For once, a jam without the gag


(Leigh Bursey, left, and Tony Clement jam in the studio.)

The fact is, whenever a politician reaches for a guitar, most journalists reach for a paper bag.

The guitar has become the epitome of a certain kind of political cliche. It’s the cooler, hipper version of the small baby or the cuddly kitten.

The latter are meant to show the public a politician’s kinder, gentler side (since we’re on the topic of cliches), whereas the guitar conveys something else entirely: That beneath the bean-counter, policy wonk or partisan firebrand exterior lies the heart of a cool guy or gal, someone who not only saw Bowie in concert in the 1980s, but can also pull some rare vinyl out of his or her basement as evidence of true allegiance.

The performance is secondary to this political objective, but by the time that even begins the press corps is finding it harder and harder to repress that gag reflex.

I use the guitar as an example as it is usually the instrument, of choice, rivalled, no doubt, by the piano, but of course any instrument signalling coolness will do. Will Bill Clinton take out that saxophone again?

I was not prepared, however, for this political trope to yield something quite extraordinary.

I’m referring to Thursday afternoon’s jam session at CogecoTV with local host Leigh Bursey and Tory MP and likely leadership hopeful Tony Clement.

The episode of Bursey’s Critical Thinking, part of which we captured on video, will be broadcast June 29 at 9 p.m.

It was, to be sure, still intended for political optics: The Tory emerging from a historic policy convention shift on same-sex marriage, jamming with the local leftist and champion of Brockville Pride.

But it at least approached some level of sincerity, much more than other uses of the guitar jam trope.

I say this because the first thing Clement did, by way of prelude to a discussion on the importance of punk rock to his youth, was point out that the punk movement emerged under a Labour government in the U.K., well before the Thatcher regime one generally associates with the object of the punk set’s angst.

He went on to praise the indie ethos of early punk rock, which rejected (or was rejected by) corporate labels and instead embraced a do-it-yourself attitude that is a part of the conservative small-government mythos.

That last association may be a bit of a stretch, and I’ll let the music historians sort out the veracity of the honourable member’s claims.

But one has to admire the sincerity of someone who uses the guitar jam trope not to deflect attention from politics, but rather to engage in it. By trying to claim The Clash for his own centre-right political camp, Clement was showing the music does, in fact, matter to him.

The three-number set Clement performed with Bursey and beat-boxer Matt VanderBaaren included a demolition of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” a wrecking job so thorough the performers were laughing.

Again, sincerity... When the other two pieces in your set are The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ and ‘Heroes’ in tribute to Bowie, any inclusion of Taylor Swift can only be done properly if it is parodied.

But the discussion that preceded this set was even more interesting.

If you peeled back the inevitable political imagecraft of the moment, the music history substance of Clement and Bursey’s discussion, and the biographical details Clement provided, revealed that, even in an age of political polarization, two guys from opposite ends of the spectrum could still get together and discuss a subject of common interest, and do so cogently.

And if that’s not enough to convince the more hardened among us, there was the hat.

Clement requested, and received, his yellow fedora for the set.

One might inquire about the origins of that hat, but clearly, a politician tying too hard, and insincerely, to appeal to middle-aged Clash fans and the spirit of Bowie would have chosen something that didn’t create a very dissonant Leonard Cohen vibe.

No, the hat, the guitar and the music, imperfect as they all were, were Clement’s. And the interest was Bursey's. One will remember fleeting moments like these in today’s polarized world.