission to the event is free.

“Here we were this little nerd family planted in the middle of Desolation Sound, this extreme off-the-margin counter-culture area. As a kid, I really hated it. When I became a teenager and started to rebel against what my parents wanted, I put my Chuck Taylor down and refused to go there any longer,” Lawrence relays from his Vancouver home.

A wide variety of people populated Desolation Sound in the earliest days of Lawrence’s travels to the island. According to him, it wasn’t uncommon to see nude hippies, draft dodgers, marijuana farmers and outlaw bikers on the island. One day while on the island, Lawrence discovered a “crazy hippie dude” named Russell who lived in a tent close to the family’s cabin.

At that point in his life, Lawrence will be the first to admit that his musical horizons weren’t all too wide. The only exposure he had gotten to music at that point in his life was via greatest hits collections from Billy Joel, The Beach Boys and more that his parents owned.

“Around age 12 or 13, Russell asked me what kind of music I listened to. I was a scared, dweebie nerd still and said that I liked The Beach Boys and Peter, Paul & Mary and Russell said ‘What?!’ back at me. He asked me if I had heard of Jimi Hendrix, The Doors or CCR and at that point in my life, I hadn’t.”

Russell then dug deeper with the impressionable Lawrence, suggesting that upon his return to the big city, he seek out music by those artists as well as Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. Being the good little guy he was, Lawrence complied with Russell’s suggestions after which he claims there was no turning back.

“One of the ironies that exist within the story is that this mentor opened up my world to rock and roll in a very unlikely setting. Once he got me turned onto the Velvet Underground, it was all over for me; I didn’t want to go back there at all. All I wanted to do was get more and more music and form my own band, which I did around age 16 with The Smugglers. I never looked back after that.”

Ironically, it would be the end of The Smugglers that would help Grant rediscover Desolation Sound last decade.

“After The Smugglers wound down and I had all this time on my hands, I realized that all the people I was scared of like the outlaw bikers and the hippies each had fascinating stories about how they got there, what kept them there, etc. I started telling a lot of those stories on CBC Radio and my producer at the time suggested I start writing these stories down since he felt that many would be able to identify with the themes in the story.”

It has not just been Lawrence’s radio audience that these stories have resonated with however. Just prior to the Christmas holidays, Adventures In Solitude had risen to the number two spot on the Canadian Bestsellers Nonfiction List.

“I looked to see who had beat me to number one and it turned out to be Theo Fleury’s book so when I saw it was it was him that beat me, that was alright with me.”

Article published in January 28, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript