JIAN GHOMESHI: On music, radio, working out, and eating at 2 a.m.
By Carol Crenna
Jian Ghomeshi’s voice and face have become well known across Canada as a journalist with an opinion. Host of CBC’s Q, regular contributor on CBC’s The Hour, and writer for publications including the Sunday Washington Post and The Globe and Mail, Ghomeshi gets his word out.
He also got it out in 2012 with the release of his first book, titled 1982, an autobiography, which he will continue to tour across the country, doing book signings in 2013. Ghomeshi first came to public attention as a singer and songwriter in the multi-platinum selling folk rock group, Moxy Früvous.
I spoke to Jian Ghomeshi about his life as a musician and broadcaster, his health and lifestyle, and his favourite moments as a journalist.
CAROL: Do you still sing and play music?
JIAN GHOMESHI: It’s hard to find time right now even just to keep my chops up. I don’t publicly play because I want to be vocally in better shape and playing well when I do; when on tour, I worked on them six or seven hours a day. I still produce and manage artists including Lights, though.
I use my creativity to a certain extent by writing a lot of the material on CBC’s Q. Having a personality-based show allows more than others.
CAROL: How has being a singer enriched your life, and don’t you miss that?
JIAN GHOMESHI: There is a cathartic element that I miss. You can’t deal with a relationship breakup by creating a radio show! There are trade-offs in life when you look for balance; it’s hard to do it all. And the bane and boon to my existence has been to try to do it all.
I do sit at home and pick up the guitar and sing sometimes, but it is hard for me not to be performing. I attended a Neil Young concert tribute, and a lot of my friends were playing in it. I was with them backstage, but wishing that I was up on stage singing Neil Young covers.
CAROL: The industry isn’t known to be very healthy for musicians, but what music do feel is the healthiest for listeners?
JIAN GHOMESHI: I think that a lot of the clichés around creating an appropriate arc for your day are true. Just as it isn’t healthy to fall asleep with your TV blasting – even if that’s what you feel you need to get to sleep – more peaceful, serene sounds build a healthier foundation.
When I am driving to work to broadcast the show in the morning, I choose very energizing music that boosts my heart rate. I’ve been listening to Jay-Z, the British band Elbow, and the Cardigans. It’s helpful, even if I’m dealing with dark subject matter, to be in a positive mindset and in a good mood, instead of being too morose.
CAROL: You are 45; have you found that your body has changed in the last few years?
JIAN GHOMESHI: Yes. About a year ago, it really hit me. It’s not just that I’m getting older. I spent years traveling on the road with a band doing two-hour shows each night, and was very actively playing soccer. Today, doing TV and radio is the equivalent of a desk job — it’s pretty sedentary.
Because I had spent all of those years on the road, I hadn’t learned things that people working in office environments know more about, like going to the gym to stay active. It’s relatively new to me, so I had to make changes to recapture my former activity level.
CAROL: How do you keep your energy high now?
JIAN GHOMESHI: That lack of knowledge has now led to a happy place. In the last two years, particularly, I have been going to the gym almost every day, and have a personal trainer twice a week. About a year ago I was waking up thinking, “I guess I’m getting old.” My back hurt, maybe from sitting in an awkward position in the studio for hours. But since I have been working out vigorously I don’t have backaches at all.
And the gym has also been a big part of how I deal with stress and anxiety. Having a personal trainer who pushes me a little harder than I would push myself is helpful. I also do Moksha yoga once a week, a flow variation on Bikram yoga.
I travel a lot, and hit the ground running, which is a challenge because when I finally get into a healthy pattern at home, traveling knocks me off of my routine — what I eat, my sleep patterns, and my exercise regime. I haven’t quite figured that out yet, but I keep working on it. I always ask directions to the best gym as soon as I get to a hotel.
CAROL: How healthily do you eat?
JIAN GHOMESHI: For health reasons, I gave up eating red meat a few years ago, but I still eat chicken and fish. I try to eat at regular intervals throughout the day, and try to eat as healthily as possible. My vice, which came after years of eating on the music tour bus after a concert at 2:00 a.m., is that I still eat late at night.
CAROL: Who has influenced your views about aging?
JIAN GHOMESHI: I interviewed Robert Lepage, one of the greatest Canadian theatre and TV directors and playwrights. In terms of his sagacity, everything he said I wanted to write down because he has such a profoundly interesting mind.
He talked about embracing his 50s and getting older. I always felt when someone said that they were mitigating the brutal realities of their body breaking down. I challenged him on it. He was convincing, saying that as we get to know ourselves better, we also get to learn to treat ourselves better. Everyone is an idiot about their health when they’re 25.
He said, yes, his body may break down, but he is now healthier physically, mentally and emotionally than he has ever been, and we all have that option. He surrounds himself with older people because he’s inspired by them, as I am. And in comparison to them, I feel pretty young.
CAROL: You are known to be well researched for your guests.
JIAN GHOMESHI: I could always tell when I was being interviewed as a musician when someone hadn’t done their homework. This taught me a lot about how to be an interviewer. I felt myself being less invested in the process because I could tell that my interviewer was less invested.
That’s why I live by a credo that I refuse to conduct an interview unless I’m as prepared as possible. For example, I don’t interview an author without reading their book from cover to cover or interview a director without seeing their play or film.
CAROL: You have interviewed Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Bob Geldof, Michael Moore, Jane Goodall, Jane Fonda — all outspoken people who are driven by a cause. Do you choose these guests?
JIAN GHOMESHI: In many cases, yes. But I have an amazing team of producers with a wish list of potential guests. When interviewing Barbara Walters, I learned that she had the same; she talked about waging a campaign to entice certain people, and often after years of requests, she would finally be able to interview them. It takes tenacity.
CAROL: What guest has inspired you the most?
JIAN GHOMESHI: David Suzuki inspires me.
CAROL: What are your views on the environment?
I worry that our self-perception is more generous than reality: we feel that from a global viewpoint, we are disproportionately environmentally responsible, but there are sweeping issues from the tar sands to daily, bizarre consumer antics like drinking bottled water. I have worked with the Suzuki Foundation on the insane bottled water issue. How did that even happen?
CAROL: David Suzuki has stepped down from his foundation, and may need a predecessor. Have you interviewed someone who is as passionate about creating change that may replace him?
JIAN GHOMESHI: I have interviewed others, like Rick Smith, but no, unfortunately not who have his impact.
CAROL: What are your views about the Canadian healthcare system?
JIAN GHOMESHI: Often times, even though Canadians understand that it is one of our sacred trusts, we take it for granted. We focus on the inefficiencies and difficulties with it. I worry about that because we have something special here.
I consider my father, who went into hospital to have double bypass surgery, which actually became a quadruple bypass; there were complications, and he developed pneumonia. The hospital staff felt that they should keep in him there to make sure he recovered. He ended up staying two or three weeks longer and eventually recovered.
But I was thinking at the time that the bill for a four or five week stay would be several thousands of dollars. If we had to make the decision about whether to keep him in the hospital – not even considering the surgery costs – what pressure would that have put on my father to say, “No, I don’t want to put that added expense onto my family.”
And what if we were a working class family that didn’t have those resources? We either wouldn’t have kept in him the hospital or we would have gotten a second mortgage to pay for it. ‘
That reveals the importance of our system: we all have that safeguard; when something happens, we will take care of each other. We can’t take that for granted.
CAROL: Do you prefer television, radio or print to work with?
JIAN GHOMESHI: I love print because your ideas last longer and are less ephemeral. Television can be visually fantastic, but visuals always trump what you’re saying.
Radio is the most intimate medium. I love playing with people’s imaginations, and CBC is one of the last bastions that allow for long-form interviews. I have a suspicion that this is the reason guests like being on Q — because they have an in-depth interview, unlike most media now that only provides two-minute sound bytes.
CAROL: As the host of Q, you became internationally famous for Billy Bob Thornton’s behaviour during his interview.
JIAN GHOMESHI: People were surprised by the way I handled that interview; it was an interesting conflict and a difficult situation. But it actually was less difficult for me having done live radio and TV for as long as I have. There are always situations when something goes wrong.
One of the ways I deal with these situations is to transparently try to get to the bottom of what is actually happening. I don’t mind going through this process on the air.
After the first couple of minutes, when I realized he wasn’t kidding and had decided not to play ball, as the director was saying in my earpiece, Bail out!, I felt that it was more about looking into his eyes and finding out what the real problem was.
When he continued being aggressive, it became a situation where I knew I should “let him talk.” Sometimes it’s the best tactic. And I have learned to always give the audience credit; it will decide whether the actions were appropriate or not — and in this case, the audience did decide.