A Great Canadian
If you don't think that your country should come before yourself, you can better serve your country by livin' someplace else. – Stompin’ Tom Connors
Stompin’ Tom was always kind of like an uncle figure in the family of Canadian society; a very well loved uncle. With his down home style and old school attitudes, he reminded us of things we need reminding about. What he brought to mind most of all, was that we are all first and foremost, Canadian. Whatever you might want to add as a qualifier, English- Canadian, French-Canadian, native Canadian or new Canadian, the important part was Canadian. In this world of crumbling global borders, he knew what real patriotism meant.
They say there are few celebrities we recognize just from their first name. Elvis is an example, or Cher, or Madonna. Across Canada, if you said Stompin’ Tom, they’d know who you were talking about. He would have made a fine password for Canadians to identify themselves to other Canadians. If you’re in Europe and want to winnow out fake Canucks with their contraband maple leaves sewn to their back packs, just ask them who Stompin’ Tom was. Also effective would be to find out if they know who wrote “The Hockey Song”. If you’re a true patriot, you’ll know the answer to those questions. I hope they’re on the Canadian Citizenship exam.
The reason we felt such sadness at his passing, and we all know we did, is that he represents a version of Canada that, for many of us has become fractured. His view of Canada as a great nation of individuals and provinces working together to achieve a better country, sounds so quaint to the ears of the jaded masses that populate our polarized nation. His vision was steeped in such old-fashioned concepts as decency, mutual respect and love of country. When so many of us are held in the thrall of our province, our party or our religion, or simply ourselves, he saw the potential in uniting rather than dividing; in finding things we have in common, rather than things that set us apart.
I recall the first time I was exposed to Stompin’ Tom and his unique boot bashing style. In the early 70’s, I was a big fan of the CBC consumer watchdog program “Marketplace”. The show always began with this thin, earnest man wearing a red shirt and a black vest and black cowboy hat; his maritime accent noticeable as he belted out the theme song,
“Yes we are the people, running in the race; Buying up the bargains in the old marketplace…”
After that, he seemed to pop up everywhere. Besides his iconic hockey ditty, other songs, such as “Bud the Spud”, “Sudbury Saturday Night” and “Margo’s Cargo”, he managed to write over 300 songs and sold an astonishing 4 million records. It seemed his star was on the rise and there was nothing that could stop it.
Unfortunately, however, Stompin’ Tom’s career took a hit when he took a stand on the Juno’s Awards criteria. He suggested the trophies should be reserved for Canadian artists still living and working in Canada, and not those that he felt abandoned their country for greater financial rewards. This was obviously not sour grapes on his part having won six of the awards himself, which he returned in protest. He could not fathom why anyone would want to leave this country he loved so much.
This isn’t an unprecedented attitude, of course. Canada’s iconic comedy duo, Wayne and Shuster could easily have made a fortune had they gone state-side with their popular sketch comedy and stand-up act. The fact that they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, the premier entertainment showcase of it’s era, serves as testimony to their impact south of the border. They chose instead to remain in Canada doing their schtick and a nation was grateful for their decision. They gave lie to the belief you had to live in Los Angeles to achieve international stardom and that it can’t be achieved here in Canada.
Whether you agreed with Stompin’ Tom’s opinion about prodigal sons and daughters of the nation being paid tribute back home, you had to respect his principles. It is those principles that always set him apart from his musical peers who spent their careers trying to crack the American market. Stompin’ Tom cared not a whit for that market.
Despite that lack of interest Connors had for the American music scene, the American music scene was interested in Stompin’ Tom. After his hit, “The Hockey Song” had been covered by some of Canada’s greats; The Tragically Hip, Hanson, Corb Lund and others, it was taken up by such US artists as Jughead and D.O.A. This brought Stompin’ Tom to the attention of late night talk-show stalwart Conan O’Brian who featured Connors in his televised visit to Canada in 2005. It was fitting that Tom never did try to “go Hollywood” but that Hollywood came to him.
It is a surety that Stompin’ Tom’s memory will live on. As long as “The Hockey Song” is played at every NHL game and in the many other leagues as well, he will remain at the forefront of our thoughts. Even without his contribution to our national obsession, however, he will always remain in our hearts, a great entertainer, a great man and a great Canadian.
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