So, I’m assuming that most of my readers are from Canada. I don’t have that many readers, and I know most of my readers personally! But for those of you who have stumbled upon this blog post from elsewhere and have no idea who The Tragically Hip are, click here. In short, they are the quintessential Canadian band. Even though they never hit it big in the states, they are a Canadian institution and probably the most famous Canadian band you’ve never heard of.
The Tragically Hip has been one of my favourite bands since I was in my teens. I was about 15 when the second album, “Road Apples” came out and I loved them almost immediately. They had a sound I had never heard before. They sang about things like hockey, the prairies, the CBC, things that are inherently Canadian. And these things they sang about, they were things that I felt made me a Canadian. I was hooked. I bought “Road Apples” and also “Up to Here”, their first album, on cassette tape (Don’t know what a cassette tape is? Go ask your parents.) They became the soundtrack to my youth, and when “Fully Completely” came out in 1992, my heart, they were speaking to me personally. It’s like they knew. They felt what I felt, not only about love and friendship, but about road trips and the bigness of this place called Canada.
I lived in Toronto for two years, from 1998 to 2000. As a person who lived in the Yukon for most of my formative years, this was complete culture shock to me. My access to nature was greatly diminished. It was three hours to Wasaga Beach, a place we tried to go to as often as we could, but of course everyone else was thinking the same thing and the drive was like combat road tripping. Crazy! Too many people! And the untouched places that I took for granted while living in the Yukon were nonexistent. There is just no such thing as “untouched” in Ontario. People have been touching that place for a minimum of 200 years!
But in 1998 “Phantom Power” came out. My all time favourite Hip song is “Bobcaygeon”. This song is named after a place called Bobcaygeon, in the Kawartha Lakes region, north of Toronto and according to Wikipedia, “Its lyrics also obliquely reference the Christie Pits riot of 1933, which arose from tensions between Toronto’s working-class Jewish community and anti-semitic Swastika clubs following a baseball game.” Now, I know the words to that song like the back of my hand, and until I looked it up on Wikipedia, I had no idea that’s what it was about. What I took away from that song was a relationship between lovers, not quite sure of their love, and the beauty of sitting by the lake as the stars come out. Call me a romantic sap. But that song still reminds me of living in Toronto, with it’s checker board floors…
Last month, the lead singer, songwriter and poet of the band, Gord Downie, revealed that he has incurable brain cancer. When I heard about it, I was dumbfounded. He’s very young, only 52 years old, and so I think it came as a shock to the entire country. Our Canadian son, poet, musician, a person who has taken our collective Canadian experience and put it into words we couldn’t put together ourselves, is essentially dying. I am actually surprised by how much this news has affected me, this cruel diagnosis for a man I don’t know personally. Mr. Downie has always been a fiercely private person and has for the most part, shunned the spotlight. I was also shocked to find out he has four kids. I don’t know their ages, but I’m sure they will feel the hole that his death will leave the most. I can’t imagine losing a parent so young, and my heart goes out to his whole family.
I guess I am so upset because his voice and his beautiful poetry have been a part of my life for so long. His distinctive sound has made The Tragically Hip Canada’s band. They belong to us, as a collective, like the National Parks or something. I know there are other people in the band, and I know that the magic only really happens when they all play together. But I think Mr. Downie has been the glue. He’s the centre point and with his passing, so passes a Canadian icon.
So I paid a ridiculous amount of money to go see The Tragically Hip on their last concert tour this summer. I have actually never seen a concert, so I’m glad it can be the Hip with Mr. Downie at the helm of what is most likely his last tour. I’m so happy, as I’m sure many, many fans are, that the Hip have decided to do one more tour. That Mr. Downie will not go gentle into that good night. It’s inspiring and sad and I wish him safe journey. Thank you for sharing your talent with the world, Mr. Downie, and thanks for making Canada just a little more hip.