Everyone has that one band that they are drawn to. The band that they will go see in any venue they can. The band they will travel to distant places to see, even if they can see them in a local venue as well. For me, that band was The Tragically Hip. Gordon Downie, Paul Langlois, Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair, and Johnny Fay. A band of friends that started cranking out hits in the 80s and toured relentlessly across Canada and border towns in America for the better part of 30 years. This band wasn’t like anything else I had heard as a teenager and they drew me in immediately. From my favourite song (Courage) to the first song I heard performed live (Grace, Too) to the song that always makes me weep (Long Time Running), the Hip has provided a soundtrack to my life.
Growing up in Niagara Falls, NY we had a complicated relationship with the border. Canadians were nice people when you were visiting them on their side of the river, but when they came over to shop at the outlets they turned into very different beings. As a teenager, I worked at the Factory Outlet and had to deal with the reality of bargain shopping Canadians on a weekly basis. But these Canadians were not who this post is about. Canadians, in a general way (from the perspective of a border town American), were kind and cool. They seemed liberal in a way that we could never be and they had really great music. The Hip wasn’t the only band that I listened to from Canada. The Lowest of the Low, the Watchmen, Sloan, Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, City and Colour, Metric, Broken Social Scene, Barenaked Ladies, The Tea Party, Sarah Harmer, Billy Talent, 54-40, Our Lady Peace, The Trews, Matthew Good Band, I Mother Earth, Sam Roberts, Big Sugar, Arcade Fire, The Sheepdogs, Arkells, Moist, July Talk, The New Pornographers, Teenage Head, Mother Mother, Spirit of the West, Bif Naked, Skinny Puppy, Alexisonfire, and Econoline Crush were all in heavy rotation on CFNY (102.1 the edge) during the 90s and 00s, but the Hip topped them all.
From Hockey to wars to Canadian geography and politics, Gord’s lyrics taught us, as Americans, the things that our history teachers never bothered to mention. A funny thing about the American educational system is that we don’t seem to care about the history of other countries. Sure – we have to take a world history section in junior high (middle school) and some of us go on to enjoy that and learn on our own, but in Canada they actually take courses in North American history that cover the United States and Mexico in a way that makes them experts in our history. Meanwhile, Americans only learn about America and form a skewed perspective of the world. We know nothing about Canadian or Mexican history, despite sharing a continent with those countries. In fact, we don’t even really know our own history since most of the textbooks we use are whitewashed to make us feel better about our country. This belief that America is the ‘greatest country in the world’ is supposed to lead us to be more patriotic, but, in the end, it is killing us. But I digress – this post is about music – and some pretty awesome music, at that. My point was to say that through the Tragically Hip, I learned a lot about Canadian history that I never would have learned had I just focused on American music in my teens and twenties.
October 17, 2018, was the 1 year anniversary of Gord Downie’s passing. The sadness of his loss is still palpable, but he left behind a wonderful canon of music that will be forever treasured by past and current fans, as well as those fans that are yet to discover Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip. I am sad to think that I will never get to hear him tell the shark story, live, on tour and to hear him riff during other Hip hits, but I am heartened by the beautiful music that he did put into the world. We will have those recordings forever. In the end, he was also extremely active in the aboriginal struggles in Canada, and in his last days, he dedicated himself fully to that cause. This is the legacy of Downie and the Hip. The music was just a soundtrack to the life that the band led together and background music for a country that still thrives in the face of the world’s ills. Canada Forever!
If you are one of the aforementioned music lovers that have yet to discover The Tragically Hip – please take this opportunity to head to your streaming music site of choice (or invest in an album or 6) and get to know them!
Peace and happy listening!
Awesome reference regarding Canadian History and The Tragically Hip: