As a Canadian, we have things here we hold dear. Tim Horton’s. Hockey. Healthcare. Tragically Hip. If you’ve grown up here, or have moved here, even if you don’t listen to their music, The Tragically Hip have created what would be categorized as Canadian Rock for 30 years. When I say Canadian Rock, in no way do they compare to Nickelback, so don’t go there. For those from the US and other countries, you probably know some of our other well known bands like The Guess Who and Rush. Although lyrically they have Canadian-ness about them, there is just no comparison to the poetry of Gord Downie, The Hip’s front man using that metric.
I write this with the assumption that those who will read this may not be from Canada and may not be familiar with The Tragically Hip. For those who don’t know, we, as a country, are on a journey this summer. The journey of celebration that The Tragically Hip is taking across Canada is nothing new for us here. We have had them tour through the summer for as long as I can remember, but this time is different. The air of melancholy and underlying sadness of this tour is undeniable. When word of Gord Downie’s inoperable brain cancer became public, this tour was crafted to hit the major centres in Canada so that The Hip can say thank you to us all; which is characteristically Canadian.
The tour started on our west coast in Victoria, then to Vancouver for two nights, two shows in both Edmonton and Calgary, a stop in Winnipeg, then into Ontario. London, Ontario was the first show, then to Toronto for 3 shows, a stop in my home town of Hamilton, then to Ottawa and the final show stop in Kingston, where the band is from originally. The last show in Kingston on August 20 will be broadcast live on the CBC, with many public viewings throughout the country. This is as big as it gets.
As the tour has made its way across Canada, with only 2 more dates to go as of today, we have witnessed an outpouring of pride and love for the group and need for us all to say Thank you. Thank you to The Tragically Hip for giving us 30 years of music that carried us through high school, college, road trips, cottage weekends, and the hundreds of concerts the band has played at venues big and small. Fans have posted pictures and video along the way of this summer’s tour with smiles and tears all at the same time. The concerts have been described as electric, profound, sad, joyful, and touching.
The music of The Tragically Hip has spanned over 30 years with some polarizing results. There are those who love them to a Grateful Dead degree. There are those that just don’t. This summer is different. Even those who don’t listen to the band have heard them before. Even those who don’t like their sound may admit to Gord’s lyrics being nothing short of genius. Even those who thought they would never find themselves at a Tragically Hip concert, may have tried to get tickets to one of the final show or will be watching on Saturday evening.
Our smiles will be wide, our eyes will be wet and our hearts will be full as Gord and the boys take the stage on August 20 for what will most likely be the last concert that The Tragically Hip will perform. From all of us, fans and super fans, casual listeners and new lovers, we want to thank you for sharing your talents and creativity and words with us. Our lives have been altered and enhanced by the music and poetry you have brought to this country.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, here are just a few excerpts from a few songs I will listen to in a different way from now on.
The Darkest One – Come in, come in, come in, come in
From thin and wicked prairie winds come in
It’s warm and it’s safe here and almost heartening
Here in a time and place not lost on our imagination
Cordelia – Thief lingers on, on his hands and knees
Must be one more thing here I really need
Die in your dreams, falling on your knife
A thief blinded on the job has to steal for life
Wheat Kings – There’s a dream he dreams where the high school’s dead and stark
It’s a museum and we’re all locked up in it after dark
Where the walls are lined all yellow, grey and sinister
Hung with pictures of our parents’ prime ministers
Poets – Don’t tell me what the poets are doing
On the street and the epitome of vague
Don’t tell me how the universe is altered
When you find out how he gets paid, all right
Grace Too – I come from downtown, born ready for you
Armed with skill and it’s frustration, and grace, too
These are but a small example of the beautiful words Gord has crafted together over the 30 years.
I will finish my post with one that leaves a lump in the throat. Lyrics that somehow have a stronger meaning than ever before as we know what is to unfold over time. With this, I wish you good health, Gord Downie, and a heart felt thank you.
Courage (for Hugh Mclennan) –
There’s no simple explanation
For anything important
Any of us do
And, yeah, the human
Of living with
Courage, it couldn’t come at a worse time.