Last Wednesday evening my brother Chris sent me a text message telling me that Stompin’ Tom had passed away at the age of 77.
The first thing I thought was “Well that’s the end of era…”
But I didn’t realize the impact that his death would have on me.
I didn’t realize the void I’d feel.
Last Thursday morning, after taking Ruby to school, I sat down and wrote a song called “So Long Stompin’ Tom”.
I recorded it Thursday afternoon.
While I was recording it, I started to get the feeling the song was special.
Like there was something about it that I couldn’t put my finger on.
It was certainly having an effect on me.
I contacted my buddy Riss Wiebe to see if he could compile some footage of Stompin’ Tom from Youtube and maybe we could do a little tribute video for him.
Thursday evening, Riss sent me the video.
I watched it.
I watched it again.
And then for a third time.
I loved it.
I loved the song.
I loved the video.
But I wasn’t sure I should release it.
I was concerned with how it would come across.
So slept on it.
At 6AM on Friday morning I watched it 3 more times.
I really liked it.
But still I wrestled with what, if anything, I should do with it
Then I decided that if the song were to make any money at all, that it should all go to the charities that were near and dear to Tom’s heart.
Food Banks and Homeless Shelters.
Once I’d come to terms with that, my conscience was clear.
So finally, at at 9AM, last Friday morning I made the video public on Youtube.
By 10AM it had been viewed 45 times.
That, to me, seemed like a runaway train.
By 3PM Friday afternoon, it had 300 hits.
I was stunned.
Then CTV contacted me about using the song and video in a tribute they were doing for Stompin’ Tom.
Then radio stations all across the country started contacting me about adding the song to their playlist.
You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.
By midnight last Friday the song was just shy of a thousand hits on Youtube.
I woke up Saturday morning and the song was at 6500 hits.
“What in Hell’s half acre is going on here???” I thought.
Sunday morning it was at 14,000 Youtube hits.
Then, out of the blue, I got an email from Stompin’ Tom’s manager.
He told me that song had been sent to him and that he’d forwarded it on to Tom’s family.
At the exact same time, Tom’s brother in law had called Tom’s wife Lena and was playing her the song over the telephone.
Tom’s manager said that the family was wondering if I would like to sing the song at Stompin’ Tom’s Memorial in Peterborough on Wednesday.
“Oh my God, are you kidding me!!! Of course I’ll do it! I’m in!!!”
I simply could not believe it.
The rest of Sunday and Monday I spent doing interviews and answering truckloads of emails.
Tuesday morning I flew to Toronto.
I ended up doing interviews all afternoon.
CBC contacted me about filming a spot for the National from the Horseshoe Tavern.
I hopped in a cab and made my way to the Horseshoe.
With no manager or publicist, I answered every call and email that came my way.
I enjoyed it.
I got the feeling that everyone on the other end of the line enjoyed it too.
Like, maybe, it was refreshing to deal with the singer first hand.
I was going a hundred miles an hour with my hair on fire.
Wednesday morning started with another half dozen interviews, the first being at 6AM.
Around 10AM, I made my way to Peterborough.
I didn’t even know how to get to the Memorial Center, but somehow, I drove right to it.
It was snowing.
It really was the perfect weather for Stompin’ Tom’s Memorial.
People were lined up for blocks to get in 6 hours before the doors opened.
Tailgate parties were everywhere.
At every party a different Stompin’ Tom Connors song played.
I went inside the rink.
Stompin’ Tom’s band was rehearsing.
I walked up on the stage and said hello to everyone.
We rehearsed my song.
It sounded great.
Then Tom’s manager came over and introduced himself to me.
I thanked him over and over for inviting me to play my song at Stompin’ Tom’s Memorial.
Then another guy walked up to me.
He looked familiar.
He said “Hello Mike, I’m Tom Junior”.
“Jesus, no kidding, you look just like your Dad…” I thought to myself.
Tom Junior was overseeing the entire day.
Every decision went through him.
About 2PM everybody in the band left for the hotel to get some rest before the evening’s craziness kicked off.
But I stayed behind.
I wandered around the rink.
TV crews were everywhere.
I sat in the stands and watched all the work being put into getting ready for Stompin’ Tom’s Memorial.
I sat there alone.
I didn’t say a word for about 2 hours.
Then I remembered, when I was a kid, that I’d read about how Bobby Orr and Guy Lafleur used to show up at the rink 8 hours before the game.
They’d sit in the stands and just think.
Neither knew that the other guy had the same quirk, tradition or superstition until the Habs played the Bruins.
Lafleur looked across the rink and there sitting in the empty stands, 8 hours before the puck dropped, was Bobby Orr.
Can you imagine?
Oh my God!
Anyway, sitting in the empty arena in Peterborough last Wednesday, I felt the same way.
Around 5PM, they opened the doors to let all the people in out of the weather.
I left the stands and went back to belly of the rink and wandered around the hallways.
I went to the dressing room that was set aside for the musicians.
It was empty, so I laid down on the bench and tried to sleep.
I used my backpack as a pillow and my coat as a blanket.
I drifted off.
I woke up, took out my guitar and practiced the song.
I hadn’t sung it since I’d recorded it, so I was nervous about screwing it up.
I needed to focus, but my mind kept drifting.
I was exhausted.
It had been a long and crazy week.
With my eyes closed, I sat there and practiced “So Long Stompin’ Tom” at full volume.
When I finished the song, I opened my eyes, and standing there in the doorway, listening to me sing was Ken Dryden.
For a second I thought that maybe I was Guy Lafleur and Ken Dryden just happened to be my first teammate to show up for the game that night.
It was so bizarre.
For some reason, probably exhaustion, I said “Hey Ken, how’s it going?”
I couldn’t believe I’d just said that.
I was horrified by how flippant I came across.
“Jesus Christ, Plume, snap out of it! You can’t just say “Hey dude, how’s it going eh?” to Ken Dryden!!!”
I put down my guitar and walked over to him and shook his hand.
Slowly Tom’s band and all the other musicians started to show up for the 7PM start time.
Tom’s music was playing on the PA system before the Memorial began.
The arena, already full of Stompin’ Tom fans were cheering and stomping along.
It was a scene, to be sure.
Then I heard the sound of a garage door opening.
I felt a rush of cold air.
I knew what it was.
I walked out into the hallway and watched Stompin’ Tom’s hearse back into the arena.
The next thing I knew, Stompin’ Tom’s Memorial was officially underway.
We all sang “Oh Canada”.
Then Tom’s band played a waltz as Tom’s coffin was carried out on to the stage.
I stood at the back of the rink and watched the Memorial.
It was amazing.
As Ken Dryden was walking on stage to give his memories and thoughts about Stompin’ Tom, I hustled back down into the hallway that lead me around past the dressing rooms and to the backstage area.
I was on next.
Stompin’s manager, Brian, was now at the podium and telling the story of how he first heard the song “So Long Stompin’ Tom”.
I wasn’t really paying attention.
I was doing a last run through of the lyrics.
I looked back at the guys in the band, I gave them a nod and a wink.
I looked at Stompin’ Tom’s coffin sitting to my immediate right.
I looked at his hat.
I looked at the sheet of plywood leaned up against his coffin.
I strummed the opening chord and sang…
“So Long Stompin’ Tom, I can’t believe your gone…”
Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “… just relax… breathe… easy does it… don’t rush it… easy now… easy does it…”
“So Long Stompin’ Tom, but at least we’ve got your songs…”
“Like Bud the Spud from the bright red mud…”
The crowd cheered.
“And the Gumboot Cloggeroo…”
The crowd cheered again…
(Relax Plume, relax… don’t rush it…)
“So Long Stompin’ Tom, may God take care of you…”
And with that, we were off and running.
The next verse and chorus went by without a glitch.
People were stomping their feet and clapping their hands.
I got caught up in the moment.
I took my eye off the ball and screwed up the first line of the next verse.
Its supposed to be “So many people I’ve not met but yet I know by name…”
And instead I sang “So many people that I’ve met but yet I don’t know their names…”
What the hell is that supposed to mean?
That doesn’t even make sense!
I don’t know where that line came from but I wish it had stayed where it was instead where it showed up.
“…Oh well, this ain’t no dress rehearsal, Plume, just keep yer stick on the ice and get it together…”
Then the break down verse where the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are sitting in the pub in Heaven listening to Stompin’ Tom sing his songs about “Saskatchewan and tobacco from Tillsonburg…”
Stompin’s wife Lena had requested that I change the lyric “…a million drunken angles are singing with you tonight…”
So I did.
I changed it to “All them pretty angles are singing with you tonight…”
I looked down at Lena as I sang the line and she gave me a thumbs up.
The next line is the line about my Mom.
“And when you see my Mom down in the front row, could you tell her I’m doing alright…”
As I sang that line, I looked again at Lena in the front row.
At that moment it dawned me, that as Tom was singing to my Mom in the front row up in Heaven, that I was singing to Tom’s wife in the front row at his Memorial.
I kinda got weak in the knees.
Then the song was over.
As I walked off stage Damhnait Doyle walked up to me and said, “Do you realize that you just got a f*cking standing ovation at Stompin’ Tom’s memorial…?”
I hadn’t realized it.
The rest is a blur.
Tom’s coffin was carried off the stage.
Then we all went back on stage to sing “Sudbury Saturday Night”.
Then it was over.
I went to the dressing room to pack my stuff.
I had an early flight on Thursday morning and wanted to make tracks towards Toronto.
As I was in the dressing room, Ken Dryden walked in again.
“Hey Ken!” I said.
“Oh my God, I did it again…” I thought to myself.
I’m acting like we are on a first name basis and he’s thinking that we’re on an “I don’t even know your name basis…”
Anyway, my buddy Ken says to me, “Have you seen my coat?”
“No, I haven’t, sorry man…”
“Oh for the love of Christ and all things Holy, now I’ve just called Ken Dryden “man”.
Anyway, apparently Ken lost his coat that night and I don’t know if he ever found it again.
I was too embarrassed to ask him because I had no idea how I’d address him when I saw him.
So I left it alone.
As I packed my stuff, Tim Hus walked in the dressing room.
We talked about Stompin’ Tom for about 15 minutes.
As I was leaving the rink I looked up to where Tom’s family were having a reception for all of Stompin’ Tom’s friends and relations.
I wasn’t going to go, but then decided to go up and thank Lena and Tom Junior.
I ended up staying and visiting for about another hour or so.
I thanked them for including me the Memorial.
As I was leaving Tom Junior said “Next time you’re around, we’ll have you out to the house for a party…”
“You got a deal” I said.
I walked out to the car.
The wind was howling.
The snow was blowing.
The roads were passable at best.
I slowly made my way to Toronto.
I got to Jenny’s Mom’s place around 1AM.
At 5:30 AM my alarm clock went off.
At 6AM I was in a cab heading towards the airport.
As I was going through security an officer walked towards me.
“Hey I just wanted to say “Great job” on the Stompin’ Tom tribute last night…”
“Hey thanks, man…” I said.
But was I wanted to say was “What the hell is going here?”
Then a guy, who was about 100 people ahead of me as we snaked through the security line, yells at me “Hey man, loved your song at the Stompin’ Tom Memorial last night…”
Three hours later I was home.
Jenny was at work.
Ruby was at school.
It was quiet.
The birds were singing.
I thought to myself, if it didn’t happen to me, I’d never have believed it.
The song has now had over 54,000 Youtube hits in a week.
Though I wrote the song, I’ve had almost nothing to do with its success.
In fact, I’ve had nothing to do with it’s success.
You guys made it go viral.
Thank you for shining a light on this song.
And the only reason any of us did any of this at all is because of Stompin’ Tom Connors and the way he lived his life and the joy he brought to ours.
Thanks for the ride of lifetime.
So long Stompin’ Tom, may God take care of you.
Friday, March 15, 2013