Former VJ Christopher Ward celebrated the launch of his book, Is This Live? Inside the Wild Years of MuchMusic the Nation’s Music Station (Penguin Random House Canada), Tuesday night (Oct. 25) in Toronto at 299 Queen Street West, the long-standing home of the rebranded Much, and what a time warp it was.
Videos by Platinum Blonde, The Pursuit of Happiness and Janet Jackson played at the upper floor entrance to the party area — part of the Is This Live? digital retrospective hub tied in with the book — welcoming guests that included Ward’s fellow former VJs: Jeanne Beker, Erica Ehmn, Kim Clarke Champniss, Laurie Brown, Michael Williams, Steve Anthony, Natalie Richard, Monika Deol, Simon Evans, Diego Fuentes, Traci Melchor, Catherine McClenahan; and current VJs, Tyrone Edwards and Liz Trinnear.
Created in 1984 by Moses Znaimer and John Martin, MuchMusic — Canada’s answer to the U.S. 24-hour music video channel MTV which started in 1981 with “video jockeys” as announcers — brought the music and personalities of homegrown and international artists into our living rooms and added VJ as one of the coolest jobs on the planet to the dreams of young people.
“Chris started at City Limits, the precursor to Much in the first place, and in Aug. ’84 everything changed,” said Randy Lennox, Bell Media’s president, broadcasting and content, from the stage.
“I was at Universal at the time, hocking music and videos in the building, hoping Much would add it because at the time Much was not only the nation’s music station, it was also the nation’s radio station; it was the nation’s everything station. When Much added something, event in light rotation, it was so meaningful for all the Canadian artists in this country.”
He then listsed a bit of Ward’s C.V., not just his years as a VJ, from 1984 to 1990, but as a recording artist and songwriter (with Stephen Stohn in the ‘70s) who went on to enormous success with Alannah Myles, most notably co-writing her debut album which included the worldwide hit and Billboard No. 1 “Black Velvet.”
“They made the very first video demo, went to New York, got her signed to Atlantic, and sold millions of albums,” noted Lennox, calling it “very innovative thinking; [a] unique approach to make a video as a demo.”
“It’s been great having you in this building for a couple of days,” he concluded before Ward’s senior managing editor, Deirdre Molina, came up to say a few words about the book, chock full of photos and organized into digestible chapters on everything from “The VJs,” of course, to “The Look,” “The New Popstars,” “The Power Hour,” “Worst Interviews” and others. The foreword is by Mike Myers.
“It’s been such a pleasure working with Christopher Ward on his book, Is This Live? Christopher has a razor-sharp memory for his years at Much and he’s always ready with a story about music or eager to talk books, so indeed he was the perfect person to weave together this oral history of the first decade of MuchMusic, along with the colleagues and all of the musicians who were part the story.”
Also at the party were Larry Gowan; Mark Holmes of Platinum Blonde; Moe Berg of The Pursuit of Happiness; Alan Frew of Glass Tiger; and Gordon Deppe and Sandy Horne of The Spoons.
Other longtime MuchMusic-related folk celebrating with Ward were David Kines; “roller girl” Tanya Anthony; Scott Henderson; Don Allan, Joel Goldberg, and Dennis Saunders.
“This is an incredible night. I’m kind of blown away,” said Ward. “Thank you to Bell for welcoming me back to the building — and if there’s a VJ opening, I am ever, ever, ready.
“The support I have gotten for this book has been mind-boggling. I could not have expected it. More than I could have wished for, but I’m so grateful,” he said, specifically naming Lennox, Henderson, Justin Stockman, Sara McLaren, Jess Huddleston and Adam Slinn; in addition to Random House’s Molina, Anne Collins and Randy Chan.
“It brought this event into play and I look around and I’m kind of emotional about this at seeing all these friends. I hope I told our story well because we had the time of our lives.”
Read FYI's recent extensive interview with Ward here