Irrepressible music industry force Nadine Gelineau battles lung cancer

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The way Canadian rock superstar Raine Maida recalls it, his first meeting with Nadine Gelineau in October 2015 was a perfectly ridiculous ‘L.A. moment.’

Maida, frontman to Our Lady Peace, had just parked his car — an electric car, this being Los Angeles — in hipster central’s Koreatown, home to L.A.’s best karaoke, noodles and nightlife. Two seconds later, an explosive whirlwind on a bicycle — L.A.’s other preferred green wheels — pulled up, grinned and said, “Hey, Raine. I’m Nadine.”

In that moment, the award-winning rocker and the Ottawa-born music impresario, who is well on her way to becoming an industry legend, became immediate mutual admirers.

“From the first time I met Nadine, I realized she was a force of nature. I was an instant fan,” he says of Gelineau, 56, whom he hired to help launch Record Mob, a highly curated live video streaming service exclusively for alternative, electronic and EDM music.

“She’s forged such strong ties with the indie world,” he notes. “Nadine has a confidence and self-awareness that is very agreeable and comforting. We started working together that afternoon and we’ve never looked back.”

High praise indeed, but then again, Maida is hardly alone, especially of late.

After experiencing a persistent cough that started in November, Gelineau was diagnosed in January with stage four lung cancer, linked to a marker for the EFGR genetic mutation, found in just 15 per cent of non-small cell lung cancer patients.

Now intubated in intensive care at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center and unable to speak, she is undergoing chemotherapy, drug treatments aimed at the EFGR mutation and what she calls “constant interruptions through all times of the day or night by compassionate strangers poking me with needles and drawing blood, feeling my various body parts and helping me through a simple trip to the bathroom.”

That she is even able to type or use a whiteboard to communicate is astonishing her medical team, says her mother, Helen Friel. (Gelineau conducted this interview by email, whiteboard responses relayed by Friel and texts.)

“The nurses and doctors have never seen an ICU patient, much less one who is intubated, have the concentration and energy that Nadine does. They’re flabbergasted she’s on Facebook every day,” says Friel. “But I’m not surprised.”

Neither are those who know her. Since unofficially announcing her news to a small group of friends on social media, she’s been overwhelmed by thousands of emails, messages and personal visits from people who have flown in from Britain, Canada and across the United States. More than 530 friends pitched in $59,632 in a GoFundMe campaign to cover her medical expenses. And, after sending an email sharing her diagnosis to friend and Canadian multimillionaire VICE co-founder, Suroosh Alvi, he and some VICE colleagues responded with a video from the company’s New York headquarters.

“It really caught me off guard, but it was such an awesome email because you’re still cracking jokes and that’s so you,” he said, before recalling how after a show she’d booked Montreal in 1995, she insisted Alvi conduct his first major interview with a rapper, Raekwon from the Wu Tang Clan. “I was so freaked out and scared, it was amazing. So thank you for that. And thanks for letting (VICE co-founder and Ottawa native) Shane (Smith) and I crash on your floor in Toronto all those times.”

Nadine Gelineau on February 10, 2016, before entering hospital in Los Angeles.
Nadine Gelineau on February 10, 2016, before entering hospital in Los Angeles.

That abiding and unquestioning generosity, despite the heights to which she has reached, is something of a theme in Gelineau’s life.

Born the youngest of two in Ottawa, she had what she describes as a disruptive and unconventional childhood following her parents’ divorce when she was quite young.

Determined to forge independence and powered by a disdain of settling down as a result, she threw herself into ‘60s and ‘70s music and a love of animals, which also led to her decision to become a vegetarian as a teenager at Laurentian High School. There, a guidance counselor asked about her aspirations.

“I said I wanted to live in the music industry, live in New York and travel the world,” she told the Citizen in a 2011 interview. “So I went with my instincts from then on.”

In 1976, she joined Carleton University’s CKCU-FM, where as program director and DJ at iconic nightclubs like Le Zinc and Banana Obscuri, she soon earned cult status. Leaving Ottawa for Toronto in 1989 for CKUT-FM and the CBC’s Brave New Waves, she was soon picked up as head of alternative and hip hop marketing by BMG Canada, eventually ending up in New York City.

There, she worked for a range of companies before being invited by Alvi and Smith to head up addVice Marketing, an artist development agency in partnership with VICE magazine, where she launched consumer brands like Virgin Mobile and bands such as The Killers, Bloc Party and The Dears.

“(The Dears) was on the rise and it was all her doing,” recalls former member, Patrick Krief, who appeared on Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and at the Glastonbury music festival as a result of Gelineau’s networking. “She was so confident about the band’s success that it led me to really feel the same way about it.”

In 2003, she opened The MuseBox, a full-service music company in New York and Los Angeles where she worked with indie music legends The Human League, Echo and The Bunnymen, K-Os, The High Dials and Lady Low.

“I had a very clear vision and all the decisions I made along the way always circled around that vision,” she said in 2011. “With drive and determination and talent, I got there. There might have been some luck, but it was more determination and focus.”

Since moving shop to California a few years ago, Gelineau has also become deeply involved in No Kill Los Angeles (NKLA), an animal rescue organization where she volunteers as a dog walker and cat carer.

Nadine Gelineau during her reign at CKCU as a popular DJ.
Nadine Gelineau during her reign at CKCU as a popular DJ.

“It’s always at the forefront of her mind, to look after those who can’t look after themselves or are less fortunate,” observes Friel, who has not left her daughter’s bedside in several weeks.

“There’s a homeless man near NKLA and she brings him vegetarian salads and brought him a folding bed. She looks after and mentors people. And that’s coming back to her in support not just to her, but what she’s done with her life.”

Ever the optimist, Gelineau says her diagnosis has empowered her through reconnecting with those she’s impacted.

“This weekend, a bunch of great friends flew in last minute from the UK and New York,” she said.

“That has been an example of how lucky I am for the fact this illness is at least giving me a chance to connect on such a deep level with my friends and family,” she says. “This is a silver lining to an otherwise horrible situation.”

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