Musician and writer Robin Renee remembers Canadian legend Stompin’ Tom Connors, please check out this very special memorial after the jump.
A little over a year ago I was making small talk with a guy by the registration desk of a conference in Philadelphia. That same afternoon, I ran into him again. I remembered he’d said he was from Canada.
“Which city did you say you were from again?” I asked.
“Sudbury, Ontario,” he told me.
“Oh,” I said, “like ‘Sudbury Saturday Night’ by Stompin’ Tom Connors.”
It’s a good thing he was sitting down, because otherwise he would have very likely fallen over. He had never met anyone from the United States who had even heard of Stompin’ Tom, let alone who was a Stompin’ Tom enthusiast. Needless to say it was a sad day for me when the great country-folk singer passed away on March 6, 2013. But Stompin’ Tom was already a legend; now he lives in the land of the many characters he brought to life.
I had been turned on to the music of Stompin’ Tom Connors (so named for his boot-to-stage time-keeping while he sang and played) by a friend from Toronto who told me of a Canadian folk music hero and a funny song of his that was popular in the 70’s. It was “Bud the Spud.” The song turned out to be my gateway drug. Before long I was listening to and watching just about all of the Stompin’ Tom I could find on You Tube and checking his website to see if I could catch his show (I’m sorry to say I never did.). Here are a few thoughts that crystallized for me on why I came to find Stompin’ Tom so captivating, and what I still love about the man and his music.
The Good Side of National Pride
He sang of larger than life characters (“Big Joe Mufferaw”) as well as the regular folks down at the bar (“Sudbury Saturday Night”). He celebrated Canada through the tales he heard or spun in his travels. And of course there is “The Hockey Song.” Something stood out for me about Stompin’ Tom’s songs of national pride (“Cross Canada”). They focus on what’s beautiful. The American patriotism I’d grown used to hearing often enough would celebrate the “amber waves of grain” but with a bonus attitude that says “and we can kick your ass.” It is refreshing to hear Tom’s version of this kind of song and to remember a way back to singing for pride and love of home and country without all the muscle.
What’s So Funny ‘bout Bein’ Earnest?
Don’t get me wrong – some of my favorite singers get labeled with words like “cynical” and “sardonic.” But I think in an attempt to be super hip too many of us forget that it’s also ok to be straightforward, positive, or even sentimental if that’s how you feel it. Stompin’ Tom’s songs run the gamut from serious to humorous to reverent to cornball, and it’s all so straight from the heart.
I couldn’t say it better than Dave Grohl did for NPR:
“Punk rock was all about walking it like you talk it, and integrity was always something that we measured an artist by. And it just seemed like, how could you be more for real than Stompin’ Tom?”
He Did it His Way
Stompin’ Tom performed for as long as he wanted to and took years away when he wasn’t into it. A lot of singers scramble to modernize or shift focus, while he continued to sing of all things Canadian in the early country vibe that flowed through him. I personally wished he could have reconciled with the direction of the Juno Awards enough to allow himself to be honored by them (he famously sent his awards back because he felt the organization had lost its Canadian focus), but he stuck to his decision and did it his way. Gotta respect that.
Stompin’ Tom is honored by the fans who will remember, and I hope he’ll continue to be discovered in the way he showed up for me – a gift when least expected in a conversational moment. One day I hope I’ll take a tour of some of the places he sang about, starting with the bright, red mud of PEI.
A freelance writer and performing songwriter, Robin Renée’s work has appeared in many publications including PanGaia, Blessed Bi Spirit, Big Hammer #12, The New York Quarterly, Songwriter’s Market, and That Takes Ovaries – Bold Females and their Brazen Acts (Random House). Her recordings include In Progress, All Six Senses, Live Devotion, spirit.rocks.sexy – Mantra-Pop headlines from the clairaudient dreams of the evocative Robin Renée, and This. So far she’s stayed true to her 2013 New Year’s resolution of “more dancing and more glitter.”