Stealing Genius: A Tribute to Ron Hynes

In 2005, when I was eighteen years old, I played a show with my punk band de-mons at Junctions, a half-sketchy bar that used to exist downtown St. John’s. It was the kind of place where the sound guy invited you to come along while he hunted down a guy who owed him money for meth. It was a Friday night, so I had to leave shortly after our set because I had work early the next morning. I collected my gear and walked down to the bottom of the stairs on Water street, and waited for a cab with my guitar case in hand. An old man smoking a cigarette approached me.

“Playing a gig tonight?” he asked.

“Yeah, just finished up at Junctions,” I said.

“Right on,” he said. “I’m playing here the Rose and Thistle.”

We continued to chat about music and playing gigs. He was really interested in my band and the kind of stuff we played. A cab eventually pulled up. When I leaned in to shake the guy’s hand and say goodbye, I realized it was Ron Hynes. He was so friendly and unassuming. I couldn’t believe a local legend would give a shit about some teenage punk like me.

I’ve heard many stories like mine. Even though there’s a statue of him on George street, Hynes had a way of blending into the environment. He’d strike up conversations with people who assumed he was just some gregarious barfly. After all, there are plenty of those around town; but only one of them had been a mainstay in the local arts scene for the past forty years.

Hynes first rose to prominence as the lead singer for The Wonderful Grand Band. He’s best known for his solo material, including “Sonny’s Dream,” which is Newfoundland’s second unofficial provincial anthem. He performed regularly up until 2010 when he was diagnosed with cancer. He played the scattered show until he died last week at the age of 64.

What I admire most about Hynes’ music is how true he remained to his roots. Like James Joyce, he had the ability to take something local and particular and give it universal appeal.

In addition to being one of the most important musicians in Newfoundland history, Hynes had a reputation for being a mentor, most notably to his nephew, and fellow enfant terrible, Joel Thomas Hynes.

I think this latter point is particularly noteworthy. As an aspiring writer, it is a tremendous gift to receive any kind of wisdom from a master. When I was an intern at The Walrus, I was able to meet and work with some of the best editors and writers in Canada, like Linden MacIntyre and Lisa Moore, among others. Editor-in-chief John Macfarlane was particularly generous with his time.

Any business or self-help book worth its salt will tell you the value of a good mentor. Of course, in order for that to happen you need to find someone who is willing to donate their time. When you think about it, it’s a tremendous gesture. What does Linden MacIntyre have to gain by talking to someone like me? Yet, it can make such a tremendous impact on someone’s life and career.

So, this is a tribute to Ron Hynes, not just for his own tremendous contribution to Newfoundland culture, but for his role in building our great music and arts scene. Without Hynes, we probably wouldn’t have Alan Doyle and Great Big Sea, Amelia Curran, The Irish Descendants, The Once, etc. The list goes on.

RIP Ron.

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~ by braddunne on November 22, 2015.

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