RIP: Arts & Music Critic Peter Goddard

 Peter Goddard was no ordinary music critic, holding a bachelor's and master's degree in music. He died last week at age 78.

RIP: Arts & Music Critic Peter Goddard

By David Farrell

Peter Darwin Goddard, musician, author of more than 20 books, and the Toronto Star’s full-time pop music critic from 1972 to 1988, died after a battle with glioblastoma at Toronto Grace Health Centre on Wednesday, March 23. He was 78 years of age.

Not your average music critic, Goddard earned bachelor and master’s of music degrees at the University of Toronto, was a pupil of Margaret Butler (piano) at the Royal Conservatory of Music, and of Mieczyslaw Kolinski (musicology) and Gustav Ciamaga (electronic music) at the University of Toronto.

He started his career as a journalist in 1966. First working as the pop music critic for The Globe and Mail for one year (1966-67), he transferred to the more free-wheeling Toronto Telegram where he wrote about pop music and the ascending culture of the era between 1968 and 1971. From there he moved to the all-powerful Toronto Star through to 1988 where, for a time, he was also entertainment editor for the often-oversized Saturday Entertainment section.


In 1972, he received a Juno Award as the journalist of the year and also earned a National Newspaper Award.

A workhorse, Goddard also wrote for magazines that included Maclean's, Saturday Night, RPM, and Canadian Composer. He also authored the biography Frank Sinatra and the novel The Sounding, and co-authored, with Ronnie Hawkins, Ronnie Hawkins: Last of the Good Old Boys, that stands as one of the best Canadian rock & roll books of all time.

With Toronto photographer Philip Kamin, Goddard collaborated on 10 books, published between 1982 and 1987, documenting concert tours during the early and mid-1980s by the Rolling Stones, the Who, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Genesis, Michael Jackson, the Police, Van Halen, the Cars, and Cyndi Lauper. He also edited The Video Hits Book for the CBC-TV series Video Hits and, with Kamin, co-edited the collection of essays Shakin' All Over: The Rock 'N' Roll Years in Canada. His final published book was The Great (Glenn) Gould which was published in French and English.


Considered the dean of daily newspaper pop culture scribes, he was never an easy person to read and could be seen hovering in shadows at live shows, sometimes with a notebook and always with his unique beat-poet panache that was his style. He was part of the good old days, a golden era in pop music when artists rarely put on airs, were approachable, played their own instruments, and didn’t take themselves too seriously. At The Globe and Mail, and then at The Star, sometimes he would have to construct his story in his head and phone it through to the re-write desk. Sometimes it meant taking a taxi back to the paper and pumping out 750 or more words that would be immediately sent to the compositing team for publication in the early morning edition. It was a time when managers, artists, record company executives would race to the front door or the closest newspaper box to see what the verdict was on the show the night before.


Peter Goddard loved much about life: art, music of all stripes, theatre, architecture, and food. He was very much a Renaissance man and, according to Craig MacInnis, once part of the Star’s entertainment team, he was a great team player, nurturer of younger writers, and offered up ideas on what and how the entertainment department needed to stay on top with innovative story ideas and pushing for more originality rather than following prescribed news of the day events. He was, to the very end, an original thinker with a mind that never seemed to be in the box, so to speak.


“I had worked with Peter on a series of sportsbooks,” MacInnis told me earlier this week,  "and then one day, almost out of the blue, I get a call from him telling me that he has this idea for a jazz website. I told him I wasn’t a jazz guy, and Peter’s response was ‘well, that’s the beauty of it’. His mind worked fast and furious and I’m going to miss him greatly.”

Alt culture promoter Garry Topp described him as “a very integral part of my life/career, he was a friend, wise and insightful, carried an open mind and a view into the future, a defender of the underdog, the up-and-coming and the unknown."

On Facebook, Topp expanded: “Toronto’s entire music landscape, as we know it today, owes a huge debt to Peter Goddard. He saw the new direction in rock music (punk) in the 70s as influential and something that would change everything. He covered his beat responsibly. He could review the Viletones one night, Cecil Taylor the next, and then a gallery opening. He knew what was up. The entire arts community owes him rousing applause.”

There was a lot of rivalry in the day when newspapers ruled, and rumours of a feud between Ritchie Yorke at the Globe and Peter at The Star were often heard of. One time it’s alleged that Ritchie had sniped about his nemesis not knowing anything about music, likely because Goddard had written something displeasing about one of Yorke’s favoured acts. To settle the matter, Goddard created a pick-up band and played a couple of shows at a Jarvis Street bar and at the El Mocambo. Needless to say, The Globe overlooked this show of musicianship and the matter of who knew what was dropped.


Again, on Facebook, fellow Star entertainment writer Ron Base posted a lengthy reflection on how Peter affected him. In part, he wrote: "PETER THE GREAT: Not only was Peter Goddard for many years Canada’s pre-eminent music critic, he was also a dear friend who I admired tremendously.

“Peter had been fighting cancer for the past year or so. True to his contrary nature, he refused to go when he was supposed to. But last night he slipped quietly away in Toronto with his wife Carol Ann and his daughter, Kate, by his side.

"I called him a couple of weeks before he died. We talked about books we were both writing, we talked about days long gone by working together at the Toronto Star, and we promised to keep in touch.

When I got a call from Carol Ann that the end was near, I recorded a letter to let him know how I felt about him. I’m not sure if he heard me or not, but here is what I had to say…

Peter, it’s me, your old desk-mate, that guy who sat across from you for the better part of a decade, the guy you traded so many mystified headshakes and eye-rolls with, the guy you kept more or less sane… “


And an earlier day freelancer for the paper, Lenny Stoute posted:  “Peter Goddard was an originator, the human template for pop music journalism in Canada, and he wore the mantle with grace and humility. He was a kind, generous and supportive man. A fierce fan of music in all its forms, he was a formidable pianist and raconteur, and a tireless supporter of the Canadian music underdog to whom numerous bands owe their first big break. This was in the pre-computer era when mention of an unknown act in the pages of the Star was a huge deal with the potential to kick start a career.

“During my stint at the Star, he was a huge help in navigating the ways of the newsroom and couldn’t be more supportive in encouraging me to be myself. My column, Club Crawl, was largely inspired by the spirit of Peter and I was glad to know that he approved. His passing marks the end of an era. Rest easy my friend. I will not forget you.”

Interestingly the last piece this extraordinary man with so many interests would write for The Star was about gardening. Wife Carol Ann told me she didn’t even know he had an interest in horticulture, although he loved the wild roses that surrounded their second home, in Limousin, France. But his interests were wide and sprawling. “I never knew what he was working on or who he was talking to on the phone (in his home office), she told me a few days after his death. “We had a wonderful marriage that lasted more than 50 years, and now I have to figure out what it was he was doing in the final days before he had to give up writing.”

Predeceased by his mother Audrey and father Jack, Adjudicator of Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music, he is survived by his wife of 52 years, Carol Ann (nee Price), daughter Kate (Johnathan), grandchildren Abigail, Samantha, William and Callan, brother Michael (Randi), sister-in-law Jo Ann, nephews Alexander, Christopher, Peter, Arthur and nieces Lia, Jodie, Carol Ann, Renee and Hughena.

In May, a memorial followed by a cremation graveside service will take place at St. Peter’s Erindale Anglican Church in Mississauga.

Donations please to Salvation Army Toronto Grace Health Centre palliative care unit.

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