The Lost Stompin’ Tom Songs can be downloaded freely by clicking here.
Tom is playing all instruments (generally drums, guitar, stomps, and bass) and singing with all discernible voices. Mixed and mastered by Staunton Q. Livingston.
The Lost Stompin’ Tom Song
Our Flags Only Had Two Colours
Back Where You Came From
Tillsonburg (Draft #1)
Ketchup Song (Draft #1)
Untitled Jam Session
Welcome to The Lost Stompin’ Tom Songs (TLSTS). The purpose of this online archive is to allow a handful of multi-track home recordings that Stompin’ Tom made in the 1970s to come, finally, to the light.
The archive was built and is maintained by the Canadian folklorist Staunton Q. Livingston, who is responsible for discovering and mastering TLSTS, and who offers a textual commentary on the recordings which can be found below. You can contact Staunton Q. Livinston at stauntonlivingstonIII@gmail.com.
What is the folk? We can start with a common definition. “Folk” means, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “An aggregation of people in relation to a superior, e.g. God, a king or priest; the great mass as opposed to an individual; the people; the vulgar.” This is a relatively archaic definition, but it is one that nonetheless hangs over the folk and over folkloristic studies. The folk are vulgar – folk musicians play badly, whereas classical or even popular musicians play with a relative degree of proficiency. The folk are subservient; we might find them in a field, or in a mine, working for and obeying a higher power.
This type of definition is not untrue. Indeed, on my own numerous song-collecting journeys across Canada, I have found folk in many fields. In fact, the fields are the first places I look towards, when I am in a new town on one of my many song-catching expeditions. But the definition is incomplete. As well, it is one that fails to grasp what is both real and magical about the folk. I would not have become a folklorist if all it involved was recording and researching vulgar groups of people.
So how do Canadian folklorists define the folk? I like my grandfather’s definition. Staunton R. Livingston claimed that the folk is constituted by: “Sincere and authentic beings in communion with that which is real and with that which is both beyond and in constant relation to itself within civic, human life.” The folk, then, is a political subject – a category that points beyond the individual and its desires. The folk is a group that is always and already beyond groups; it is a way of looking, not so much at the way things are, but at the way things have been (insofar as they have been in the future).
And yet, how does the folk know itself as Folk? How does the folk communicate? With itself? With others?
First, the folk communicates with itself by immanently becoming Folk (See Svec 2009a on the differences between “folk” and “Folk”). Further, the folk, in becoming Folk through immanent communication, necessarily binds itself through time but not necessarily space (cf. Harold Adams Innis). The communication of the folk is a communication that persists. It leaves more than traces: it picks up speed.
Before moving on to TLSTS, it is necessary for me to describe what folklorists consider to be the opposite of the folk and the communication of the Folk.
There have been different names for it, descriptions that we can find across the discourse of modernity – in Rousseau, in Goethe, in Marx – of what it means to get outside of Folk. I call corrupted communication infractus vocis.
Although my unique articulation of infractus vocis is quite complex (see Livingston 2008b), we can understand it easily here if we just think of what the opposite of Folk communication as defined above might be. For instance, technologies of infractus vocis do not bind communities across time, as folk communications do; they rather splinter communities into individuals who are concerned only with the present (cf. Innis). Further, whereas folk communication consists of the interconnections between a multitudinous body of organic and life-affirming nodes, technologies of infractus vocis presuppose a highly specialized and alienating division of labour.
If we were to draw a map or a picture of this estranged way of speaking, it might look like the modern recording studio. New York City, Motown, Nashville, Hollywood. Tracks upon tracks allow many musicians to play as if they were together in a room, but they no longer need to be together in a room. Infractus vocis is the opposite of folk immanence and communality.
A final point I draw your attention to, before moving on to discuss TLSTS, is that communication that is not folk communication is often transportable over great distances but ephemeral (cf. Innis). A technology of infractus vocis is often acommodified thing that can be shipped off, ordered online, scrawled on a chalkboard; but it will not last. As Marshall McLuhan has made obvious, writing is the first and most basic kind of infractus vocis. In addition to script and print, we now have many other kinds.
However, it is important to acknowledge the ways in which folklore, as a practice, paradoxically relies upon technologies of infractus vocis. For instance, the first song collectors wrote down the melodies and rhymes that were quickly slipping away from public memory. Next, as Erica Brady points out, the phonograph was very popular among anthropologists and ethnographers in the late nineteenth century, even if researchers did not always acknowledge their reliance upon such instruments. John and Alan Lomax too, of course, relied upon a massive sound-recording unit. Even our Tom came to engage himself with machines.
Stompin’ Tom is a famous Canadian songwriter and a performer of mythological proportions. He is known for stomping and for writing many songs about certain Canadian themes, and he has made many recordings. He is of particular interest to the student of folklore because of the ways in which he has made use of both technologies of infractus vocis and Folk.
First, he is a node within Folk. His stomp itself can be conceived of as a means through which the physicality of the folk is articulated (interestingly, many of TLSTS seem to feature an isolated stomp track). Tom’s stomp is not a dance, or a twist, or the locomotion; the stomp is a recurrence, rather, of an affective assemblage of the roots of Folk. The stomp is stamped on a plane that might even precede the folk; it occurs at a logical if not an historical point at which the folk is yet to become Folk – it has just been born and we can feel it – yet by stomping, Tom invites us to join it in its very birth.
So the stomp itself is crucial to Tom’s location within and amongst the folk. On the other hand, Tom’s poetry consists of a series of slogans advertising different towns and industrialized produce – a dizzying panorama of the commodity form in front of which crude dramas of provincialism and patriotism are played. Infractus vocis in a nutshell.
A third way we could look at Tom is as a node within what Staunton R. Livingston has called “The Monstrous Folk.” It’s often thought that romanticizing the folk is a naïve, regressive, simplistically nationalistic, and potentially fascistic project. The folk, born within interconnections between nodes of individual bodies becoming beyond themselves, can unfortunately ossify into a demonic mytheme. (For example, “If you don’t believe your country should come before yourself / You can better serve your country by moving somewhere else.”) We must recognize that this terrifying potentiality to become-Monstrous is forever a virtuality within the structure of the folk. And yet, the very category of the Monstrous Folk attempts to refrain from throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as it is said. Yes the folk can get dangerously regressive, static, and it is important to recognize this; but the folk can also be beautiful.
Keep all that I just claimed in mind, as you listen to TLSTS. Because TLSTS are in many ways Tom’s greatest (and perhaps only) folk songs, precisely because they cross all three modes of being-with-Folk that I just explained.
TLSTS are songs that Tom recorded in the 1970s on a four-track machine (one of the first consumer multi-track studios available: the TEAC 2340).
I do not know much about Tom’s personal history; I have been schooled in the Staunton R. Livingston school of folklore which posits that, because the folk is an inter-subjective constellation, the history of any one voice who happened to articulate a song is always inconsequential to the study of the music and arts of the folk. Singers don’t sing folk songs. Folk speaks through folk singers.
However, for those who desire neat biographies, it was Tom’s second cousin, Andrew Mallofin, who lived just outside of Ingersoll, Ontario, who actually owned the four-track. Tom often stayed with Andy between his tours and his stints at the Horseshoe Tavern in the 1970s. Tom became very interested in the four-track device during this time. As he writes in his autobiography, “At first, I couldn’t get into that hippie stuff. The Beatles, The Beach Boys... I always found it dizzying and it played the wrong kinds of crowd. But here I was, in my cousin’s basement, and I couldn’t stop bouncing tracks” [sic]. These recordings were recently donated by Andrew Mallofin’s family to the National Archives of Canada, where I was formerly resident song collector.
So we have here an infractus vocis recording process, via which Tom’s voice becomes splintered, schizophrenic (see R. Murray Schaffer). Tom sings with himself singing with himself singing with himself playing drums with himself playing bass with himself. Yet, this abominable severance of the voice is rectified by the innate power of the folk to rectify qua Folk. It is in this magisterial dialectic that the songs’ aesthetic power lies.
In the notes below, I do not explain how this is so in the case of TLSTS, for that is not the function of the Folklorist. However, I do point towards pathways along which the listener might come to seek such explanations.
The Lost Stompin’ Tom Song
In this formerly lost song we see Tom grapple with the great themes of the folk tradition: the longing for a community, the longing to lose the self but also find it again within a new horizon of potentialities. “No one needs to be alone,” he sings, almost asking us to conclude that we are not alone, that we are together indivisibly as Folk.
It is in the chorus that Tom most directly addresses the folk. I should remind you of the folk’s latent tendency towards the Monstrous Folk. How does the Monstrous Folk announce itself? It waves flags. Here, however, in “The Lost Stompin’ Tom Song,” Tom does not sing about flags; he sings about mere sign-posts. This is the invitation of the fully actualized and confident Folk voice who does not beg you to acknowledge its authority as a unique creator, who only asks that you recognize its collaborative co-presence with both yourself and others like you.
Our Flag Only Had Two Colours
This song offers us an excellent contrast to Tom’s Monstrously Folksy “Believe in Your Country.” Tom reminisces about a love affair that once led the singer away from his home/native land – a love affair with a Finnish artist. Like love in Romeo and Juliet, the strength of the folk knows no tribal boundaries. Also of interest here are the many folk crafts and customs the narrator seems to learn from his love.
Back Where You Came From
In this song Tom slips towards the Monstrous Folk. Indeed, he barely pulls back, and when he does it is via reified multi-track trickery. “It doesn’t matter where you are, if you can see the stars” is a slap in the face of Folk. Insofar as it is a folk song, this recording is a mirage.
Tillsonburg (Draft #1)
As in “The Lost Stompin’ Tom Song,” Tom here draws strong images of bodies that seem not to have organs at all: “I can feel it down my legs” (italics mine). Clearly the individual is but a connector within an organically throbbing Folk-mass.
Ketchup Song (Draft #1)
Intricate variations on a rich simile bookend this tragic-comic composition; it is in these lines that Tom engages most explicitly with the beyond-refined qualities of both folk and Folk consciousnesses. As my grandfather used to put it, Nature is the womb of the folk. The metaphorical rendering of the “storm,” then, and its communion with the land and with the lovers, is less an indication of character than it is a literal description of the melancholy joy of Folkloristic Pentecost.
The seasons, the cycles, the birds, the snow – this heterodoxical and Folkish voice-in-song dares you to distinguish one from the other, despite the terror-inducing effects of the delirious backup harmonies (sung by Tom himself).
Untitled Jam Session
This is not a folk song; rather it is a document of Tom’s fascination, at this time in his aesthetic development, with reifying technologies of communicative manipulation. Like “Back Where You Came From,” the purpose of “Untitled Jam Session” within the archive is to serve as a contrast againstthat which it is not.
The status of your awareness of the coming of the immanent-Folk revival is of little significance. Folk breaks below and beyond all registers of consciousness. TLSTS demonstrates this with bells on.
References and Further Reading
Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. 1960. The Confessions of St.
Augustine, translated by John K. Ryan. New York: Image Books.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. 2005. A Thousand Plateaus:
Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1759. A Letter from M. Rousseau, of Geneva,
to M. d’Alembert, of Paris, Concerning the Effects of Theatrical
Entertainments on the Manners of Mankind. London: J. Nourse at
Heidegger, Martin. 2000. Introduction to Metaphysics, translated by
Gregory Fried. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Innis, Harold A. 2003. The Bias of Communication. Toronto: University
of Toronto Press.
McLuhan, Marshall. 1962. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of
Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Svec, H. A. 2009a. “We Happy Folks”: Towards a Poetics of Folk.
In The Note Is Sounding: A Folk Reader. Sydney, NS: Open Skies Press.
---. 2009b. “Folk the Police”: Deviance, Subversion, and
Performativity in the Works of Staunton R. Livingston. LOLLY
Livingston, Staunton Q. 2008a. The Way We Talk, Walk: Folk Customs in
Canada Today. Vancouver: Array.
---. 2008b. “We Cannot Hear You When You Speak That Way”: Infractus
Vocis and the Postmodern Condition. OURTOPIA 78(4): 45-99.