Remembering Stompin’ Tom, Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, and David Crombie at the Juno Awards in 1973

Mar 7th, 2013 | By | Category: Entertainment

Stompin’ Tom Connors, in his signature hat, accepting his Best Country Male Artist honours in 1973. He would win six Junos in the seventies. Credit: Plum Communications Inc.

Like many others in the true north, strong and free, I was saddened to hear that Stompin’ Tom Connors passed away, at the age of 77, on Wednesday, March 6,  2013.

I can’t pretend to be any great fan of Stompin’ Tom’s, or any kind of expert on his life and times. All I can do by way of broad commemoration is point to : the obituaries in the Toronto Star (“Canadian country icon Stompin’ Tom Connors, 1936-2013”) and on the CTV website (“Stompin’ Tom Connors dies at 77”) ; the Wikipedia entry for “Charles Thomas “Stompin’ Tom” Connors, OC” (even if it does say that he “died at age 77 in his home in Peterborough, Ontario,” while the Toronto Star reports that “Connors died Wednesday among friends and family members at his home in Halton Hills, Ont”) ; and (last but by no means least) the video “Surrey resident Deanna Davidson’s parrot Aztek sings Stompin’ Tom Connor’s ‘Hockey Night Tonight’ in honour of the Canadian legend’s death,”on the website of the Vancouver Province.

Yet, like many others again perhaps, Stompin’ Tom also means something more specific to me. He stands for some strand in the collective Canadian experience of the past half century that somehow touched me more directly, and for which I can work up considerable deep nostalgia (or foolish obsolete sentiment or worse?).

Three pillars of Canadian music: Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, and Stompin’ Tom Connors at the 1973 Juno Awards. Credit: Plum Communications Inc.

The marvels of the world wide web in 2013 have allowed me to put a more precise finger on what I think I am thinking about. Only a few moments of googling “Stompin’Tom Connors and David Crombie,” that is to say, have turned up a Wikipedia entry on “Juno Awards of 1973.” It reads, in part : “The Juno Awards of 1973, representing Canadian music industry achievements of the previous year, were awarded on 12 March 1973 [just short of 40 years from Stompin’ Tom’s sad death] in Toronto at a ceremony at the Inn on the Park’s Centennial ballroom …  David Crombie, Toronto’s mayor at that time, presented the Best Male Vocalist award [ahem, actually Best Country Male Artist, according to a list further down the page] to Stompin’ Tom Connors. Gordon Lightfoot also made his first personal appearance at the Junos [and he in fact won for Best Male Vocalist]… Taped excerpts from the awards were broadcast on a special edition of CBC Radio’s ‘The Entertainers’ on 23 March 1973.”

* * * *

David Crombie, Mayor of Toronto (centre), at the Juno Awards, 1973.

This moment almost 40 years ago stands for, in my experience of growing up in Canada, an all too short time when many things seemed possible that subsequently proved not bloody likely, at best. The career of Stompin’ Tom was a kind of trace variable for all this – in some degree at least. Its apogee came in 1974, when he “had a mini-series running on CBC Television in which he met and exchanged with folks from all across Canada. The series called ‘Stompin’ Tom’s Canada’ … ran for 26 episodes of 30 minutes each.” Then, as I can remember someone aptly saying at a much different reunion lunch I attended a few years later, 1975 marked a great watershed, that brought the universe back to a less hopeful reality. And, as the Wikipedia entry on Stompin’ Tom himself explains : “As the 1970s progressed, he retired to his farm in Norval, near Georgetown, Ontario, to protest the lack of support given to Canadian stories by the policies of the Federal government … “

I can’t say that I was or still am vastly disappointed by the difficulties of Stompin’ Tom Connors’s career after the mid 1970s. In the first place, I’d agree that he stood for a somewhat over-aggressive and parochial Canadian nationalist sentiment, that, in our better moments, we have grown beyond. Moreover, insofar as he did touch on something worth perpetuating in the growth of a more broad-minded and democratic Canadian patriotism since the 1960s, interest in his career has recurrently revived.  Thus, eg: “In 1986, Tim Vesely and Dave Bidini of Rheostatics crashed his 50th birthday party and published an article about it in a Toronto newspaper, initiating a resurgence of public and record label interest in his work which resulted in the release in 1988 of Fiddle and Song, his first new album since 1977.”

Even now, in the early 21st century, when we seem in so many ways so far away from the spirit of the late 1960s and early1970s when Stompin’ Tom came of age, the CTV website is reporting that on the sad occasion of his death, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted late Wednesday that Canada had lost a ‘true Canadian original,’ and referencing The Hockey Song, wrote: ‘You played the best game that could be played.’”

David Crombie cleans out his Mayor of Toronto office on his departure in 1978 – also the year that Stompin’s Tom gave back his Juno awards, to protest the lack of support given to Canadian stories by the policies of the Federal government.

History, as a great (and even conservative) poet elsewhere proclaimed more than 90 years ago, has many cunning passages. Stompin’ Tom, I would have guessed at any rate, stood for many true Canadian things that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has actually tried to do away with. A case in point is the Canadian international peacekeeping tradition identified with the Lester Pearson who was prime minister just as  Stompin’ Tom was getting started. And the note on which I’d like to leave this small tribute to the things Stompin’ Tom Connors stood up for that were and still are worth continuing to stand up for is his song about the “Blue Berets”of Canada’s UN peacekeeping forces. The Canadian  variation on John Wayne and Johnny Cash rolled into one, that is to say (again), actually believed in the United Nations, in a way that is still worth believing in. And if you want to leave this more specific tribute here in real style click on – and listen to –  the You Tube version of ”Stompin Tom Connors –  Blue Berets.”

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