Only once before have I shed tears upon news of the death of a celebrity; this happened when Diana, Princess of Wales died. But most unexpectedly, I shed a few when I heard Canadian singing legend Stompin Tom Connors died this week.
Tom Connors was pretty rough around the edges but was a fiercely patriotic Canadian, decades before it was cool. All of his songs reflect the Canadian experience and there's hardly a region in the country which had not been immortalized in one of his songs. He only performed songs which he wrote himself.
But no story could have been more dramatic than his own hardscrabble life story. Born to an unwed, teenaged mother, Tom spent the first part of his life living with his mother in a women's penitentiary.
He was raised in foster care before he ran away at 14 and supported himself ever since. His music career began when he was short a nickel for a beer at a northern Ontario hotel. The bartender asked him to sing instead. This song turned into a 13 month gig and appearances on local radio. A legend was once born.
Here are some clips of a couple of my favourites: "The Hockey Song" is practically a second national anthem in Canada. "Sudbury Saturday Night" resonates strongly with me as someone who was born and raised in a blue-collar town in northern Canada and spent much of my career working in other, similar towns, far, far from the sophistication and bright lights of the Big Cities. I always smile at the classic line: "The girls are playing Bingo and the boys are getting stinko .... on a Sudbury Saturday night!"
Rest in peace, Tom!