“We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger”
Today feels as though the air has been sucked out of the nation. Last night I stood in a massive crowd wearing one of my Hip shirts and my Hip hat watching what will likely be the last ever Tragically Hip concert. The show is in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario, but I’m in Halifax, one of hundreds of Canadian cities and towns broadcasting the show. The broadcast has no commercials, no commentary, it’s just the show. Very few of us need any sort of background, we all know why we are here, we all understand its’ importance, so do the people at the CBC, so does the Prime Minister who is in attendance in a Tragically Hip tee and a denim jacket.
Ever since the announcement of Gord Downie’s cancer diagnosis, and the announcement of the final Hip tour, every Canadian media outlet has spilled out thousands of articles, videos, interviews, and more trying to encapsulate the career of The Tragically Hip. Unfortunately many of them don’t seem to quite hit the mark. Why? Because what makes the Hip “Canada’s Band” and what makes them special is not the amount of albums they’ve sold, or fame, or antics, but instead their ability to serve as a conduit for relationships. Everyone I’ve spoken to in the previous weeks about the Hip has a story, maybe it’s about a time a Hip song perfectly sound-tracked a moment of their life, a story about seeing them live, or for the lucky few a run in or meeting with members of the band. For me, there are many stories, I’ve been listening to the Hip since childhood and have now seen them thrice, including driving to Ottawa from Halifax for the second last show on their final tour. The magic of the Hip is in its inability to describe it, it comes from within, from our relationships with each other through them. Here are a few of some of my stories, I hope in my stories you see parallels in your own.
“First thing we climb a tree”
Cars, CD’s, long drives. There is likely no better way to hear the Hip for the first time than on the road. My introduction to the band was from my neighbour, the biggest Hip fan I know, and one of the lucky few to have seen them at their final show in Kingston. For about ten years I used to carpool nearly everyday with my neighbour for about a half hour, his family owned and ran a gymnastics gym where I did gymnastics and eventually coached. He himself was a very successful gymnast and coach. Many of those drives blur together for me, but The Hip was a baseline for all those years. Even as I went through teenage phases with other genres and artists, I never was tired of hearing the Hip. The Hip has at times been referred to as “Dad Rock” and as much as I loathe the term, my relationship with the band is somewhat paternal. Many kids, myself included, go from thinking their Dad is a superhero, then as they become teens and wish to form their own identity rebel, or at least think their Dad is uncool, only to come back around in adulthood when you realize that your Dad is a human after all. For me I couldn’t get enough of the Hip as a kid, then as I got older I distanced myself from them based on what I thought I wanted to be or what I thought they represented, only to come back around to them when those teenage explorations ran their course.
“Let’s get friendship right”
I was terrified going to university. I decided to study music despite having dropped out of band in grade 10, and knowing very little theory. I knew I couldn’t do anything else, but I wasn’t sure if I had what it took (a feeling I’d get again when going onto my masters, also in music). My frosh week was like anyone else’s, I was constantly meeting new people, one of whom happened to be wearing a Tragically Hip shirt from their World Container tour. From the moment I asked about his shirt we became inseparable. The Hip was shining down on me and he was one of the only other people in my exact program. Over the four years at Acadia we spent many hours discussing our favorite Hip cuts and keeping up with the set lists from their tours. Eventually we saw the Hip together at the Metro Center for their Now For Plan A tour, and started a band which was originally a Hip cover band named Killer Whale Tank (named in reference to a famous Gord “rant”). Learning to cover Hip songs allowed me to examine and deconstruct music which felt as though it was in my DNA. A crucial part of a university experience is self-discovery, and through the Hip I was able to do that. I built tight relationships with not just my friends, but those in the community who came to our shows or open mics.
“Don’t you want to see how it ends?”
This brings us back to now. I’ve very likely seen The Hip for the last time, both live and via live broadcast. While I know the Hip is not for everyone, and not everyone feels the same as I do, I think the bigger message of all of this, and all 30 years of the Hip, is the power of music to connect us. My stories are just a few of thousands or more across Canada and the world, and I hope Gord and the gang are able to take comfort in the lives they have affected and changed. After all, they are one of the purest expressions of Music @ Work.
“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you”