Mr. Finkleman hates hip. He is straight-up, meat and potatoes, matching socks, old school to the bone. There is, he insists, one way to do everything—no grey areas, no siree. He pines for the time when guys were guys, T-shirts were white and men dated women. I pity the poor soul who takes over his time slot.
Finkleman—friends call him Danny—worked at CBC Radio for almost thirty-eight years. For twenty of them, he hosted Finkleman’s 45s, sending golden oldies into Canadian homes for two hours every Saturday night. Old-time rock ’n’ roll, British invasion, doo-wop, Motown—the old coot played them all. But along with that tried-and-true playlist (drawn, incidentally, from his very own collection), Finkleman liked to push throwback bands like the Shirelles, the Diamonds, the Four Preps, Georgie Fame and the True Blues, the Box Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and the Crew Cuts. You’ve likely never heard of most of them, and that was the point. This is the same man, after all, who referred to the Beatles as the “second-best British group” after the Hollies.
Alas, the last instalment of Finkleman’s 45s aired on June 25, 2005. Though demographically indifferent, in its waning years the show found affectionate currency with the cynically savvy hipster set. Finkleman’s music-geek knowledge trumped any poncey-faced indie brat’s. “Never quite talk radio, nor quite just spinning records” was how the National Post defined the program’s distinctiveness. Like thousands around the country, I became obsessed with Finkleman’s 45s. I discovered it during one of my pre-club preening sessions when, bored with my CDs, I flipped on the radio and the Supremes blared out. Find me a girl who doesn’t like fooling with her locks to visions of sassy bouffants.
From then on, I made no promises for those two hours of the night (“I’m listening to Mr. Finkleman, can I get back to you?” or “I can’t make it until later, you know, after Mr. Finkleman”) and anyone caught in my home during what I billed my huit à dix was abruptly hushed when Danny Finkleman announced he was about to start.
Listening to the show, however, meant having to put up with the host’s between-song yammering. Finkleman railed against tattoos, recycling, the undisclosed length of dental floss, the death of dating rituals and cell-phone rudeness. He hated that we were a one-sport nation and was always ready with advice for Canada Post. The inconsistencies of silent letters in English words left him fuming, and he fervently believed Winnipeg (where he is from) had the best-tasting drinking water in the country. He was, in short, a polarizing figure. He reminded me most of my local storekeeper who’s always yelling at CNN on the TV screen—everything in the world looks wrong to him, too.
But I grew to love what Finkleman referred to as his “fat opinions.” And really, who can argue with Smokey, Stevie, Paul and Paula, or the Temptations? Oh, and you could usually count on that “Take A Letter, Maria” song to be on there too. Finkleman claimed to hate almost all music recorded after 1965. Old Danny Boy’s tunes were instead all feel-good, hairbrush-mic, swing-your-booty stuff.
Did he know of his reach? There’s an active Danny Finkleman fan club, complete with a laminated membership card and over 650 members around the world. The Rabble.ca discussion forum had a long-running thread about him, with equal numbers deriding (“tiresome beyond belief”) and defending (“a loveable curmudgeon”).
Ever since he announced his retirement—rather ceremoniously on January 1, 2005—he warned his listeners not to complain to the CBC or write begging him to stay. A mild heart attack in 2004, combined with the growing stress of his Bay Street broker day job at Desjardins Securities, cinched the decision. “You don’t understand, I don’t care,” he told the Globe and Mail. “I’ve had a long run on CBC. I’ve had lots of fun, but I’ve run out of steam and that’s the end of it.”
In an interview with the Toronto Star, former Finkleman’s producer Keith Hart recalled that Danny would sometimes come straight from work, towing his music in a milk crate. “He’d still have his suit on from the office, his briefcase, and he’d loosen his tie and just go. He had no script.”
That unscriptedness was key. The honeyed tones of the fifties and sixties have been made hip thanks to constant club play and a generation forever looking back. But then you trip on something like Finkleman’s 45s and feel like it’s all yours—unbranded, unexposed and uncomplicated. And now? Now we must go back out into our post-ironic worlds, tapping on our BlackBerries, trying to stay ahead of what’s cool. With no reprieve.