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Reading "Laura" Ashley MacIsaac

[Originally published 1996 |
Updated here 1999.06.20

"Laura" Ashley MacIsaac has been consistently mishandled by his label, A&M, and only superficially covered in this newspaper. The lad was jealously guarded by the former head of publicity at A&M, who combined condescension and glee in rebuffing my requests for information while conspiring with an Xtra editor to lock up coverage with some other writer.

The real dirt on Ashley is not that he's "come out of the closet." For kids of his generation, that's passé. Even while growing up in small-town Creignish, Cape Breton, was Ashley MacIsaac ever in a closet? Queer youth today, weaned on a culture of out celebrities and a rich array of bent literature, theatre, cinema, TV and music, have less and less need of grand coming-out declarations.

Memo to A&M: You can't nail shut a closet door on a budding megastar who's never been inside one. Memo to Xtra: Advocate-style avenues of lurid, near-urological questioning just won't cut the mustard; you can't force a fellow like Ashley to own up to an outmoded and restrictive word like "gay." ("Queer," maybe.)

Anyway, Ashley's sold-out concert in Toronto last November taught me more than his début album, Hi! How Are You Today? The fiddler-on-the-hoof played to a joint overrun with expatriate Maritimers, hipsters, and more than a few grrrls of various genders. While switching bows at one point, the star segued into an anecdote about how "Cape Breton has a very high concentration of fairies." The room was momentarily silent as various homonyms tumbled into place in people's minds in rough order of plausibility.

The father of a woman from Glendale, Ashley recounted, caught a faerie and kept his bow, a piece of which someone had given Ashley the day before. He wanted to show it to us, but alas, after rooting through the "bag o' trix" looped to his belt, our hero ixnayed that idea and seesawed up a hoedown that got the moshers pogoing, if not step-dancing. (Ashley and company did indulge in Doc Martened step-dancing later – surely the first instance thereof in downtown Toronto since the days when ghosts dropped by for hands of crib at 24 Sussex.)

But the money shot was still to come: Ashley's signature (or albatross) number, "Staying Alive." ("My favourite!" he bellowed in a stunning vocal amalgam of Caper, debutante, and fierce ruling diva.) The crowd went wild at this immortal masterpiece of pop, which even straight guys now feel they can enjoy in public.

The kid's fingerings are oddly delicate by times, and not just in the slow numbers. The muse was most clearly in control when Ashley, deep in rapture, whipped his head to the side quick as a kitten's sneeze. Then there was transcendence. Then there was some major zeitgeist shit zipping through the conduit with the unisex name. Think Stevie Ray Vaughan, but juiced up to triple speed and with Little Richard on piano.

My fear is that Ashley MacIsaac – personable, newly slimmed, only 20, with the world his oyster and with a gift for reinterpretation – is getting bad advice and may live to regret his disco/fiddle fusions. (Think pidgeonholing.) We pays Ashley the big bucks to veer off toward Alpha fucking Centauri, dragging Creignish, Oromocto, Dildo, and Port Hawkesbury along with him.

Moreover, this fellow is a musical hayseed. In interviews, the music he claims has influenced him most is simply the last music he has heard – Green Day's "Geek Stink Breath," for example. Free advice for the fiddle hero: Make friends with people who own large record collections and plunder their vaults. And at this year's Kumbaya concert, let's have Ashley MacIsaac and Glueleg back up Carl Strygg in a cover of Rush's "Subdivisions." It will be the defining musical moment of the twentieth century, with Ashley wailing away on fiddle, the horns, guitars, keyboards, bagpipes, and drums of two bands providing a thrilling excess of rhythm and counterpoint, and Carl's rare alto voice out-Geddying Geddy Lee. We can expect half of North America to sink into the ocean after this number and we will all drown happy, I swear.

As for having sex with Ashley, which he told Xtra was merely a question of ringing him up and talking it over: Honeychile, some of us really do "get" you. I'm in the phone book. Come up and see me sometime.