Friday, October 2, 1998

Canadian best-seller
Stompin' Tom's a legend
By FISH GRIWKOWSKY -- Express Writer

It was one of those Monday mornings when an undisputed legend in Canadian music wakes you up at the crack of dawn, yelling something in Ukrainian. (OK, maybe that doesn't happen all that often.)

"Dohbraedang!," the wrecking-ball voice on the other end of the line lets out.
"Um, what?"

I peeled off my hangover and politely asked who the hell this yelling person was, sure enough finding out it was Stompin' Tom Connors, safely convinced anyone with a last name as long as "Griwkowsky" in Alberta had better have a lot of relatives in Vegreville.

It's that kind of insight, wrong in this case, but we won't count that, that gives the veteran country funboy, in town tonight for a show at the Shaw Conference Centre, claim to being one of the most Canadian Canadians ever to wave the red and white.

Seriously, in the late '90s, who's got him beat?

Among his accolades are the Order of Canada and enough awards to build an extension on his anonymously located hideout (somewhere near Guelph, the rumour has it), a media tracking system as prevalent as the Catholic Church (he brought up two different reviews I'd done on him over the last few years) and, of course, the fact that he was, in 1973, the first Canadian to get married live across the Great White North on CBC, eh?

Never mind that he's insanely popular even though he sings like Woodie Guthrie with a bad cold. Only in Canada, God bless it.

The new patriotism quickly comes up, something as important to Connors as girls or mortgages are to the rest of us. "Young people need a kick in the ass to get their fire going, that's for sure."

This summer, we all remember, saw an interesting social trend in Canuck fashion, with almost anyone with $20 to throw away buying "Canada Kicks Ass" T-shirts, a very American thing to do, if you think about it. Comes back to the great Canadian paradox of bragging about how humble we are abroad.

"I've heard of it. Some people like it, some people don't. I think we need it. There are so many jokers running things it's hard to believe the prime minister's even from here."

The Saint John, N.B.-born musician-Canavangelist's point is well taken, Molson Canadian ads doing more for national unity than Ottawa during Quebec's last separation tantrum. Connors once had this to say on the subject: "Why doesn't (former Quebec premier) Jacques Parizeau and the rest of his separatist pals move to some other country like former Yugoslavia, where everybody believes in separatism. And, of course, their own armed forces would be standing by to crush anybody foolhardy enough to revolt or rebel."

Man, he sounds just like an Albertan, doesn't he? A working class hero for all of us hosers.

Once as comfortable on the road as most of us are asleep on the couch in front of the TV, Stompin' Tom Connors hasn't been out on tour for a while and is anxious to meet the good folks that ignore radio play (and lack thereof) for the man that touches their pride in themselves. "I haven't been out in five years. I got held back ? I was writing a book and all that. It was a best-seller. In Canada if you sell 1,000 copies, it's good."

Connors sold 75,000 copies of his detailed life story, Before the Fame, which he's following up soon enough.

"But that's like water off a duck," he stresses. "I'm not a glory-seeker. It's like my music. I don't write songs just because people are gonna like 'em. I don't give a damn if people like it! As long as someone hears me."

Connors, who got his musical start playing in Timmins, Ont., (just like Shania Twain!) almost disappeared forever in the '70s, giving all his Junos back in protest of what he called "border jumpers" getting all the awards (just like Shania Twain!), a trend that still continues. He's aware that his protest may have had little effect in the long run, but takes it well.

"I've been around forever. I enjoy the good with the bad. I lasted this long, it's not over yet."

His latest disc, Souvenirs, capped off a massive re-release of his back catalogue, filled with ample references to small towns, pretty girls and potatoes, all sung by the man who pulled himself out of a broken home, poverty and lived to grin about it for more that six decades.

Just what the hell's more Canadian than that?

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