A letter from Stompin' Tom:
The Passport Patriots
By Stompin' Tom Connors
Canada's Country Music Magazine.
In the last few years it has become all too fashionable for Canadian singers and songwriters to live, work and seek their fortunes in the good ol' U.S. of A.
And on the rare occasions when we do see them back in Canada, they're usually here for a "peep" at the Canadian Country Music Association or Juno Awards lineup to see if they've been nominated. Or they're here to do a couple of big shows where they often get asked, "I hear you're in the States now, is that true?" The answer they invariably give to this last question is, "Yes, I am, but I still hold on to my Canadian passport, you know."
They seem to think this answer will please everyone and ensure that we will continue to respect them for being truly proud and concerned Canadians even though they're never here.
You'll often hear them say they had to go to the States because "that's where the market is" or "there's just no opportunity here in Canada for anyone with talent."
Well, I'd like to examine some of these answers. Are they indeed compatible with what many of us deem to be a mark of true Canadianism or are they just excuses designed and used by some people who put their own selfish desires ahead of the common good?
It has always been my opinion that any Canadian worth his salt who sees something wrong with our country would do far better staying here and helping improve the situation instead of running away from the problem, only to return later as a so-called proud Canadian and "peep" in on us to see if we have made the necessary adjustments to warrant his coming back home. Why should someone who will not fight to improve the situation in his own musical community be allowed to just drop in from a foreign nation and claim one of the community's highest awards, especially when so many others who are more deserving are left out in the cold?
The aspiring talent in this country would have a lot more "opportunity" and a lot better "market" if the talents who came before them had stayed here to fight for improvements instead of letting the deal go down. Every year our government boasts about how many jobs it creates in all the various industries in our country. How many jobs and opportunities does it create in and for the music business? None? Well, where is our lobby? And where are all those people who admittedly realize the sad predicament our musical community is in? What are they doing about it?
Well, I'll tell you where they are and what they are doing. They're in the United States putting their own interests of their country, and they're doing absolutely nothing to help solve the problems they ran away from. If anything, they contribute to them.
Everyone knows by now that governments only bow to people pressure and block votes, so it's high time we in the music industry began to stay in our own backyard and organize ourselves to let our politicians know that we will no longer put up with lip service about our concerns.
But let's not ask for any help from the Passport Patriots who come peeping around from time to time. They're too afraid to rock the boat and should be told to stay where they are.
Now, in case someone tries to put words in my mouth and tries to claim that I'm saying something I'm not, let me clarify my position: I am not against Canadian wares in foreign countries at least some of the time. But that's the key phrase--their Canadian wares.
When the Americans bring their talent to this country, they sing songs about America with American pride. They make no bones about who they are and make no excuses for what they are. Some people may ask, "How in the hell do they get off thinking so highly of themselves?" but the fact remains and only a fool would deny it-the damn stuff sells.
And because it sells, we are the fools for not using the tried and tested marketing strategies against them. If the Japanese and others could do it, why can't we? Once again, hold the fire: I'm not saying we should sell American wares to Americans. That's precisely what we've been trying to do and it doesn't work.
Canadians have been trying to enter and capture the American market by writing and singing songs about America. What fools we are to think we can beat the Americans at singing and writing songs about the country, the styles and the themes that only they live and breathe and have been brought up to experience.
Just as Americans have found a way to sell their wares to us and the world, we in turn must create and sell Canadian wares to the U.S. and the rest of the world. Our songwriters must write songs that are identifiably Canadian, with Canadian styles and themes about Canadian life, love, fun and heartbreak that can only be experienced in the land of the hardy and persevering northern nation-builders we are.
Our songs have to be Canadian and our singers have to be damn well proud to sing them no matter where in the world they find themselves with an audience. Our musical community must find a distinct Canadian direction and that direction, once achieved, must be doggedly pursued with all diligence.
The performers we send into the world should in no way be ashamed of who they are or what they represent. Instead, they should feel honored and proud to have the chance to tell not only the United States but indeed the whole world what a great and wonderful country they share with all the friendly people back home. Tell them who we are, where we are and how we live, by singing Canada to the world. Who is more qualified to do that than Canadians?
Just remember, the Japanese automobile industry did not surpass the Americans in the marketplace by building a better American car. They learned and used American know-how to build a Japanese car and successfully sold it to the world. Even the Americans bought it, in record numbers.
And that's what we have to do with our music. Let's not forget the Americans have willingly opened their markets and accepted the music and songs of other nations before (Britain, Africa and the Caribbean countries to name just a few). If we get our singer-salesmen out there with the right Canadian package, there's no reason why the Americans or indeed the world should not readily clamor for a generous helping of the heretofore unsung musical sagas now emerging from good ol' terra firma's last frontier.
And the Passport Patriots, what do we do about them? Well, in the first place, we no longer allow them to take us for the suckers they may think we are. And we let them know that merely carrying a passport is no more proof that one is a patriot than wearing a carnation is proof one's business is running a flower shop.
If these people wish to continue living and working in other musical communities, then let them stay and compete for awards there. But don't let them come back here for one day every year to claim an award for doing absolutely nothing for this country to deserve it.
On the other hand, those who do wish to make a turnaround should start by living here, recording here, employing Canadian managers and agents and altogether using Canada as the main base from which they operate. If their work should take them to other parts of the world they should easily be identified as proud Canadians by their manner, their performance and the music they play. This would enhance Canada's image around the world by letting people know we are solid, friendly and approachable-always eager to welcome these people to our shores whether they come to do business or to relax and enjoy our northern hospitality. (And, of course, our music.)
Canada needs its singers and songwriters to carry its message around the world, and to impress upon our children that we really have something to sing about. If they will help us in this, we will have no lack of heros for the next generation to sing about as they embark on the 21st century.
But if they don't help, then what? One of our Passport Patriots will probably compose a new American national anthem that we can all learn to sing as we salute the 51 Stars and Stripes that proudly wave over Ottawa.