Tim Thompson has covered the gamut with his trademark montages.
During his time at Hockey Night in Canada he married pictures and video to song in creating stirring pieces designed to hype the matchup du jour - whether it was an original six showdown on Saturday night during the regular season, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final or a tribute to famed “The Hockey Song” composer and Canadian music icon Stompin’ Tom Connors, shortly after his passing.
Even after his departure from HNIC half-way through last season, he continued his labour of love on a freelance basis. Contracted by the Montreal Canadiens, Thompson was tasked with capturing the life of the late Jean Beliveau in December 2014 and came up with one of his most impressive works to date. Most recently the Boston Bruins commissioned a piece for the Winter Classic that took place on Jan. 1 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. It too, was well received.
However, the one thing he had not attempted was to create an ode to the team he grew up cheering for…that changed late last summer when he composed a “love letter” about the Toronto Maple Leafs titled “The Maple Leafs Forever,” in the form of a five-and-a-half minute montage intertwined with Ron Hawkins’ song “Peace and Quiet”.
“In August, I was up at my cottage and it just hit me kind of like all the pieces that I do – it kind of fell out of the sky,” said Thompson, who still works at the CBC as a presentation and features producer. “I felt compelled to do it. The lyrics are so beautiful and poetic.”
Over the course of two weeks in late September, he went to work on the personal project and posted a link on Twitter to the completed version the day before the regular season started.
That evening he received a call from Maple Leafs PR stating that they were interested in using the video. Thompson uploaded it to a USB key which he dropped off the next day at the ACC. He was given two tickets to the season opener against the Canadiens and sitting next to his brother he watched it play out on the new mammoth video scoreboard in the darkened arena prior to puckdrop.
“We didn’t know when it was going to be played…the place was dark, it was very surreal,” said Thompson about viewing the piece for the first time on such a grand scale. “I had been at home making it in my room and there it is on this amazing big screen and the sound system, it is so powerful.”
Using metaphor and symbolism, Thompson tells the rich and often tumultuous history of the Maple Leafs by weaving the song through archival sound, still images and video. As the story plays out high above centre-ice before every home game, attendees witness the glory, heartbreak and of course – futility associated with the team.
However, the overarching theme is renewal, through a return to respectability which is best illustrated through the two clips that bookend the piece and the visuals matched with final lines of the song.
The montage begins with an interview clip of colourful Leafs’ legend of yesteryear - Francis “King” Clancy who boldly claims:
“The Maple Leaf Hockey Club have been champions and they will be champions again, the legend will be back.”
“(The closing lines) “This time we’ll change the weather, this time we'll get it right” you see (head coach) Mike Babcock and (president) Brendan Shannahan which shows a changing of the environment,” Thompson said. “This summer and the last little while, something feels different, more commitment from the front office and coaching staff to bringing back to what King Clancy talks about at the beginning.”
Although it has since been removed from the in-game presentation for timing and pacing purposes, original founder and owner Conn Smythe is featured on the tail of the video citing the words he had painted on the home dressing room wall at Maple Leaf Gardens:
“There used to be a sign up here – “Defeat Does Not Rest Lightly On Their Shoulders”, and that’s the way my teams always played.”
It a poignant finale especially when considering the apathetic performance the club put forward toward the end of last season.
Hawkins was born two years before the Maple Leafs won their last Stanley Cup in 1967 and grew up in Toronto as a fan of the team. He sees the many layers of artistic merit in Thompson’s creation.
“It moved me, I heard other people talk about welling up when watching it, he is messing with very tender feelings of a dogged fan base that have gone through thick and thin – and a lot of thin,” he told Eh Game via telephone from Revolution Recording Studio in Leslieville. “The part where (the song) says “You seem just like a rumor now?” – and you hear the Stanley Cup call – it’s cheeky, taking a little bit of a shot – like, “Hey Guys! Let’s tune this up and get back at it!”
Hawkins is best known as the frontman for Lowest of the Low who released their critically acclaimed debut album – Shakespeare My Butt, 25 years ago. They were inducted into the Canadian Indie Rock Hall of Fame in 2008.
The group has gone on hiatus several times since 1991 which has allowed Hawkins to form new bands and focus on other endeavours such as painting.
He was recently voted as Toronto’s songwriter of the year in Now Magazine’s Readers Choice Poll and is working on a new album tentatively titled Spit, Sputter and Sparkle slated for release on April Fools' Day.
Thompson has known Hawkins since he featured him along with several others in his documentary “Born To It” about the life of independent musicians which was released in 2009.
The two also shared the common bond of playing the game to varying levels of success before embarking on their present careers.
Thompson, 40, patrolled the blueline in the OHL, CIS (then known as the CIAU) as well as the now defunct Western Professional Hockey League (WPHL) in the 1990s, while Hawkins tended goal until his mid-teens before turning down a tryout offer from the Toronto Marlboros after “discovering girls and punk rock.”
Interestingly, “Peace and Quiet” was written as a love letter of its own to Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood, where Hawkins lived for 10 years.
“It’s a testimony to how resilient art is in general, obviously I had my idea about the song when I wrote it and it was specific - not malleable,” he said. “I respect Tim’s ability to get meaning out of the film and audio, that’s why he has become so good at matching the two.”
Hawkins recorded the song twice - it was first released in 2007 on the album Chemical Sounds and then again a year ago in a more stripped-down version with his band the Do Good Assassins for Garden Songs. Thompson uses the latter for “The Maple Leafs Forever.”
“There is a way to interpret the passion that is in that song in many ways,” Hawkins said. “As much as it could mean places you have seen and people you have lost – the way he is applying it to the Leafs – I would suggest it is the former dynasty and to recapture it and what a struggle that is to do.”
The Maple Leafs concur.
It wasn’t a hard sell to the brass for game presentation manager Steve Edgar and his team to include the piece in the pre-game show, since it had already been viewed by so many within the organization on the Internet.
“It struck a chord with not only us but our management, our president – it did a great job of showcasing the emotions and current state of Leaf Nation,” he said. “It begins with reminding everyone of the history, the past glories. The lyrics reflect we are going to do it again and the imagery helps add to that. It puts in perspective what our management and organization is trying to do – make sure we get back there and do it right.
Although he has yet to attend a game this season and is more likely to head to Ricoh Coliseum to watch the AHL Toronto Marlies, Hawkins is not surprised by the positive reaction and feels "The Maple Leafs Forever" captures a sense of purity.
“When I watch it, I smell the rink – that salty icy smell, I get a real tangible sense of melancholy,” Hawkins said. “Tim puts the clips together with a lot of weight – not just something to kill time till the game starts.”
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