Thursday, March 07, 2013

RIP Stompin' Tom Connors: Canada Says Good Bye to an Icon

In Grade 1, my teacher would occasionally play music.  It was usually either Christian music or children songs, which is understandable since the school was Christian-based and most attendees in a Grade 1 class would be children.  One day she played a song that was being sung by a guy who didn't have the typical soft and cheery voice that was being accompanied by a legion of children backup singers.  It was just one older sounding guy with a guitar and what to 6 year old me thought must be country music.  It sounded like a song about the adventures of a walking potato, maybe the cousin of Mr. Potato Head, or at least, this is where my imagination took me.  The song was Bud the Spud and the singer of course was Canadian legend, Stompin' Tom Connor.

Last night a Canadian institution, Stompin' Tom, passed away.  A man who is a national treasure.  He is one of the distinctly Canadian gems that every citizen of this country knows about, but is almost unknown once you cross these borders.  Stompin' Tom didn't care about having any prominence outside of his home country.  He was a fiercely patriotic Canadian, which is a rare thing.  He decided to sing about very Canadian things.  He resonated with his fellow countrymen.  He connected with thousands upon thousands.  There are many who never went to any of his concerts or would ever call themselves a fan, but still felt a swift blow to the gut when hearing about the passing of a legitimate legend.

It is almost impossible to go to a live hockey game in this country and not hear the famous voice of Stompin' Tom.  The Hockey Song has been blared in every hockey arena in Canada, and any hockey fan can probably recite every word.  This is the anthem for hockey games.  Sure, it is nice to hear O Canada, but to some hockey fans The Hockey Song is the real national anthem.  In most sporting events, the sound guy will blare out some hard rock to get the crowd pumped and ready to root on the home team.  In Canada, it is this little folk song that lights up the crowd and creates an energy that no other song could hope to achieve.

I admit that I probably haven't listened to a Stompin' Tom song close to 20 years.  He wasn't my style of recreational listening.  But as I think about him now, several of his classic songs rush to my mind.  He knew how to create catchy and fun music that sticks with you for a lifetime.  My teacher played a lot of Stompin' Tom, and each time it felt like a massive treat.  He sang music that created vivid images and told fun stories.  For a very imaginative boy, storytelling was crucial, and I remember drifting off to a world of wonder thanks to his music.  Tilsonburg is the song that taught me that such a city existed, and that tobacco picking was a way many of my relatives had made money.  I learned important parts of Canadian culture and history through his classics like Sudbury Saturday Night, Big Joe Mufferaw, Name the Capital, and The Consumer.  It never felt like learning, because it was fun listening to the energetic folk singer.

Stompin' Tom believed there weren't enough songs about Canada.  He also was hurt and upset when Canadian entertainers left the country for greater fame in the United States.  He really loved this country and embraced it in a powerful way.  This is why he'll always be in the hearts of many Canadians.  I'm sure The Hockey Song will be blaring from speakers for several more generations.  It makes me smile knowing there was a man in this world like Stompin' Tom.  He was a man who actually grew up having a hard life, but he made the best of it by turning to art to enrich the lives of others.  His music is his legacy, and like him, it is distinctly Canadian.  You wouldn't have lyrics like his in anywhere else in the world, and that warms my soul knowing that truth.

Some complain that Canada doesn't have a culture.  We borrow and take everything form the United States.  There are artists that are giving us truly Canadian entertainment.  Stompin' Tom was one of those people.  I hope his passing will encourage people to listen to some of his folk music.  When they hear those words, they actually do a bit of research to learn about the places and pieces of history he sings about.  You can't get more Canadian than stomping your feet while listening to Stompin' Tom, and there isn't any shame in that.

Stompin' Tom may have had a hard life, but he apparently was a warm and terrific human being.  He didn't dwell on his hardships.  I'm sure his music is something that helped him overcome.  I've always believed art can save a person.  It can make you a better person being able to take that journey of creation.  I don't know if that is what gave Stompin' Tom a long and happy life.  I do know it was a huge part of who he was.

I wish I could have met him.  I wish I could have thanked him for all those folk songs I loved as a child.  I wish I could have just shook hands with what many say was a genuine and great human being.  Instead, I'll just smile and hold on to those memories.  I'll fire up some Stompin' Tom so that Everett can shake his little butt and wave his little hands to a Canadian legend.  I'll pass him on to the next generation.  This is how you immortalize an icon.

Stompin' Tom may not be here anymore.  He'll be a part of Canada forever.  His legacy will endure.

RIP Stompin' Tom, February 9, 1936 - March 6, 2013.  Thank you for loving this country so much.  Thank you for the memories and the gift of your music.






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