June 11, 2014

Paying tribute to Stompin’ Tom’s philosophy

As published in The Erin Advocate

The newly installed monument at the grave of Stompin’ Tom Connors at Erin Union Cemetery is a testament to his love of Canada and his philosophy of trying to stay in balance while travelling through life.

The memorial includes an image of the famous songwriter imposed on a map of Canada, the lyrics of his favourite song, “I Am the Wind”, a red granite maple leaf on top of a chess piece and his own epitaph that says, “They haven’t heard the last of me”.

Thomas Charles Connors lived in the Ballinafad area and passed away on March 6 last year due to kidney failure, at the age of 77. Buried with him are the ashes of his mother Isabel Sullivan (nee Connors), who died in 2007. Until the tombstone was installed, the location of the gravesite was not widely known.

Stompin’ Tom was known for his down-to-earth songs about Canada, achieving wide popularity with dozens of albums, and as a passionate advocate for Canadian culture. He was also a spiritual thinker who believed in reincarnation, writing these words for his tombstone:

“The body has returned to sod,
The spirit has returned to God.
So on this spot, no need for grief,
Here only lies a fallen leaf.
Until new blossoms form in time,
The tree is where I now reside.
But with this poem, as you can see,
They haven’t heard the last of me.”

“He believes that we come and go as a spirit,” said his son Tom Jr. in an interview, always referring to his father in the present tense.

“We enter a body this time around, and when the body's done, then the spirit goes back to the tree of life, so to speak, and then the tree blossoms again the next year and you become a new leaf. It's a cycle of life that he's getting at.”

The maple leaf on the stone is engraved with “101”. It does not refer to that number value, but to a way of thinking about life. Instead of competing to be at the top on a 1 to 10 scale, he favoured zero as an ideal at the centre of the range of possibilities.

“He would always say he's a zero, because you can go on the plus, or you can go on the minus, but the zero keeps you even. Don't drift too far away off the centre because you'll become unbalanced,” said Tom Jr.

“The 101 simply represents his philosophy that he came up with to be able to stay on the straight and narrow. The more balanced you can stay, the more successful you can be in your life. He ended up being proof positive of that concept.”

The stone includes a quote from the Book of Genesis: “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” Enoch was a patriarch, the great-grandfather of Noah, who is believed to have been taken directly to live with God, without having died. Tom Jr. said his father read the bible frequently and considered that passage an example of becoming closer to zero.

“When God finds that you understand what it is to be nothing, nobody, you put all your feats behind you and you become one with God. You can go plus or minus once in a while, but stay straight and narrow and if there is a relationship we have with God, God will recognize that and take you as he did with Enoch.”

Before becoming known for his songs and his trademark rhythmic stomping on stage, Stompin’ Tom struggled to survive. He grew up in poverty in Saint John, New Brunswick, and lived with an adoptive family in Prince Edward Island before leaving to hitchhike across Canada at the age of 15.

“Growing up not having really any family and no money and no home, and you're just a drifter, you see the world through different eyes,” said Tom Jr., who himself has a son named Tom, born last July. “When you have no friends and no family to talk to, you start to talk to yourself inside and you start to get the answers you need from life inside, instead of finding them on the outside.”

Stompin’ Tom’s tombstone was created by the Little Lake Cemetery Company in Peterborough, the city where he received his nickname. His memorial service was held there last year.

The lyrics engraved on the tombstone are as though the wind is speaking as it travels, saying it is, “Here to serve my Maker’s end.” The wind says it goes, “Around the Door, between gods and men, And if you see how I go in, You’ll have the Key, and know the wind”.

“That was his favourite song,” said Tom Jr. “People can take that as a nice song, or they can try to meditate on it a little bit.”

While The Hockey Song is one of Connors’ best known songs, he “never really clung on to sports”, said Tom Jr. He’d always cheer for a Canadian team and like many Maritimers grew up as a Habs fan, but he never had the luxury of playing the game. In front of his tombstone fly three miniature flags, two Canadian and one Canadiens.

The chess piece designed into the stone is a reminder of the game that he did play with great passion. “He was a tough cookie to beat because he was capable of thinking several moves ahead, and he used that way of thinking in his own life too when he would plan his career,” said Tom Jr.

Universal Music Canada recently released Volume 01 of a collection of unheard recordings by Stompin’ Tom called Unreleased: Songs from the Vault. It includes old-time country songs from his repertoire in the 1950s, recorded starting in 2011.

“He just wants people to enjoy what he did in the time he was here, and if you're musically inclined at all, or any type of business that you may be in, to keep Canada high in your regards when you're doing your thinking and planning about what is the right thing to do,” said Tom Jr.

“It is a great country, and if you respect it, it will repay you back. He wants people to take the torch, so to speak, and go on forward and promote Canada the best they can. If they get a chuckle or two from some of his songs in the future, then he's done a good job.”