Fiddler, Interrupted

Article excerpt

Canadian fiddler Ashley MacIsaac hits new sour notes in an already off-key career

In the final hours of 1999, gay Canadian fiddler extraordinaire Ashley MacIsaac took the stage at a rave outside Halifax, Nova Scotia, near the Cape Breton town where he grew up. But instead of fiddling, he grabbed the microphone and spent 20 minutes thrashing around the stage and screaming racial and sexual slurs at the crowd. Onlookers heard "nigger," "Paki," "faggot," and "dyke," and MacIsaac repeatedly invited the audience to perform oral sex on him.

Retribution came swiftly. Event organizers had him removed from the stage and demanded he return his $10,000 fee. He refused, saying his act was intended as an Allen Ginsberg-style rant. Then MacIsaac's label in Canada, Loggerhead Records, moved to distance itself from its controversial client. (MacIsaac's 1995 U.S. debut, Hi How Are You Today, was released by A&M Records.)

"We are offended by Ashley's recent behavior," Loggerhead president Andrew McCain stated in a press release. "[This company] does not support or condone it in any way." Loggerhead sources say they have no immediate plans to dump MacIsaac, and the musician did appear to be trying to improve his image during a Tibetan benefit concert held at New York City's Carnegie Hall on February 5. Appearing on a roster that included Philip Glass, David Byrne, and Patti Smith, a decidedly low-key MacIsaac fiddled a gentle set--more akin to his musical cameo in Thom Fitzgerald's 1997 film The Hanging Garden than to the Halifax rave. But a lengthy string of slated solo concert appearances has been put on indefinite hold by MacIsaac's management.

The New Year's Eve disaster capped a turbulent climb to fame for the 25-year-old fiddler, who first gained prominence at age 16 (after being discovered by New York City theater types vacationing in Nova Scotia) and soon became a Canadian cultural icon. Then in 1996 MacIsaac disclosed his ties to a 16-year-old boyfriend and his proclivity toward sexual acts involving urination--revelations that led Canada's leading magazine, Maclean's, to kick the fiddler off its annual honor roll.

Two summers ago MacIsaac lost his management after he repeatedly told audiences to "fuck off" at family-oriented concert events. And last summer--after two Canadian albums, one gold and one triple platinum--MacIsaac and Universal Music, his former Canadian label, parted ways. In subsequent interviews, MacIsaac revealed the split with Universal was far from amicable. "I went all freaky on people," he told the National Post in November. …