Stompin’ Tom Connors: 1936 – 2013
Canadians, we’re fond of saying, often define themselves as “not Americans.” With so much shared culture the line between what’s Canadian and what’s American can be a blurry one at times. We like hockey a lot more than Americans, we eat more doughnuts and there’s always the unexplainable cultural appeal of Tim Hortons and Canadian Tire stores.
It stands to reason then that if there’s a style of music called Americana we’re going to try to define Canadiana. That definition got a bit blurrier today: Stompin’ Tom Connors passed away.
Stompin’ Tom was about as Canadian as it gets. It wasn’t that the music was all that different–it was a pretty standard twangy mix of guitar, fiddle, upright bass, snare heavy drums and whatever else fit the mix. This is classic cowboy music performed by a fine practitioner.
The subject matter was an entirely different issue and it was here that Stompin’ Tom was the Canadian artist. Eschewing the standard tales of heartache and break, fast cars and life in small towns (or trying to escape it) that characterize the songs of Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle and other practitioners of Americana Stompin’ Tom sang about Canada and did it unapologetically. Bud the Spud told the folksy tale of truckin’ potatoes (because it definitely wasn’t trucking) from Canada’s smallest province to it’s largest. Roll on Saskatchewan celebrates the big skies, cold winds and homeliness of one of Canada’s prairie provinces. Tillsonburg is an ode to life in a small town in what was once Ontario’s busy tobacco growing country. These are the stories of normal Canadians (and potatoes) living normal lives just trying to be happy, and they’re great stories.
The Hockey Song may be Stompin’ Tom’s greatest legacy. It’s refrain of the good ol’ hockey game / is the best game you can name / and the best game you can name / is the good old hockey game has become a part of the cultural zeitgeist. There’s no escaping it, no matter how hard you try: it’s on the radio, the television and probably in every small town area in the country. It’s a part of the fabric of the country, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Canadiana will go on: we have Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn, Whitehorse, the Rheostatics and other fine singer songwriters who define themselves to a great extent by their essential Canadian-ness. Stompin’ Tom wasn’t the only distinctly Canadian musician out there, but he was probably the most distinctly Canadian.
That’s a loss, and it’s a big one.
So long, Stompin’ Tom. Well played.