Commentary by Joe McWilliams
Stompin’ Tom Connors comes to Slave Lake next month. Not Tom himself, but his son Taw Connors, doing a tribute show at the Legacy Centre.
People throw around terms like ‘Canadian icon’ a bit too freely, but good old Stompin’ Tom might be the guy who deserves it. Musically, there wasn’t a lot of difference from one of his songs to the next, but lyrically there’s a lot there – down to earth, homespun, unsophisticated though it all may be. Or maybe because of that.
It wasn’t exactly complicated poetry. It was just a guy looking around him and writing about what he saw and what he experienced – maybe with a bit of his imagination thrown in here and there. Sometimes he hit the mark so precisely the song really has become iconic.
I remember listening to musician Murray McLauchlan (of ‘Farmer’s Song’ fame) talk on the radio about Connors. He spoke of his own struggle to come up with meaningful, poetic lyrics. This can be daunting, of course – particularly when you have magicians like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan looking over your shoulder. And then in the middle of one of those wrestling matches with his muse, McLauchlan said he turned on the radio and heard Stompin’ Tom’s ‘Sudbury Saturday Night.’ It hit the nail on the head, in a way that was so simple and direct it was a sort of revelation.
He did exactly what I was trying to do, McLachlan told the interviewer. You could call it corny, but it captured something essential about that town and the working people that I have been struggling for years to do and never quite succeeding.
‘The girls are out to bingo and the boys are getting stinko. They’ll think no more of Inco, on a Sudbury Saturday night.’
A classical poet could not have said it better than that. Never mind your sonnets or your haikus. Bingo, stinko, Inco. Three rhymes, sort of, and Bob’s your uncle.
When I heard that radio conversation with McLauchlan, I had never heard the Sudbury Saturday Night song, believe it or not. It hit home, though, because my dad had worked in that town, for International Nickel (Inco) in the Dirty Thirties and had told stories about what it was like. There was a lot about it that was worth forgetting about on a Saturday night. One thing was that the fumes from the smelter killed every living plant for miles around, and can’t have done much for the health of the humans living and working there either (things have improved since then, I hear).
But I didn’t really understand it until I heard the Stompin’ Tom song. I’ll bet that’s exactly what my dad and his brother were doing on a Sudbury Saturday Night in 1935.
Of course that’s just one of Connors’ memorable tunes that his son Taw will sing and play on Saturday, Sept. 22. The Hockey Song, Tilsonburg (My back still hurts when I hear that word), The Consumer (We’ll save a lot of money spending money we don’t got.), Bud the Spud (another one about my dad).
Old Tom was a flag-waver, which can be annoying in some people but not him. His legacy lives on and speaking of legacy, he’ll be at the Legacy Centre on Saturday, Sept. 22, brought to you by the Wildfire Legacy Corporation.
By now you’re thinking: ‘Is he going to tell us where we can get tickets?’ I’m not. Ran out of space. Google it.