Stompin' Tom Connors is dead. Long live that left foot, hammering out the beat.
Even the name - Tom Connors - is from Canada's past, before multiculturalism and the ethnic mosaic spread from sea to shining sea. Although he came from a different era, his message to the very end never got old and boiled down to a real simple truth, one that everyone could easily understand.
Love this great country.
But the patriotism of Connors wasn't the ridiculous flag-waving of Don Cherry, where the only men worthy of lacing up skates bleed Maple Leaf red. While Cherry pumps up Canada by running down everyone and everything from somewhere else while collecting a cheque from the national broadcaster for his xenophobic rants, Connors spoke for a thoughttul and earnest appreciation for of this splendid land.
In other words, Connors was a consummate Canadian, even in his patriotism.
Connors was the real deal - a genuine Canuck who played venues big and small across the country, touring relentlessly with his songs celebrating the life and struggles of the everyman.
He went to his death wondering why so few Canadian musicians identify with their home in their music but he also knew the answer to his own question.
From Sarah McLachlan and Bryan Adams, to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, the attraction of the American market, both for audiences and for money, are so alluring that it's hard to stay away. Only one of the four Canadians listed above still lives in Canada (that honour belongs to McLachlan; Adams lives in London and Young and Mitchell have lived in the U.S. for decades).
To sing Canadian songs is to marginalize yourself as an artist to the Canadian market.
Just ask The Tragically Hip.
It's great to release songs featuring lyrics about legendary Toronto Maple Leafs star Bill Barilko (Fifty Mission Cap) but that simply doesn't fly anywhere else.
The Hip made their choice and took the Connors trail, heroes in their own land, virtually unknown everywhere else.
In their song Fireworks, a song mostly about the "fireworks" of a new relationship, the Hip's Gord Downie sings: "you said you didn't give a *** about hockey, and I never saw someone say that before, you held my hand and we walked home the long way, you were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr."
The lyric makes absolutely no sense to anyone who is not Canadian but it speaks volumes to anyone born and raised in this country. It's as ridiculous and awesomely Canuck as the Connors classic Bud The Spud.
Later in the same song, Downie gave the best-ever answer to the Connors question: "Isn't it amazing what you can accomplish when you don't let the nation get in your way? Not one ambition whisperin' over your shoulder. Isn't it amazing, you can do anything?"
Put another way, Connors and the Hip just couldn't help letting "the nation get in their way" and refused to put it aside in their music in favor of grander ambitions beyond the borders.
Stompin' Tom Connors may be dead but the pride behind that stomp lives on.