Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Two Icons

Before I start in to this blog piece tonight, I promise to all of you who read regularly that my next piece will not be about the recently departed and/or deceased.  I say this because my last piece was about the passing of Mindy McCready.  This piece is about the passing of two icons, one real and one fictional, but both among the most influential figures at least of my time.

It is virtually impossible to be born and raised in Canada and not be aware of singer-songwriter Stompin' Tom Connors.  Born on February 9, 1936 in a hardscrabble section of Saint John, New Brunswick, Thomas Charles Connors would ultimately rise from a uniquely rough childhood (as a child, the man lived briefly with his mom ... in prison) to a national icon.  Stompin' Tom wrote and performed about all things Canadian, he had no interest in striking it rich in international markets.  In the 1970's, Stompin' Tom returned six Juno Awards that he won to the Recording Academy because he felt that the Awards organization, which is the equivalent to the US Grammy Awards, was becoming too Americanized.  He recorded and performed almost exclusively in Canada for Canadians with no interest in success in the United States. 

The bulk of his writing was about the hard working nature that is the fabric of rural Canada, with such songs that have become a staple of the Canadian musical landscape as "Bud the Spud", "Sudbury Saturday Night" and "Tilsonburg."  But perhaps Stompin' Tom will best be remembered for his ode to the sport that Canada is most known for (even though it is not our national sport) with "The Hockey Song."  "The Hockey Song" has been played on every sound system in every major and minor hockey arena in Canada, and I'm sure a large number in the United States where hockey matters.  It is the one song that all Canadians can agree on that must be played at our many rinks during the hockey season, especially in those tight rivalry games when Toronto plays Montreal.  But I digress ...

Stompin' Tom Connors had the unique ability to do what very few have accomplished in my home country.  He brought us together.  He encouraged us to feel unabashedly proud that we're from Canada and we're Canadian.  He made us feel that no matter how big or how small or how dirty and menial a job may seem, that job matters and contributes to what makes our nation the greatest nation in the world (said with much love and respect to whomever is reading this, regardless of where you're from or where you live -- we all love our home country, no matter which country that may be, you know what I mean?).  Fans from across the country will descend on Peterborough, Ontario tomorrow (March 13, 2013) at, where else, but Peterborough's hockey shrine, the Memorial Centre, to honour the life, work and memory of this great Canadian.  There will never be another like Stompin' Tom Connors.

Another "person" we will never see the likes of again was and is from the fictional world.  Growing up in the late 1970's and early 1980's, Friday night was about two television shows: "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Dallas."  I will readily admit that I am hooked on the re-tooled version of Dallas, which airs on Monday nights at 9pm on the TNT network in the US and on Bravo in Canada.  Last night's show honoured the passing of one of televisions biggest and most important icons, Larry Hagman a.k.a "J.R. Ewing."  Mr. Hagman, as I'm sure most know, passed away in November 2012, so it was inevitable that J. R was going to be written out of the show.  Still, I watched the show with a certain sadness, which may sound strange because we are, after all, talking about a character on a TV show. 

But this felt different.  Whether or not you were growing up at the time when Dallas was on the air in its first incarnation, or if you were a regular follower of the show, you would understand what I mean when I say that J. R. Ewing was no ordinary character.  As I've said to my stepdaughters when they have watched the show, the only way I could really describe what it was like when Dallas (and other shows like it, such as Dynasty) was on, is that you had to be there.  People would decorate their homes to look like Southfork Ranch.  People would have their hair styled like the ladies on Dallas.  In almost every sense of the word, the characters on Dallas would be referred to in conversation as if they were in your own family.  That's the kind of attachment people would have with this show.  And who could forget the iconic moment when hundreds of millions of people tuned in to watch a network TV show on a Friday night to find the answer to the almighty burning question, "Who Shot J.R.?"  Name a show on TV that can command that kind of viewership.  I submit there is none out there, because (a) it's cheaper to put out reality shows, and (b) television networks won't invest in the time that it sometimes takes to develop shows and characters to the point where people care about them.

In addition to making me feel a little older, the funeral for J.R. Ewing represents another turning of the page as far as television entertainment goes.  Larry Hagman/J.R. Ewing are legends and icons of recorded television and performing arts.  His passing represents the turning of a page where arguably the best generation (or arguably the most important) of television is now fading in the past.  Watching Dallas last night was, in some ways, like watching the funeral for an old friend.  Indeed, there will never be another character like J.R. Ewing. 

To Stompin Tom Connors, Larry Hagman and his alter-ego J.R. Ewing, thank you for all the years of sharing your incredible gifts and for being a part of some truly wonderful memories for a guy who was lucky enough to witness your incredible talents for many, many years.  It was indeed, my honour.

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