Ron Hynes remembered, from afar: Tom Power shares an expat's sadness
When word got out that Ron Hynes had passed away Thursday night, phone calls and texts between artists went out with just two words: 'he's gone'.
Minutes later the power went out in downtown St. John's.
It was almost as if the town knew its greatest poet and storyteller had gone on and they'd never see the likes of him again.
A crew gathered at The Ship Pub to light candles and play his songs from an iPhone placed in a coffee cup. At Shamrock City in the Goulds, The Navigators played as many Ron Hynes songs as they could remember, and everywhere on the island people posted videos, tributes and memories of the great man from Ferryland.
I wasn't there.
I was in Toronto, feeling the urge to jump on a plane and be surrounded by people who knew Ron, knew his songs, stories, and could speak his language.
But I wasn't there.
I was in Toronto.
Just like Ron and Murray McLauchlan co-wrote, in No Change in Me:
No regular Joe wants to haul up and go,
And wind up homesick with no one you know;
Just a smoke and a beer and the sports on TV,
Feeling sorry you left, no choice but to leave.
All across the country, pockets of Newfoundlanders abroad were getting together, thinking of back home, thinking of what Ron meant to our music, our culture, to us.
His darkness, and his light
Ron Hynes wasn't without his demons.
His problems with addiction were well-known. He could disappear for days at a time, and show up for gigs with just minutes before show time.
But once he got on stage, the darkness melted away. He sang songs that articulated what you never could: the tragic loss of working people on the Ocean Ranger in Atlantic Blue, the senseless abduction of a teenager in The Ghost of Dana Bradley, the cynical 'saving' of the province through Confederation in Dirt Poor.
This was someone who knew us, and of course he did — he was one of us.
There is a tendency during times like this to over-sentimentalize the man and his legacy, and I don't want to fall into that trap. Ron was an artist.
He felt a certain duty to write songs about people that he knew, situations that he understood, things that moved him, and things he thought we should consider. Above all, he cared about the song, and he would stand side-stage and watch artists perform and then talk to them about their music afterwards.
I remember playing with The Dardanelles at a Music NL conference and Ron taking me aside and telling me stories about Emile Benoit and quoting — verbatim — skits from CODCO that he thought I'd enjoy. This was a man who loved Newfoundland.
Loved the art, the music, the stories and the people.
The lights went out in St. John's and Ron Hynes is gone — but the lights came on again.
And though he may be gone, his songs will last for generations.
As the musician Patrick Boyle put it, "there won't ever be another Ron Hynes. He wouldn't stand for it."