When one thinks of Canadian musicians, the term “badass” doesn’t usually spring to mind. Rebels just aren’t revered as cultural icons in the North as they are in that American James Dean kind of way down south. Maybe we’re too nice, but from my experience the majority of Canadian musicians from supposedly scary-tough genres like doom metal, crust punk, and whathaveyou, while hard as fuck on stage, are soft as shit otherwise. Simply too many P’s & Q’s, and not enough F’s & U’s.
The exception to this rule is the recently deceased Stompin’ Tom Connors who – even though he sang corny songs about ketchup and P.E.I. potatoes–was still heavier than any Quebec black metal or Albertan powerviolence outfit. He dressed like Johnny Cash (almost always in black) and drank like Hank Williams Sr. (a lot). He was Canada’s best steel-toed, blue-collared crooner. And he was a stubborn sunnovabitch too, saying and singing anything he wanted, while doing whatever and going wherever he pleased.
And even though he played gold ole fashioned country, he was actually punk as fuck in every classic sense of the word. Here’s why.
HE RAN AWAY AT 15
Running away from home is about as punk as it gets. Every documentary from the 80s about hardcore kids seems to include about a dozen 13-year olds with smiling, unwashed faces, basking in the glow of their newfound freedom. Do kids even runaway anymore? I mean, for reals, and not to their girlfriends’ house for a couple nights or whatever. I think it’s time running away made a comeback.
Stompin’ Tom bounced out of his house at 15. The next 13 years of his life were spent hitchhiking and getting to know Canada so well that he once claimed, “I know Canada like the palm of my hand. I don't need a map to go anywhere in Canada, I know it all."
HIS MUSIC CAREER BEGAN AS A WAY TO PAY FOR BEER
The story goes that Stompin’ Tom’s first break came after he was nickel short of a beer at a bar in Timmins, ON. The bartender agreed to trade some beer for songs, which prompted a 13-month stint playing at the bar. I’m not sure which is sadder, being a nickel short of a beer or having to spend more than three seconds in Timmins, O.N. But, in any case, it’s the kind of apocryphal tale that seems almost lifted from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
HE RETURNED HIS JUNOS AWARDS
If Stompin’ Tom didn’t like something, you’d hear about it. Especially when it had anything to do with Canada. After deciding that the Juno Awards rewarded too many Canadian ex-pats who’d left for the US in search of bigger success—or, as he called them, “border jumpers”—he returned his six Junos and wrote them a note:
"Gentlemen: I am returning herewith the six Juno awards that I once felt honoured to have received and which, I am no longer proud to have in my possession. As far as I am concerned you can give them to the border jumpers who didn't receive an award this year and maybe you can have them presented by Charley Pride. I feel that the Junos should be for people who are living in Canada, whose main base of business operations is in Canada, who are working toward the recognition of Canadian talent in this country and who are trying to further the export of such talent from this country to the world with a view to proudly showing off what this country can contribute to the world market.
Until the academy appears to comply more closely with aspirations of this kind, I will no longer stand for any nominations, nor will I accept any award given.
Yours very truly,
Stompin' Tom Connors”
HIS SONGS ARE SIMPLE
One major reason punk rules is because you can have an awesome-sounding band that’s made up of people who can barely play their instruments. That means: anyone can start a band. I’m not saying that Stompin’ Tom wasn’t a talented musician. He was. He just kept it simple is all. Real simple. In fact, he wrote the song “Maritime Waltz” in just 12 minutes.
HE TOLD THE CBC TO “SHOVE IT”
Stompin’ Tom didn’t take shit. The CBC begged him for years to do a music special, and when he finally made one with $200 000 out of his own pocket, they scrapped it. Instead, they offered him a guest appearance on the network’s Hockeyville—a straight-up slap in the face—to which Connors replied, “As far as I’m concerned, if the CBC, our own public network, will not reconsider their refusal to air a Stompin' Tom special, they can take their wonderful offer of letting me sing a song as a guest on some other program and shove it.”
The only thing not so punk about Stompin’ Tom was his nationalism. Every punk house in the 80s proudly displayed a torn apart, partially burnt picture of Ronald Regan (if you were in the US) or Margaret Thatcher (in the UK). Practically no band proclaimed their love for the president or the Union Jack. But, for Stompin’ Tom, Canada was an underwritten subject musically, and a void he tried to fill proudly.
Oh wait! Just kidding! Being from Canada and writing songs about loving the country is TOTALLY punk:
So I guess he upped the punx 100% after all, eh.
R.I.P. Stompin’ Tom. We’ll miss ya b’y.
Follow Greg on Twitter: @GGRPike