What can one say about the Tragically Hip that has not been already said? Let’s begin here at the 100th meridian…
Before the first wave of Europeans hit our shores, the rhythms and songs of our Aboriginal brothers permeated the land. In 1605, French explorer Samuel de Champlain set up the first Canadian settlement. By 1608 Canada begun turning out its own unique brand of composers and musicians. It wasn’t until after 1760 that concerts as we know them began to flourish throughout the country.
And what is music without dancing, right Gord?
In 1807, Scottish-Canadian author and artist George Heriot wrote: The whole of the Canadian inhabitants are remarkably fond of dancing, and frequently amuse themselves at all seasons with that agreeable exercise. Can you hear the strings on Fiddler’s Green?
The Hip were not the first to write about Canada’s peoples and landscapes. One of the first to do so was Alexander Muir when in 1867, the year of Canada’s Confederation, he penned his song “The Maple Leaf Forever”.
Here’s a fun factoid:
One of the earliest surviving audio recordings made in Canada was made by (hold onto your toques) none other than Frederick Arthur Stanley, or Lord Stanley, in September of 1888. I bet you didn’t know that! So cool, eh? Let’s hope this NHL season 2016-2017 a Canadian team (not saying who) will bring home Lord Stanley’s Cup in time for our 150th Anniversary!
Bouncing ahead now to the 1920’s, Canada saw it first radio stations, and Canadian song writers thrived. By 1923, 34 radio stations filled the nation’s airwaves. 1925 brought about the Canadian Performing Rights Society, formed to administer public performances and royalties for composer and lyricists. From the 1930’s onwards, Canadian artists skyrocketed: Guy Lombardo, Portia White, Hank Snow, Oscar Peterson to name a few. 1958 saw its first Canadian Rock n Roll teen idol: Ottawa, Ontario’s own Paul Anka when his number one hit “Diana” shot to number 1 worldwide.
I was born in 1961, and by then radio and television were everyday conduits for budding Canadian musicians. As a young boy, I can remember listening to and watching Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians ring in the New Year. Then we would be shuffled off to bed as our parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents enjoyed a drink or two. For 50 years, he and his band brought a little piece of Canada into the living rooms and dance halls throughout North America and the world. I guess you could say he was ahead by a century. It never dawned on me until later on, perhaps at the old age 12 or 13 that WE Canadians were really on our game when it came to music, pucks and sticks aside.
The 1960’s brought so many great Canadian troubadours, singers, writer and poets. They wrote about Canada, enlightening the outside world as it were about our inhabitants, green valleys, mountains, waterways, railroads and our prairie winds. Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, The Guess Who, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen. The Band, Ian & Sylvia, Buffy Saint Marie, The Esquires, The Poppy Family. Anne Murray, Bruce Cockburn, Stan Rogers, Willie P. Bennet. And who could ever forget Don Messer’s Jubilee or Tommy Hunter?
In turn, an explosion of Canadian acts would arrive on the scene through the 70’s to the present. Bachman Turner Overdrive, Five Man Electrical Band, Lighthouse, FM, Saga, Max Webster, Anvil, Brian Adams, Doug and the Slugs, Trooper, Spirit of the West, The Northern Pikes, Street Heart, Loverboy, Blue Rodeo, Sarah McLachlan, Jan Arden Honeymoon Suite, The Parachute Club, Ron Sexsmith, The Sheep Dogs, Nickelback, the Arkells, April Wine, Offenbach, Gino Vannelli, CANO, Daniel Lanois, The Box, Arcade Fire, Sam Roberts. … I could go on and on… All of Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Canadian artists too numerous to count and name. We have such riches of artists!
English Canada wasn’t the only one getting in on the act. Madame Édouard Bolduc (Mary Rose Anne Travers) was a folk singer and songwriter from the 1930’s. Her story is a real rags to riches tale, at that time earning her the title of the Queen of Canadian folk singers. Other Quebecers would soon follow down the long line of grande chanson, including Félix Leclerc, Claude Léveillée and Raymond Levesque. The 70 and 80’s gave us Robert Charlebois, Plume Latraverse, Paul Piché, Ginette Reno, Renée Claude, and a young upcoming artist by the name of Céline Dion.
I would be amiss not to mention one band which without a doubt is as synonymous with Canadian as are The Hip: RUSH. Like The Hip, Rush’s Canadian fan base is strong and proud, waving the flag in salute to one of the finest that the Great White North has ever produced. We knew it before the rest of the world knew it. They were our own, they were one of us, Geddy’s wailing voice and all.
Now you may ask yourselves: What does this all have to do with the Tragically Hip? Well, everything! Some Canadian artists have achieved global star status, and have become unofficial ambassadors for Canada. We, you and I, draw inspiration from that which surrounds us: Nature, people and places, books, poetry, movies, and of course music.
Take me as one example: At the age of 55 I have accomplished a life time dream. Since the age of 16 I have been telling everyone and anyone who would listen that one day I would write a book. My first novel, “Halley’s Casino”, a fun and witty sci fi time travel, rock n roll adventure, became a reality in January 2016, with two more on their way to round out the trilogy. Now I would have not accomplished this feat without determination, discipline and inspiration from artists like The Tragically Hip and others. Heck, I even named a spaceship after the band, called The Traghip. I am a rock n roller at heart, always have been, always will be.
As I sit, thinking, pondering, contemplating, meditating, reflecting, and yes even daydreaming, how did a band like The Tragically Hip, five guys from Kingston, Ontario, Canada, engender so much love from their fellow Canucks? Some think in order to be successful, one needs to penetrate the US market. I guess it doesn’t hurt to gain a wider fan base, and The Hip indeed have fans south of the border and worldwide. But it’s here at home where it counts, and boy have they made it count! Sold out shows wherever they go, everyone singing along to every song, moving and grooving to every kick of the beat. Happy hour is here! One could go on and on, but The Tragically Hip are something vastly different when it comes to Canada and their Canadian fans. They know it, yet are humble and appreciative with no horn blowing.
It's hard not to see parallels between The Hip and the late Canadian author Pierre Berton, each carrying the torch of Canadiana through and through. If you want to know about Canada, pick up a Pierre Berton book. Allow me to recommend “The National Dream", "The Last Spike" or "1967: The Last Good Year”, to name a few. Likewise, each new Hip release has something to say, whether you’re from the Prairies, Bobcaygeon or Sarnia.
It’s not like The Hip’s popularity has grown since Gord’s diagnosis. On the contrary, it was already well established Have you ever been to one of their live shows?
July 17, 2015, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in the pouring fucking rain! The Fully Completely 25th anniversary tour, and let me say this:
The whole crowd of over twenty thousands were ONE! We were all the same. Never have I been to a concert where everyone was so close-knit. Step aside Woodstock; this was Hipstock at its very Canadian best. We were all soaked down to our little bones, voicing singing, shouting, laughing, saluting. Nothing was going to stop this show unless the earth cracked up and swallowed us whole (which it didn’t by the way). Those who did not have an umbrella were soon embraced by those who did. It was a party within a party! I must say, it was surreal on so many levels that I had never experience before. Why do I say that? Everyone was downright civil, polite, enjoying the moment for what it was. Can I say: so Canadian?
There, I said it.
Now that was just the crowd. On the other hand, the band just blew us away! Listening to all those great tunes, The Hip were in full fight from the opening note to the closing bow. Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair, Rob Baker (never cut your hair) and of course the front man of all front men, Gord Downie. That night in Ottawa…
Who would have predicted the news that awaited us in May of this year 2016? Of all places, I first heard the news from sports guru and CBC sportscaster and journalist Elliot Friedman on his twitter feed.My jaw dropped. No, this can’t be! I think the whole of Canada’s heart sunk.
As we all tried to fathom the news and as the next few days followed, our thoughts, prayers and love extended out to Gord, his wife, his children, his family, his bandmates, and fellow friends. We soon learned of Gord’s condition and his prognoses via a news conference with his physician, Dr. James Perry at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. Yet through all of this sad new it was announced that The Hip would continue with The Man Machine Tour from July 22 to August 20th.
Dr. James Perry assured us Gord would be up to the challenge. Hearts and smiles were uplifted throughout the land. Soon dates and venues would be announced. We all sat and waited to see if they would come to our town.
As the dates were finally announced, I decided I would venture out to Kingston to catch the tour’s last stop. So I promptly booked a room in downtown Kingston. I thought I would grab a ticket for the Ottawa show on the 18th as well. I never imagined what would follow.
I was pumped on the day the tickets were to go on sale to the public, as many of you were. I made sure my credit card was out, my fingers at the ready as I starred at the clock and computer screen, counting down to 10 AM local time. 10 AM came and went.
I was left without any tickets, for any shows.
Alas, I tried in vain as many of you did to get tickets, but was shit out of luck. All because of nefarious, shadowy individuals who care more about money than about life, one life. Stubhub, minutes after the shows were sold out, was selling tickets at outlandish and downright evil prices. One was asking for 10, 000 dollars, that’s ten thousand, I kid you not! For nose-bleed seats with an obstructed view! I could use colourful language on how I felt, though I won’t. Except…
Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be so hard to get a ticket. I was floored and downcast. What had the world come to? Was I being so naive to think getting tickets would be no problem? It never even entered my mind. But there you have it. I cancelled my room in Kingston. Past screaming from the roof tops. We live to survive our paradoxes.
As days and weeks went by, the unjoyful realization that I would not be attending any of the shows set in. I took consolation in that I could throw on a Hip CD anytime or plug into the Live DVD of That Night in Toronto to get my fix, and the memory of July 17th to get me through.
Then a soft whisper was heard, a rumor swirled about: A petition was perhaps being set up to ask the CBC to air the Kingston show on August 20th. Now wouldn’t that be great! I thought. Then wishes became reality.
THANK YOU CBC!
Geez not even RUSH whom by all accounts saw their last gig a year ago this August, was televised by the CBC. But in all fairness to Alex, Geddy and Neil, regardless of Gord’s current situation, I believe without a doubt that if this was The Hip’s last gallop it would have had the same effect. I am sure RUSH would agree.
So on Saturday August 20th 2016 in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, the Tragically Hip will play their last concert of The Man Machine Tour. We hope and yes, pray it won’t their last for Gord and the boys. I am a firm believer in miracles such as they are: Simply, miracles. And who knows what the future will bring? It’s never easy saying good bye, sometimes it hard enough to just say hello to someone new. If Gord has shown us anything it’s that anything is possible.
I think of Wayne & Shuster and the Beachcombers for some odd reason. There is nothing more Canadian except for The Tragically Hip to get such a send-off. I may be dating myself, but who cares LOL. I will be watching with a pop or two in hand with the rest of you on the CBC, as we raise our glasses in refection, connection, and not to mention a celebration. And maybe a tear or two.
Within the borders of your hometown
Within the borders of your hometown
Mark JG Fahey