For my American friends, there are some Canadian musicians that hit the big time in the States and go on to make their nation proud. Bryan Adams, Drake, Arcade Fire just to name a few. But there are some musicians and bands that don't just make their nation proud, they help define it. None more so than The Tragically Hip, whose lead singer announced a 'goodbye tour' as he battles brain cancer. Dozens of my friends have taken to social media to post musical eulogies for The Hip, but for some reason, this below Facebook post by my friend Tim Carson, a musician and a great common Canadian, grabbed me. I don't pretend to be an expert on the band or on Canadian culture (I'm just a former permanent resident), but I do love Canada and I hurt when they do, so I'll let Tim take it away for me:
It seems to me that only The Tragically Hip could have a send off like the one they had tonight.
Not just for the capacity crowd in Kingston, but at packed viewing parties from Bona Vista to Vancouver Island.
I witnessed the spectacle amongst a couple thousand at Sorauren Park, in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto. A well sized screen and an ample sound system filled the air with what was essentially an incredibly well performed and equally well mixed and filmed farewell performance.
The band was clearly in peak form. Playing well, looking well. Necessarily dapper for such an event. Seeming not to be strained by the obvious catharsis that was shrouding the festivities.
I entered through the north side of the park, which served as the back row. It was overrun with the finest of Toronto's most elegantly aging lovelies. A forest of Peruvian style carpets, wine store goodies and cans of local craft beer. Strollers, side cuts and vintage rock tees. Wafts of good weed danced and tickled in the nostrils. Middle age parents, hipsters and curious young folk, feeling the import of being a part of something so obviously special were holding fort in the hilly back areas of the park, chatting and posing, enjoying the festivities in a passive and unremarkable way. I could faintly hear the band chugging through hits from Fully, Completely. An album full of gems. The record that transformed the bar band startup to the purveyors of Can Lit Rock.
Gord Downie is something of a magician. I've seen him perform a few times. His stage presence is animalistic. The stalking type. Musically, the band is adept. They focus intently on generating heavy grooves, in easily digested progressions, nothing sonically or harmonically challenging, sometimes just a chord or three. The idea is to create a landscape upon which Downie can blow. His melodies are slippery yet catchy. His lyrics esoteric, but easily memorable. The drunk on the park picnic table and the Bay Street executive know every word. And each watch adoringly, side by side, as Downie weaves his spell over his crowds.
At this party, as in most, the folks in the front were the most engaged, and I naturally drifted towards them.
There is often an awkward period, at many shows, when a band as monolithic as The Tragically Hip play new songs, off of a new record, as they did tonight. Many, even ardent fans haven't listened to the most recently composed tunes. It usually takes a bit of time to embrace new members of the family. Man Machine Poem is a fine piece of art and will be recognized as such in time. As with most debut performances, it was tolerated by this large gathering with reserved enthusiasm.
But now, it was time for some hits.
It didn't take any effort to slip to the front. The crowd seemed easily obliged to have this duality play out; Crazed dancing fools up at the screen, chilled observers watching from their relative comfort in the back rows.
For the next couple of hours I was in a sort of melancholic ecstasy.
Like making love to the greatest partner I could ever wish for, but knowing they would be gone in the morning. Forever.
I grew up in a small town in Ontario. My earliest memories were, as well as the usual horrors of growing up, listening to my parent's record collection, CBC radio, playing hockey and going to a tiny church. Each of which imparted an indelible smear on my consciousness. I found a fine group of ne'er-do-wells to chum with, mostly musician types, and with whom I could navigate the shaky ground of teenage years. We lived life hard and fast. Cars, girls, drugs, booze, sports, guitars, books, music, concerned and disapproving parents. We meant well and destroyed things even better.
We were the kind to push our way to the front of the crowd. Eager to make the most out of our small town lives.
All the while to a soundtrack, which always included The Hip records, as well as Downie's immaculate solo albums.
He was our poet laureate.
To a bunch of passionate Ontario boys, facing the complexities of life, endeavouring to make our own mark on the planet, this man spoke our language. Hell, he spoke our truth.
As the band seamlessly wove through favourites, My Music at Work, Lake Fever, Fiddler's Green, Poets and the timeless Bobcaygeon, I could feel my friends close to me. Dancing, smiling. Though they were spread far and wide across the great expanse of our country, they were standing next to me as though no time, space or circumstance had ever driven us apart. Rob, Tyler, Matt, Brian and Zach and the beautiful women who put up with us in those days. Some of those brave women even married some of these hooligans.
The band courageously ploughed through three encores and I looked around at a sea of strangers, dancing and singing to music and lyrics they clearly hold as religious in their hearts and minds. I could see that everyone of these folks had their own peculiar upbringing. Their own friends and cars and girls and music and books and horror stories and great triumphs. They had their own Robs and Tylers and Matts and Brians and Zachs. Some of their girls were even gracious enough to marry them.
I wasn't alone, here. In this massive city full of lonely strangers.
These songs strung us all together.
No dress rehearsal. This is our life.