21 years in my short list of ‘need to see’ bands. I never did see The Tragically Hip or Gord Downie live.
I had opportunities and serious intentions. Early on, sold out shows, conflicting events or travel kept pushing it back to ‘next time’. Even after moving to Ontario, my chances increased, but still I missed out. Life is like that sometimes. The first time I heard the earliest songs was by way a weirdo high school cover band who only did Hip songs. Only. Weirdos. We were kids. Teenagers. Few, if anyone knew who the Hip were… but those weirdos sure did. The first time I heard the words Tragically Hip it was my friends Sandra who said it. I told her “these guys are really good”. She looks at me and says “the songs are all covers. The Tragically Hip”.
Early on I was not hooked by what I heard on the radio. Not hooked. Maybe it was just radio overexposure on that Vancouver rock station. Not an indie format – just not classic rock that everyone else was playing.
I had work mates who were die-hard. Serious Tragically Hip fans. Rob told me a story that was pretty fabulous, peaking my interest a little. He said he and his pals had been down in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Sometime between arriving and getting arrested, or getting arrested and leaving, they spotted a sidewalk sandwich board outside of a bar. The sign read, and this is loosely in my memory, “Canadian Band – tonight”. Being Canadian, of course this is where they would spend their evening. At best, they imagined they might meet some small time band from back home, have a few beers and enjoy some camaraderie. The bar was almost empty. Maybe a dozen people. Their jaws dropped as they immediately recognized their favourite band, The Tragically Hip, walk on stage and start in on their now legendary live experience, complete with a singer who would move between petting an imaginary cat in his arms, and having conversations with someone who was not there. All the while crushing through an incredibly dense soundtrack of Canada.
Most people who liked The Tragically Hip have a story like this in varying degrees of entertaining. This was Rob’s story. Not mine. Mine is different and much less specific. Mine is as simple as a feeling I had one day in 1996. It may have been Rob who lent me a copy of Trouble at The Henhouse on CD and said “take this and listen”. I did.
I’ve always been a music lover. A fan. I pay attention to it. I make connections between artists and history – both music and world. I trusted Rob. We shared a lot of the same musical tastes. When Luna was playing the Town Pump in Vancouver, he invited me to go. I didn’t know who Luna were, until I arrived at the Town Pump. I looked at Rob “That’s the guy from Galaxie 500!!” amazed. He smiled. He knew I would dig it. I took Trouble at The Henhouse home and listened.
I was incredibly embarrassed that I had been deaf for so long. From that moment on I fell in love with this band. I went to the back catalogue so I could really hear the band. Ignoring the shit sound of radio transmission I started picking up Tragically Hip CD’s right proper, albeit late to the game. This was simple rock and roll… and then it wasn’t. It was beyond rock and roll music but was not as abstract as avant guard rock. It was accessible, but so much more than what a lot of other standard rock and roll bands were doing. I was entranced by the lyrics. This fella at the front of this incredibly versatile and talented gang, his voice, and the subtlety in which he handled delivery of his message. This man was bigger. There was magic. Rare Canadian, heavy, powerful magic. I was moved. Gord Downie reached deep, took hold and pulled hard.
This fella was all at once tough, punk, kind, introspective, clever… intelligent. So many things. This fella who shared so much with all of us, doing what he loved to do. This fellow who increasingly reminded us by example that there is so much left to do. That while we need to take those moment to enjoy life in our backyards, at the hockey games, in the parks, driving down country roads, visiting the communities across our nation – We are here together and we need to work on it. Work on ourselves. Work on our country. Work on each other. The importance of music, art, dance. Love. The Tragically Hip repeatedly reminded us that this nation we share, this place, this Canada… is incredibly beautiful in so many ways, but not without its scars.
I listen to a lot of music every day. Commuting. Walking. Running. In the studio. There is so much incredible music in the world it is truly impossible to keep up. Jazz, Hip-Hop, New Wave, No Wave, Punk, Post Punk, Classical, Electronic, Machine, Industrial, Rock and Roll, Rockabilly, Surf, Reggae, Soul, Metal and on and on and on. There are some bands that are always there, always next on the playlist, if not soul deep into the back catalogue. The music and musicians that help fuel the art. The Tragically Hip is one of those bands, and will continue to be. A gift.
For the last year or so, hearing Gord Downie’s voice became synonymous with melancholy. Sadness intertwined with hope. We knew what the future looked like. Leading up to the very moment we heard the news.
Rest Easy Gord. We are richer as a result of having known of you, our collective brother, our collective friend.
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