This is one post in a series of fifteen. Each post will focus on one song by The Tragically Hip, a Canadian rock n’ roll band. I am a fan, not an expert. The thoughts expressed in these posts are my own, with the following two exceptions: I have drawn inspiration and knowledge from a book entitled, The Never Ending Present by Michael Barclay. I have, also, learned much from a website dedicated to Hip fans, entitled The Hip Museum. I will give credit to either source when applicable.
The Tragically Hip are the quintessential Canadian band. They shared our stories with the world in ways that didn’t pass judgment or praise false idols. Their songs are sung from coast to coast to coast. They are as iconicly Canadian as Terry Fox or hockey or lakes soundtracked by the cries of the loon. They are ours.
But, throughout their career, there has always been talk about why the Tragically Hip weren’t bigger in the U.S. and, for that matter, did that even matter when it came to defining how successful the band really was. “At The Hundredth Meridian” is a song that touches upon what it means to be a Canadian band. It has several references to the struggle of becoming an established band in this country. For example, the line, “Driving down a corduroy road” is a term often used to describe travelling on a surface that is rutted and not easy to get across without great effort and, occasional, discomfort. Every band who were their own roadies, piling instruments into a cramped van, driving from Legion halls to county fairs to small bars in the middle of nowhere, can attest to the truth behind this words. The line right off of the top, “Me, debunk an American myth and take my life in my hands” refers to the group questioning the conventional wisdom that speaks of the proper measuring stick for success for Canadian bands being commercial sales in the States. Record sales and concert gross were not, by themselves, what motivated The Hip to move forward as they did. The complexity and originality of their song lyrics across the breadth of their catalogue speaks to that.
Overall, this song is about the nature of what success meant to the band and how they defined themselves as musicians and songwriters. I always had the sense that all five guys were comfortable in their own skin and never needed external accolades as motivation for crafting the music they made. They never wanted to be pop stars.
“If I die of vanity, promise me, promise me
They bury me some place I don’t want to be
You’ll dig me up and transport me, unceremoniously,
Away from the swollen city breeze, garbage bag trees
Whispers of disease and acts of enormity
And lower me slowly and sadly and properly
Get *Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy.“
*Ry Cooder was a legendary bluesman who was never what one would call “a big star”. He stayed true to his musical roots and, in doing so, helped serve as a role-model for the type of performer the band members wanted to be. Respect. Craftsmanship. Longevity. This is what The Tragically Hip looked for in themselves and hoped that we saw, too.
The video for this song can be seen here.
Thanks, again, for visiting my blog and reading this post. Your presence here means a lot to me. If you have any questions or comments about the nature of commercial success in music, any aspect of this particular song or any experiences such as those referenced in the lines, “I remember Buffalo. I remember Hengelo” feel free to jot those down, too. It is always good to talk shop when it comes to that most Canadian of bands, The Tragically Hip.