Books really can cause a stir. Particularly when the authors are Roddy Doyle and Stompin’ Tom Connors – you know, rock star, party-worthy types.
Both came to mind this week – Stompin’ Tom because he passed away on Wednesday; Roddy Doyle because I came upon an article he wrote about writing. They’re both cultural giants, and they both had book launches this town still remembers.
I’d never seen so many people at a reading before I saw Roddy Doyle pack to the rafters a nondescript brown building on Dupont Ave. in the west end of Toronto. The building was then the Irish Canadian Cultural Centre (or something like that). So a place used to a party.
But I’ll wager they rarely attracted a crowd like Roddy did. The night he was there he was reading from Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha. The place was jammed with the various media and literati types that get invited to things like these as well as regulars to the cultural centre. The Irish diaspora rounded things out.
One of the regulars was sanguinely – as only the Irish can – making a case for stopping by each week. “Look,” he said as he lifted his pint to his lips. “If you’re going out of a night anyway, why not stop by here first for a pint or two?” He took a long draught. “It wouldn’t do you any harm and would help us out.”
For some reason I never got back there. Perhaps they really did need the help – the building now holds a Portuguese Cultural Centre – a sign of how the area around it is changing. One wave of immigrants comes, moves on, and another one moves in.
When he wrote Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha he was still a school teacher with two babies at home.
Which begs the question: if he can find the time to write, why can’t I? That, basically, was the gist of the article I came across last week. It was tweeted out from The Giller Prize, Canada’s biggest literary award – the Grammys of literary awards with a big purse to boot – of which he has been a judge.
Doyle’s advice: ‘Just do it. Make the time’. He put aside an hour a day – even with a full-time job and a full family life – and wrote books that have captured some of his country’s culture.
If Roddy Doyle can put aside an hour a day well, maybe so can we.
We may not be able to capture our country’s culture – but we don’t all have to be literary. Sometimes hard work and the simplest ideas capture a culture.
Stompin’ Tom Connors’ certainly did. During his lifetime he was an abundantly prolific songwriter – a folksy country artist, one of the few who actually tried to mythologize towns, big and small, across this country. Sudbury. Tillsonburg. He captured the things Canadians love and turned them into something we could sing about. Hockey. Celebrated the people and legends. Big Joe Mufferaw. Lady k.d. lang.
As one writer in Maclean’s magazine notes, “Stompin’ Tom Connors knew a country without culture does not exist. A country that doesn’t know how to tell its own stories is illiterate and irrelevant…”
Which is why, when Stompin’ Tom came out with his memoirs a number of years back, his book launch was one of the hottest parties in town. It was held at the appropriately evocative The Matador – a legendary after hours club that had hosted some of the best musicians in country music over the years.
While this was a book launch, music was his true medium and so Stompin’ Tom took to the stage to tell us something about himself by playing his music.
This is the song I asked him to play:
It may seem a silly little ditty but it captures something about this country and something about himself – what he noticed, what he thought important enough to write about.
The same goes for the rest of us out here, trying to tell our own little stories – some of us better than others. The way we see things, the things we notice, our observations on the world. They count.
So when we don’t think we can find the time to write about them – think of Roddy Doyle. Or when we think we don’t have anything important enough to write about – think of Stompin’ Tom.