Duncan Wrote a Book

September 7, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Duncan Fremlin and Whiskey Jack are coming to Theatre Orangeville over the weekend of Sept. 15 to 17 (see the Arts and Entertainment page for the story). They are bringing the stories and songs of Stompin’ Tom, his life as seen through the eyes of many of the people who knew him, and it promises to be a wild couple of hours in the theatre.

Along with his fellow musicians, Duncan Fremlin is also bringing his fine little book, My Good Times with Stompin’ Tom, a remarkable and very entertaining history of Mr. Fremlin’s 40-year musical life and friendship with the very eccentric and deeply patriotic Stompin’ Tom Connors.

Mr. Fremlin’s easy writing style takes the job of story-telling to heart. He does not pull punches about the singular way in which Stompin’ Tom lived and the obligations to live it with him that he imposed on the musicians who travelled with him. In their contract was the proviso that one of them had to stay up with him all night, every night – they took this in turn – but there was no point in objecting to the condition; it was part of the contract and they could take it or stay home. Bring the chessboard; bring the cribbage cards, the board and pegs. Love the beer and conversation until the early moments of dawn.

He writes about the forklift loads of beer being packed into the star’s truck at the beginning of a tour and the endless cigarettes stuffed into Tom’s holder that were his constant companions.

It was a whole different approach to touring, one of 70 cities, but it was clearly irresistible for a few major reasons: the extraordinary genius and talent of Stompin’ Tom, his unabashed love of Canada and his powerful defence of Canadian music and musicians. These attributes not only kept his bands ready to roll with his oddities but filled the venues with enthusiastic crowds who adored him.

The stories are told with a loving perspective while Mr. Fremlin does not hold back on the tough love of truth about the man. The book is constantly laugh-out-loud funny with the telling, not only of the situations themselves but the straightforward way in which they are presented.

Mr. Fremlin is bringing his books for sale to the show and is offering a book or a CD for free to every Legion member who brings his card.

* * *

In the 1960s being Canadian was imposed on us as almost an embarrassment, a nation caught between two powerful cultures, the largely British or European background of the vast majority of early settlers here and the heavy-handed, lead-footed jingoism of the United States to the south. They were opposing influences, and standing between them, it was seemingly hard to define what was Canadian.

In many movies and television series over the decades, particularly the ones coming from the US, Canadian characters are shown as naive and apologetic, as if people should try to make amends for their birth place. What we were for sure and, to some extent we still are, is parochial. We are not as unlearned as the Americans with their approach to education as essentially a form of brainwashing with very little actual information

about anywhere outside America, as if only the history and thinking focussed in the States is all that matters.

Education here in Canada has always been interested in the world at large, and I hope students are still learning international history, not just myopic courses on the very short history – 150 years – of the colonizers from which many of us are descended. 

Yet, Canadians travelling abroad were universally welcomed in Europe and were definitely distinguished from Americans because we were polite and we did have a strong historical tie to Europe that mattered to us. Sometimes, we spoke French and we were well mannered, interested in where we were, keen to learn.

What we did not do was bring the weighty ignorance that blind American travellers to the beauty and value of Europe’s cultures and very diverse ways of life.

Stompin’ Tom’s unflinching patriotism for his Canada, his determination to stand for it and his dismissal of anyone who felt less about it certainly contributed in some measure to the confidence of being Canadian as a good thing. We learn there was a Canadian flag on stage at his concerts that was meant to unroll gracefully as he came on – one of those “special effects” that worked quite well most times, except when it did not.

Of course, darkness is part of our history, darkness far from resolved today, even though there is plenty of talk about resolution. Our failings and our addiction to mismanagement and injustice are a constant struggle to admit and face. Somehow, someday soon, a hero with clear vision must sweep away the dark with the light of serious intent made fact and the waters cleared of poison and the harm of being belittled, mended.

In many ways, it could be true that the question of “what is Canadian?” is not resolved but it could also evolve, in the future, the answer will be: a safe place for people to come.

A country truly worthy of the love and respect Stompin’ Tom gave it.

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