Friday 02 Dec 2016

RIP Stompin Tom
Bob Stark

"I want all my fans, past, present, or future, to know that without you, there would have not been any Stompin' Tom."

Stompin'Tom Connors.


This is an interesting night, it seems many people, even back East, are up late tonight. Might be the Newfie moon light, eh?

My personal story about Stompin' Tom is that I saw him only once that I can remember. It was a bar in the Kemptville Hotel, outside Ottawa. I was in my 20s probably. There was a genuine 'hokiness' to it all. It however probably resonated, somewhere deep in my ancestral rural bones. My father and his family were from Shawville, Quebec. I had one uncle and several cousins who worked farms in the area. In that regard, no one is too far from the land or the resources underneath it. We are all miners, farmers and loggers. Woe are we to ever forget or deny that.

Well, Stompin' Tom didn't and won't let us do that!

In some ways, it is a confession how many of his songs, as well as his performances, were viewed by me, and many at the time, as parochial and, well, a tad amateurish. His bands were nondescript; your basic country bar band, drummers replete with bulging guts, and bassists donning hockey or John Deere caps, all awash in and floating on Sudbury Golden Foam.

My early heroes were more sophisticated, Bruce Cockburn to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Although there is a Canadian aspect to their sound and even lyrics at times, it was not as 'pure' or, in a good way, as working class as Stompin’ Tom. Even as we clapped and sang along, we were never Sudbury miners getting stinko on a Sudbury Saturday Night. In that, the poetry of his songs, at the time, escaped us.

His 'Canadianism' was embarrassing to be truthful, a bit too small-minded.

As a songwriter and performer, one wanted a bigger universe. Thus, one wrote and sang more about saving the world than saving jobs at Inco. 

Neil and Joni were living in magical California during the heady Sixties. That is where our drams lay. Fame and fortune wasn’t writing playful folksy ditties about unknown people living in backwater towns of Canada; too close to Don Messer's Jubilee, fiddles, Marg and Charlie,  or "Our Pet," Juliette, from which an urban, college-educated generation, with a worldly view, high-tailed it in their bell-bottoms and beads. 

Give me Paris, all right, but not the one in Southern Ontario!

No way, I would not break my back picking tobacco in Tillsonberg. Everyone was more interested in lying on the couch after smoking that wacky tobacky stuck on a roach pin. In many ways, too many Canadian writers of song still shy away from naming Canadian places, streets, clubs and so forth in their songs, but have no problem citing New York or Memphis and so forth. We live in fear of making our little enclaves universal. "Not possible" was, and is, the consensus among those writers that mostly toil in obscurity, even in their own country.

Reading some of those famous Stompin' Tom lyrics tonight and reading or seeing the tributes, humbled me. There is an intelligent mind at work in that writing. Tom, arguably, was not as political as was Woody Guthrie, or as witty and ironic as John Prine. Yet, if capturing the daily hardships and pleasures in daily lives is any measure, he certainly makes the grade.

Some say Tom was not a very nice man, behind the scenes, who knows. Maybe at a certain time of his life he may have gone off the rails, a bit. In that, I can assure you, he is not unique in the Canadian song writing fraternity.

Not slick enough for the Nashville country crowd or folkie enough for the folkies, Tom fell and sat between the cracks. I suspect he decided to push on, believing, with a strong conviction, in what he was doing and singing about while he hitchhiked across our home and native land. I returned to the fold, somewhat, with his revival at the hands of Charlie Angus' folk band “The Hard Rock Miners,” among others, such as the “Rheostatics” and “Tragically Hip,” all of whom were not afraid to display their Canadian roots. Stompin Tom thus became a cult figure, even in the college crowd and circuit. The wood on the floor began, banged again. Then, apparently, it was The Ottawa Senators who first started playing 'The Hockey Song' at NHL games, a song they even sing now in hockey arenas in Finland or anywhere else in the world where hockey is played.

One truly wishes more Canadians had as much love of country, its places and people. For better or worse, he wore his Canadian heart and flag, on his sleeve, into the dance halls, bar rooms and ice rinks, in every small town, where his legacy endures.

On my bathroom wall, across from the shitter, is postcard picture of three fishermen from Nova Scotia, standing on a dock, with cigarettes and beer in hand. A friend recently asked me if I knew those guys: "Friends of yours?" he asked. Nope. Just, as I said, a postcard. Those happy looking fellers remind every day, when I'm regular that is, of the hard but good lives that many live. Those happy looking hard working fellers are the people of which Stompin Tom wrote and sang.

Among songwriters and I one, there’s an adage about dying for a great song that will outlive the writer. Many have tried. Few succeeded.

It is a bit sad that Tom had to pass away for Canadians to recognize, fully and truly, his talent. Yet, that is not such a bad thing for Stompin' Tom Connors or us. The torch, as Stompin' Tom wanted, passes to others.

A country grows in its heart and soul by the nature of its myths and mythical personages. To those who may have spoken badly of Stompin Tom, I say, at times like these, please bury your grievances along with the burial shovels and dirt. For tonight more than any other night in Canadian history the man in the moon is indeed a Newfie. Bud the Spud from the bright red mud is rollin' down the highway smiling, while Big Joe Mufferaw, the best man in Ottawa, is paddling in to Mattawa.

In Sudbury, Irish Jim O'Connel, Scotty Jack MacDonald and honky Fredrick Hurchell are getting stinko along with happy German Fritzy there with Frenchy getting tipsy. On the West Coast, a Chaplin spreads 19 roses around in the waters of Burrard Inlet in old Vancouver town, as he remembers, again, when the bridge came tumbling down, when the bridge came tumbling down.

Somewhere in the universe, Tom's spirit is stomping and singing the good old hockey song, while reading "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy."

"Oh the good old hockey game is the best game you can name and the best game you can name is the good old hockey game." As Canadiana, as folk arty, as you can get, Stompin’ Tom Connors has done work and well. Maybe he rest in peace.

Bob Stark is a musician, poet, philosopher and couch potato. He spends his days, as did Jean-Paul Sarte and Albert Camus, pouring lattes and other adult beverages into a recycled mug, bearing a long and winding crack. He discusses, with much insight and passion, the existentialist and phenomenological ontology of the Vancouver 'Canucks,' a hockey team, "Archie" comic books and high school reunions. In other words, Bob Stark is a retired public servant living the good life on the wrong coast of Canada.

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