Beyond the big hits like “The Hockey Song”, I’m really not that familiar with Stompin’ Tom’s music. So I very much enjoyed the tribute paid to him on Q with Jian Ghomeshi. There is conversation with friends and fans and an archival interview with the man himself. It’s a great introduction to his life and legacy.
What strikes me most is the extent to which he cared about being Canadian, even when it caused him to be pegged as a bit of a hick. He cared so much about Canada that he returned his Juno Awards in protest after seeing expats who had left the country being given the awards. As he says in the 2010 interview with Jian:
“I would like to see them become more Canadianized. I don’t like people leaving the country and coming back for a day for a Juno Award and then going away and waiting until they’re in line to get another one before they come back.
“The brain drain, it’s always been going on. Not only in the music business but everywhere as well. I think there’s not enough opportunity in Canada to keep our people here. Some of them you can’t blame for going, but I think it’s honourable to stay here, if you’re Canadian enough, to stay here and fight the battle and demand the opportunities that we deserve.”
“Stay here and fight the battle and demand the opportunities that we deserve.” That is a powerful line. It’s one thing to leave your home behind to pursue the life you want. It’s another altogether to decide you’re going to try and get the life you want in the place you’re from. Neither is the right way, or the only way. But they have different outcomes. If you leave, you can make your life better, and you can make the world better. It happens all the time. But you don’t necessarily change the fact that the next person to come out of your hometown that wants to do what you did has to leave, as well.
If, on the other hand you stay and fight and create the opportunities, you might not get as far as if you had left. But you make it easier for the next person to do the same thing. And they make it easier for the next person, until you’ve transformed what’s possible without having to leave. Stompin’ Tom made it easier for the Rheostatics to be Canadian musicians singing about Canada. The Rheostatics made it easier for Broken Social Scene and the Weakerthans and Said the Whale. Now we have a thriving Canadian music scene that doesn’t need outside validation, and fewer and fewer musicians feel the need to leave the country in order to pursue their dreams.
Whether it’s a country, a province, or a city, a place isn’t defined by who happened to be born there and left. It’s defined by who decides to stay. Stompin’ Tom chose to stay. That was his battle. It’s also his legacy.
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