Babylon, P.Q.: Rock’n'Roll Joel

Rock’n'Roll Joel

I remember when he had hair down to his ass

Mitch Joel now performs in bigger rooms than most of the bands he’s interviewed in the past.

Many of you will remember Mitch "Rock’n'Roll" Joel from these pages, where he was a freelance music journo – writing about such artists as Our Lady Peace, Motörhead, The Tea Party, KISS, Alanis Morissette etc. – for nearly a decade. Mitch was my unfailingly reliable go-to guy: He knew everybody in the business, from top to bottom and all points in between. If I lost an interview and needed a story on short notice, I knew I could ask Mitch. He never said no.

Famously, in my books anyway, I lost a feature story on a Tuesday afternoon a few years ago, just hours before we were supposed to "put the paper to bed." I was screwed. I called Mitch. He said KISS were playing in town, he’d make a phone call. Twenty minutes later he called back and said he’d just finished interviewing Gene Simmons. I had the story on my desk two hours later. Help like that is hard to come by. It’s also hard to keep, especially when it has become very, very successful and no longer depends on $10 CD reviews to put food on the table.

This coming week, Mitch will take the stage with former U.S. president Bill Clinton and world-renowned motivational speaker Anthony Robbins as part of the Montreal presentation of The Power Within at Palais des Congrès, April 3 (tickets will knock you back $220). Also on the bill is Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield, personal finance expert Terry Savage and bestselling author Irshad Manji (The Trouble With Islam Today). That’s some nice company he’s keeping.

I guess I should mention that in the few short years since Mitch has moved on from Hour, and his parents’ basement, he founded and now presides over innovative Montreal-based marketing and communications going concern Twist Image. President Clinton, meet President Joel. Mitch credits a Power Within conference he could barely afford four and a half years ago for giving him the tools (or perhaps just rearranging them in the shed) for personal success. He also credits them with the speaking gig.

Long story short, he stayed in touch with the Power Within folks who one day, apropos of nothing, asked him if he’d like to get on the other side of the mic. "I mean, you wouldn’t want to say no," recalls Mitch, "but after I said yeah, I realized the ramifications of what I had just agreed to because I’d never spoken in front of 6,000 people, obviously."

"I guess it’s just crazy to think that four years ago I was really excited to interview Cannibal Corpse and now I’m sharing the stage with Clinton," says Mitch, now 35 years old.

Funny thing is, I just noticed that you’re still on the payroll at Hour, so technically you’re still my bitch, Mitch. Granted, the days when Mitch and I would get a call to play pool with Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash at Swimming are, for him anyway, long past. And the humane, humble, kind and generous part of Mitch – which is, essentially, all of him – likes it that way.

"I learned a lot about the entertainment industry, but it’s all about that whole ‘tears of a clown’ thing, where if you’re up you have to make sure that others are down, and if someone’s down, you have to make sure that you kick them. Whereas, what I think [Twist Image] is doing in the marketing industry is not about that – the whole concept is to share and to help each other and build a community. And it’s so attractive to me in terms of who I am as a person."

One might be surprised to find that Mitch has no formal education. "I got nothing, man," he laughs in a way that says "woops." "I don’t even have a university degree. I graduated from Vanier in music, I was playing bass. I was doing my own magazines at the time [Enrage and Arena Rock], and I’d just started writing for Hour."

Has a lack of formal education put him at a disadvantage? (As I’m asking this question, I’m thinking of Mitch’s spacious glass executive office in the Ex-Centris building overlooking St-Laurent Blvd., and I’m wondering if my own education hasn’t, in fact, held me back…)

"I was asked once to teach a course at McGill, and then they wouldn’t let me teach it because I don’t have a university degree. Which I find interesting considering I’m on the board of a faculty of education now as a volunteer. One day I’ll allow them to give me an honorary doctorate," he jokes.

There’s a part of me that remains skeptical about motivational speakers, perhaps due to deep-seated and lingering resentment towards infomercials on a cable-less TV at home in years past. And the mild-mannered Mitch doesn’t take kindly to my not-so-veiled (albeit firmly tongue-in-cheek) suggestion that folks like Robbins are simply cult leaders with a better image consultant.

"Well look, that’s what organized religion does – it’s a form of social control. I’ve always been very outspoken about that. I think the reality of this is that nobody’s forcing anybody to do anything. I always say it’s like going to the gym – the first thing they do is give you a coach so that you know how to do stuff. But you don’t have a coach for life, you don’t have a coach for your job or your family. Why not?"

So how exciting is it to be doing this in your own hometown, on stage with Clinton and Robbins and all the rest of them? "It sucks," he laughs. "I’m so nervous right now."

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