Wednesday's news that legendary singer Stompin' Tom Connors had passed away at 77 is making waves across Canada, and for good reason. Yes, he was known for his odes to hockey, football and more, but his impact went well beyond that, and even beyond his songs. One of the most poignant statements he ever made came in 1978, when he returned his Juno Awards in a protest of the American-focused state of the Canadian music industry at that time; Dave Bidini has an excellent piece on just what that meant here. It wasn't a contrived or spotlight-seeking moment; indeed, after doing so, Stompin' Tom withdrew from the Canadian music scene almost completely for much of a decade. Instead, returning those awards was a natural extension of what he believed, what he sung about and what made him so important to Canada.
A Twitter hashtag I use a lot is #hoserism, and I think I can trace its origins back to Stompin' Tom. It's my version of Canadian nationalism, and it's a little different than how nationalism often shows up. I'm not out to prove that my country or my province is better than yours, or that everything Canadian's automatically better than anything from anywhere else, or even that the sports team from my country should defeat the sports team from yours (which proves so much, of course). For me, it's more about celebrating the uniqueness and the diversity of what we do have in Canada. I unashamedly like and celebrate a lot of Canadian things, from Rush to SCTV to the CFL, and I'm just fine with that, but they each have their own attractions, and it's not about yelling about how one of these things is the best level of Canadian culture and everything else is inferior. In my mind, that fits in with a lot of what Stompin' Tom wrote about. Many of his songs are about incredibly specific Canadian places, their glories and their problems, but you never really get the sense that he's trying to boost one part of the country over all others, or even that he's trying to criticize the rest of the world. Instead, he was showing off his pride in this entire country, and I think that's laudable. His "Stompin' Grounds" is a perfect example of this:
Perhaps most importantly, though, Stompin' Tom constantly fought against the idea that the only real Canadian successes were those who went and made it big south of the border. Personally, I'm fine with Canadians deciding that living in the U.S. is a better fit for their life or their career; everyone's situation is unique, and a lot of those Canadian exports have done great things for this country's profile. What Stompin' Tom really promoted was the idea that that's not the only means of success, though, that it's just fine to be focused on a Canadian audience. That's something I try to embrace personally, primarily writing about the CFL the way I do. Sure, I do some wider-audience stuff, and that's fun too, but I don't necessarily need to cover a sport that's popular worldwide to have a fulfilling career. There's no shame in liking and writing about Canadiana even if it doesn't make you a huge worldwide name. Stompin' Tom's career is absolute proof of that, and the impact he had on this country is one to be admired.