Home > Uncategorized > Confessions of a Tragically Hip virgin…

Confessions of a Tragically Hip virgin…

Comedian Martin Mull once said that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”.

It’s pretty arrogant of me to lecture you on what makes my brain dance, trying to convince you that it should make your brain dance too. We all have our tastes, our blind-spots, our secret crushes, and that one band that we drag around to anybody who’ll listen and say “you gotta hear these guys…”

We like what we like, hate what we hate, and can’t live without what we can’t live without. And if we’re serious about music, our ears are always open. But still….

But still, time spent reading about music takes away from the time you should be listening to it….so I won’t blather on too long here. But a few things have been building up. And I’m feeling a bit word hungry today.

ltr-th-1024x576I’ve just recently discovered The Tragically Hip. As a dumb American, this doesn’t make me unique. How a nation that championed bands during the 80s/90s/2000s that were not worthy to shine Gord Downie’s black stage boots could largely overlook a group this exciting is beyond me. But it happened. I was there. I should know.

The Hip tore up Saturday Night Live one night, and the next night played to 40 drunks in a Saint Louis bar. That’s on us red white and blue-ers.. We missed the train……and longtime Hip fans must be tired of morons like me jumping on the bandwagon after the balloon has landed.

It was the Netflix doc that introduced me. I read a post about it from a Facebook friend…saying that it moved him to tears. So I pulled it up…..grabbed a lager…and everything changed.

I’d never heard these songs before. Ever. And I kept inching the volume up….until my sleeping kids started yelling downstairs for me to turn it down. Apparently “Courage” turned up to 11 was bothering them at 1am. Who knew? This would need to be addressed….but later….

The brotherhood of the band. The tragedy of Gord’s diagnosis. The friendship. The love. The pre-show kisses. The way all of this affected an entire nation. When I get excited watching something, I stand and pace. I’ve only done this during sporting events, and Long Time Running.

But still…..the fucking songs. It was relentless….snippets mostly from the doc….it wasn’t until later that I heard the original versions (and saw the final Kingston show in its entirety). I was a Hip virgin….and it was like lying under Niagara Falls with my legs spread.

Bobcaygeon. Blow at High Dough. Wheat Kings. Fifty-Mission Cap. Poets. Grace, Too. Fireworks. Little Bones. Ahead By a Century.

(To long-time Hip fans, the above list is so blatantly obvious it doesn’t conjure up words at all, just a sound. “Duh”. But be cautioned. It’s easy to forget that there was a time when you too heard these songs for the first time. They weren’t always there. It just seems that way. I’d felt this feeling only once before. The first time I heard The Who.)

I’d never heard songs this good, coming at me so fast. I was dizzy. As soon as it was over, I watched it again. Cue the kids yelling all over again. More understandable this time, as it was inching past 3am now. But still….

I got more the second time. The lines started to jump out…

“Could have been the Willie Nelson / could have been the wine”

“You said you didn’t give a fuck about hockey / and I never saw someone say that before”

“No dress rehearsal / this is our life”

Who was this dying madman?

I was jealous of Canadians. We don’t have a band like this. A band that meant this much to so many. A band that seemingly lifted a nation. Fucking Justin Trudeau was singing along from the balcony in his Hip t-shirt, flexing his pecs. Can you imagine something like this happening in America? You cannot. Something like a third of the nation was singing along to “Ahead By a Century”. What could we offer to compare?

I shudder to think of what we’d come up with in 2019.

It wasn’t annoying nationalism either. The flag waving might make the uninitiated think otherwise, with the potential to be as misconstrued in Canada as “Born in the USA” was here, but Downie was giving a voice to folks long ignored. And as his remarks  to Trudeau at the end of the Kingston show proved, he wasn’t afraid to hold feet to the fire.

He had balls, in other words.

Downie was a national treasure. A combination of Dylan and Springsteen and Willie Nelson and Stevie Wonder and Michael Stipe and the ghost of Elvis, all rolled up into various lamé suits. Imagine all of the living dying on the same day…..along with Presley’s grave being defaced by vandals during the funerals…and you might be somewhere in the neighborhood of what I was seeing. The intensity of it all was almost frightening. No hockey arena in Canada could satisfy demand. With eloquence an American hasn’t heard from a politician since pre-2016, Trudeau spoke of the need for a “cathartic cry”. I didn’t get it then. I get it now.

But that band.

Fay and Sinclair always locked in, as if sharing the same watch. Langlois always there….sometimes laying back, sometimes stepping forward…..but always paving the way for Baker to take flight. And in front of it all was Downie, one for the ages. A gyrating dynamo with the soul of a street poet, waving the white handkerchief as if constantly surrendering, his dance moves reminding me of a man filled with tequila trying to shoo away bugs, trying to make eye contact with every single person in the arena….and probably coming damn close. He’d fill the songs out with mumbling raps….hilarious, mind-bending, nonsensical, brilliant. His was a brain that had no off switch, even cancer could not change that. He gave us his all. Every. Single. Time.

And I missed it all while it was happening. And that makes me feel like an idiot.

But it’s a late day for regrets. So I take what I can get.

For months I’ve listened to little else but this band. “Road Apples” is a particular favorite. I consider “Bobcaygeon” one of the the greatest song of the 90s. I once sat on my front porch and drank a 6 pack of PBRs listening to nothing but “Wheat Kings” on repeat. I do not dabble in anything. When I go, I go hard.

I’m so grateful to have found this band. To all my friends I have relentlessly badgered about needing to find them too, I apologize and promise not to do it again.

Until the next time I see you and say “you gotta hear these guys….”

To all those who have known all along…..I wish I was with you for the ride.

In a bit..



Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Kevin McKnight
    August 21, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    There isn’t a day go by that I’m not in verse with a Hip song in my head. It’s like my morning coffee, my iced latte at lunch, or my beer or two, three, after dinner.
    I love my Zep, my CSN&Y, my Thin Lizzy……. But when the Hip are played, my Maple leaf is displayed, and hand goes to my heart, both out of patriotism and more out of love. I can tell you that when a song that has had meaning to me throughout the years comes on, I cry a little more, maybe even a little longer, because the Tragically Hip were my heartbeat. My love for where I lived, and pride for how nonchalant we are about showing it, are all true in each song. The Tragically Hip are a great way to understand what it is….. What it means to be Canadian. What it means to be Hip. When they say,”Dance like no one is looking”…… That’s us. That’s Gord. THATS THE TRAGICALLY HIP!!!!
    Glad your onboard. Sorry the live entertainment is gone, but the echo carries on long after the lights have gone out!!!

  2. Jimmy Partridge
    August 21, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    Better late than never. I was lucky to discover them in a bar/restaurant in Huntsville, Ontario in 1991 – Road Apples on the juke box.

    Living in Detroit I had many chances to see them and did 25+ times. Never the same show / rant from Mr. Downie. Lucky enough to see them with about 30 people in a recording studio in Detroit to 20 – 30,000 in Canada.

    Your article hits it on the head about the US missing out. This band should be in the Hall of Fame!

  3. Dave Schemer
    August 21, 2019 at 9:30 pm

    Welcome Tom, better late than to never to have discovered this treasure. I was fortunate to have been turned on to the Hip back in ’91 and saw them live 13 times including the “Live between Us” concert at Cobo Hall in Detroit, Michigan! My favorite band of all-time!! Enjoyed your article, the passion from your words resonated with me.

  4. November 4, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    I grew up and live in southern Indiana, and I’ve been vaguely aware of the Hip since the mid-90’s, but I just started listening to them a couple of months ago, and you and I are definitely in the same boat. I’ve listened to the 1-2-3 punch of “Courage”, “We’ll Go Too”, and “Wheat Kings” every day on my drive to and from work for the past two weeks. Sometimes I’ll sub one of them out for “Pigeon Camera”, but man oh man, what a fucking band.

    If you haven’t already, you should check out their performance from Woodstock ’99 on YouTube. It’s amazing. I’ve also watched their 1993 performance from Munich, Germany on YouTube 3 or 4 times over the past week. I can’t get enough.

    • November 4, 2019 at 2:34 pm

      the woodstock performance was indeed epic! I saw that video.

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