Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ron Hynes

Ron Hynes died this evening and a power failure knocked the lights out in downtown St. John's at the same time. If that's not proof that the man was magic, I'm not sure what is.

There's going to be an awful lot written about Ron in the coming days by people who knew him a whole letter better than I did, who can better explain his cultural impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. But I have to get this down because I've been grieving most of the evening. It's not a surprise that he's passed away...he's been unwell for years, but that makes it no less shocking and saddening. A part of Newfoundland's heart and soul went away this evening.

Snapshots of Ron Hynes in my life...
A picture of Ron I took during a Songwriters
Circle while I was with The Express

1. Watching Ron and the rest of the Wonderful Grand Band on television with my parents. It was my first exposure to him, although he had been around for years. I still have Living in a Fog on my iPod (I have all his songs on my iPod). There was a lot going on in the show, but I do remember liking the songs from the show quite a bit...

2. Hearing "Atlantic Blue" on the radio after the Ocean Ranger disaster. I was a teenager and it wasn't a hit pop song or anything, but you have no heart if that song doesn't make you well up. I'm not sure there's ever been a better song written about a disaster. Maybe "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". Maybe. I have no idea how anyone with family or friends can listen to that song. Or perhaps it gives them comfort. I don't know.

3. Walking down Water Street and seeing a chalkboard outside the Rose and Thistle advertising Ron Hynes performing...for $5. It was ridiculous. It was insane. He was one of the great singer/songwriters in Canada, and you could pay $5 and watch him perform in a half empty bar. I think one of the sad truths was that for many, many years we just took Ron for granted. That he was always going to be there.

I paid the $5 and went in. But there are many, many nights I didn't. I think a lot of us are regretting passing by that sign at the Rose this evening.

Walking off stage after accepting an ECMA in
St. John's, circa 2003, I think.
4. Hearing Ron perform in Iqaluit last year. We were thrilled when we heard he was coming here and bought tickets as soon as they went on sale. I'd been saying for years that I didn't know why more Newfoundland acts don't come to Iqaluit because they would sell out instantly. This was after his surgery for throat cancer, so his voice wasn't what it once way. But he was still a performer and a professional. His sets were great, he told good stories and he was unfailingly polite and kind to everyone who came up to him. He made an impact in town. There's a lot of sad people in Iqaluit this evening as well, if my Facebook and Twitter streams are any indication...

I said on both that there needs to be a Day of Mourning and some kind of State Funeral for Ron. I wasn't kidding when I said it. In my lifetime, the only Newfoundlander I can think of whose passing will have had an equal or greater impact was Joey Smallwood. This needs to be a life celebrated and remembered.

He wasn't a saint. No one is going to say he was. Stories about his behaviour and his problems with drugs and alcohol were never in short supply in a town as small as St. John's. He was a complex man, and that came out in his songs. Sixty-four was too young. We've been cheated of years of songs, kindness, and wisdom from him.

Everybody is going to list their favourite Ron songs over the next few days. And there are lots. I also won't argue with anyone who picks "Sonny's Dream", "St. John's Waltz", "Change in me", "Godspeed" or any of the dozens of others you can choose. But along with "Atlantic Blue" my other favourite is "30 for 60". I spent many, many, many nights playing 120s - a particularly Newfoundland card game - with my friends during my 20s. I have a lot of fond memories of that time and that song, which is a master class in songwriting and storytelling, brings a smile to my face every time.

It will be said many times in the coming days. Godspeed, Ron....

Last Five
1. Hard days - Beth Moore
2. Honey for bees - Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case
3. Black wings (live) - Tom Waits
4. Sinnerman - Nina Simone
5. Sharp sounds - The Sheepdogs


Lynda said...

Well written tribute. Craig.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right, Ron was taken for granted and unfortunately, now that he is gone he has become more famous then he could have ever imagined. Let us start supporting our talented people while they are living.

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Anonymous said...

Wonderful to have you writing again--sorry it had to be about this. ~joe from brooklyn