OUT ON A LIMB: Stompin’ Tom: The man, the legend, the piece of plywood

Connors was as hick as they come when you first looked at him

Took some time to contemplate the life and times of Stompin’ Tom Connors after he passed away last week.

He was one of those performers who when I first became aware of him, I thought I was the only one who liked him. Then over the years I began noticing that others did too. Connors was a true folk hero that way. No record machine promoting him over the top.

I once heard an American on the CBC’s Bill Richardson show talking about how he loves things Canadian, particularly the CBC, but confessed he didn’t get the Stompin’ Tom Connors thing.

“And therein lies the difference,” Richardson drolled.

Connors was as hick as they come when you first looked at him. But if you dug deeper you found there was a double edge. His musical simplicity was actually very deep in that it was a channel right into the soul of this country. But on the other hand, he could be quite clever and in fact very soulful.

And that soulfulness was sincere and strong and it was wrapped up in a pride for this country that we are only beginning to emulate in recent years. The Vancouver Olympics was Canada’s coming out party for expressive nationalism. Stompin’ Tom had been doing it for decades.

Heck, he even returned his Juno awards in the Seventies to protest Junos being given to Canadian artists who left the country to live in the U.S. to develop their careers – which, of course, at that time would be just about all of them. Hey, I fully understand the need to do that, even today, but you had to admire Connors’ gesture. It took guts. It was also seeming career suicide. It was a good thing he was as true to his nationalism as he was because it endeared him to thousands of fans and created a following that was almost completely outside the music industry machine.

Thank goodness for the CBC because they had the brilliant idea to commission Connors to write a theme song for their then-new consumer watchdog program Marketplace. In that inimitable way, Connors pointed out the hypocrisy of consumer economics.

“There’s another sale on somethin’; we’ll buy it while it’s hot.

And save a lotta money spendin’ money we don’t got.”

Simplistic. Barely literate. But so insightful. And here I want to branch out to the CBC. Thank goodness for the public broadcaster. They commission Connors to write an iconic song. Probably paid him some much needed coin for it too.

It immediately put me in mind of the value of a public broadcaster not just airing and promoting Canadian cultural content but even stimulating its production. I’m a big Gordon Lightfoot fan too and Connors is like the poor man’s Lightfoot. Where Connors was a down-to-earth, nitty gritty, east-coast accented, cowboy-hatted country boy, Lightfoot was a golden boy artiste whose songs were just as brilliant, just as Canadian but on the opposite end of the style scale. Lightfoot was lyrical, evocative, emotional, bright and even symphonic.

But Lightfoot benefitted from the CBC’s largesse as well. The corporation wanted a song from Lightfoot to commemorate Canada’s centennary in 1967.

Lightfoot produced the opus Canadian Railroad Trilogy. As brilliant a song, as Canadian a song as you’ll ever get.

Whenever I think of actions like this I think thanks for the CBC. Private broadcasters would never do anything like this.

All they ever want to do is vacuum money from the public and advertisers by rebroadcasting American programming.

Whenever they were forced to produce Canadian content, they’ll make American-like shows or buy into the old branch plant industrial strategy of the sixties and seventies and give you Canadian versions of American shows – Canadian Idol, anyone? Or how about Amazing Race Canada?

Oh, Tom don’t leave us now. We need you more than ever.