19- Pigeon Camera

This is one post in a series. 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.

One of the most influential books ever written in history is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. It is a book of military strategies for use by generals in times of war. Not surprisingly, over the centuries, The Art of War has, also, become a favoured resource for high-rolling business executives, as well as, politicians. The cut-throat corporate world that initiates battles for market share, marshals and organizes resources for a cause, mobilizes large numbers of people to carry out a plan of attack, all draw inspiration from The Art of War.

To win any battle during war time, any election, any race for ratings or profits, there needs to be a complete and maximized level of personal commitment. In The Art of War, one strategy used to entice full commitment from soldiers/workers is called “Burn the Boats”. The “Burn the Boats” strategy has been employed many times throughout History and, essentially, it occurs when an invading army purposely cuts off its own means of escape thus, forcing everyone involved to focus on advancing forward. One of the most famous examples of this military strategy being used was in the early 1500s, when Spanish conquistador/colonizer, Hernan Cortes invaded Mexico. His first order upon landing was to burn his fleet. This galvanized the commitment level of his soldiers who, now finding themselves stranded in a new and unfamiliar land, had no choice but to band together and move inland as a united force. They were fully committed to their cause and conquered and plundered the Aztec Empire in short order, as a result.

This brings us to Pigeon Camera by The Tragically Hip.

Pigeon Camera is not one of The Hip’s most famous songs but, it is a favourite of those who are fans of the band. The song was featured on the album, Fully, Completely and more than holds its own against such standard bearer songs as Courage, At The Hundredth Meridian, Fifty Mission Cap, The Wherewithal, Looking for a Place to Happen and, of course, Fully Completely, itself. All throughout this album, The Hip explore themes of commitment (such as what it takes to win the Stanley Cup, staying true to their artistic roots as Canadians, maintaining the highly literate level of their songwriting in the face of those fans who just want to dance and drink their beer while listening to the band), as well as, themes of the breaking down of boundaries (personal, sexual and cultural).

The song, Pigeon Camera, touches on various themes such as war and incest but, regardless of who views the song and how they view it, the over-arching idea at play is that, if boundaries are to be broken then, one has to be fully-committed for whatever follows. For those unaware, a pigeon camera was a real thing and served, at one time, as a way for armies to spy on one another. They were, in a sense, the precursor to drones. Carrier pigeons were trained to carry mounted cameras that clicked automatically at regular intervals and fly over enemy territory. They were used as recently as in the Vietnam War by the U.S. But, like anything, when you spy on an enemy or spy on your neighbours, you gain new information and are forced to deal with what you have just learned. This often causes you to change the personal dynamic of how you interact with the world around you. To start down the road to personal growth requires commitment on your part to follow wherever that journey may take you, which is kinda/sorta what this song is about.

Where’s our pigeon camera? By now, he could be anywhere. And, after all that training. And, after all that training, with something we could no longer contain.”

Gord Downie must have been thinking of Cortes and his colonization of the Aztecs during the making of this album because he mentions “They don’t know how old I am, they found armour in my belly, a sixteenth century conquistador, I think.” in Locked in the Trunk of a Car and then, he closes Pigeon Camera, with his own take on the Cortes/Art of War-inspired line, “Its like we burned our boots with no contingency plan.”

But, even if exploring sexual boundaries or spying on other nations isn’t your thing, please give Pigeon Camera a listen here. It is a gorgeous sounding song. Each note by Rob Baker is lush, like painting a picture in warm colours. It sounds like a Hip song, if such a claim can be staked. If nothing else, listening to a song that you may not have heard before could be the catalyst for personal growth and changes that, like the song says, “we can no longer contain.” It could lead to something wonderful.

Thanks, as always, for reading this post. I appreciate the past few minutes of your life that you so willingly gave to read my words. If you have any comments about this song or the themes of privacy, expanding boundaries, personal growth or the commitment it takes to be fully-actualized, please leave your words in the comment box below. Thanks to The Hip for creating such a musical gem in Pigeon Camera. It is, easily, one of my favourite Hip songs. I hope that you like it, too.

18- Long Time Running

This is one post in a series. 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.

What comes of being together with another? To share our space in this world with another takes a special kind of commitment. It isn’t for everyone. But, it is for some. At a distance, we tend to view those couples or groups with envy or admiration. We enjoy hearing their story. But, sometimes, the story we tell ourselves about others isn’t the real story. Sometimes, the real story is different. What is real and what is a facade? Sometimes, only the couple knows the truth.

Long Time Running by The Tragically Hip is, ostensibly, a song about a relationship that has run its course. There is bitterness in the lyrics. Yet, this song has been the chosen “first dance” song at many a wedding in Canada, too. It is a song that hints at divorce and infidelity but one that people admire for its commitment to longevity. There are no Hallmark moments here unless you count lyrical gems like, “We don’t go anywhere, just on trips” as being your version of romance. Long Time Running ends with a line that has sparked a variety of interpretations. “It’s well worth the wait” has been described as meaning the relief one feels when the pretending is finally over and a relationship that has gone on too long can finally be declared dead. Some prefer the line to mean the satisfaction one feels from a relationship that has stood the test of time, survived the ups and downs of life and has emerged intact. The Hip have never definitively said, one way or the other, what the line means. We are left to draw our own conclusions; each of us viewing the song through the lens of our own experiences.

One of the reasons Long Time Running is such a well-received song is because of the way the structure of the song mirrors its meaning. A song that ruminates over the validity of marrying our lives together over time should be told at a relaxed, leisurely pace. From the opening guitar notes that seem to hover in mid-air and then, slowly move forward like steps on a stairway, Long Time Running meanders its way along, unfolding its layers in a measured, deliberate way. The bluesy, country-esque nature of the music gives the song the feeling of hearing a tale told on a hot summer day, when everything and everyone moves slowly. There are no unnecessary movements on such days yet, you can feel each rivulet of sweat trickling from the nape of your neck, down your spine to the small of your back. Even when Gord belts out the closing line, he focuses on the word, well,….stretching it out as far and for as long as his voice will allow. Everything about the structure of this song is built upon a foundation of length and endurance and the shimmering heat rising from a path that heads out into the distance.

Long Time Running was popular when it was first released and had remained popular throughout the course of their career. In a way, the song came to represent how many people felt about The Hip. The Hip were a group of people who seemed well-suited for each other and were thriving over time. One of reasons for this feeling was the intensely private way all five guys went about living their lives. There were never any scandals. There were never any public spats or disagreements. The band seemed to be like the brothers that they claimed they were. They were school-aged friends who had each other’s back. Egos were parked outside. The Hip were quietly professional in all of their endeavours. Which is why, when it was announced that Gord Downie had cancer, it came as such a shock. For a band that had kept their lives so close to the vest for so many years, Gord’s announcement was not the sneak peak anyone was expecting nor, wanting.

So, when it was announced that the band would do one last tour and that a documentary movie was going to be shot during it, many people were pleased that Long Time Running was chosen as the soundtrack anthem. It seemed a very appropriate choice; being as it touched on relationships and longevity. As fans, we had enjoyed a loving relationship with The Hip for over three decades by the time 2016 rolled around. It was an emotional time for all. It felt like family. It felt like loss. It felt like a celebration of life, too. In the end, the documentary gave us a look behind the curtain, as it were, and revealed a band that were, for the most part, as we expected them to be. They proved to be a brotherhood, in the truest sense of the world. As saddened as we all were by Gord’s demise, we were filled with admiration for the strength of his courage. When the tour ended in real-time, as well as when the documentary ended, the feeling we were left with was one of, dare I say it, satisfaction. It was very re-affirming to see the love that existed between them and to note the pride each felt for having made the shared journey from childhood to adulthood on their own terms.

In my own lifetime, the only legitimate comparison I can offer for the outpouring of affection for Gord and The Hip during that final tour was how Canadians reacted when Terry Fox was forced to halt his run across our country because of cancer. It was big, big news and we all felt it. Between writing letters, creating poetry, promising to work toward Reconciliation and much, much more, people from all walks of life reacted to Gord’s passing with hearts full. So, naturally, when it was announced that Canada’s sweethearts, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, were going to dedicate a performance to Gord at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, a nation waited with bated breath.

Much like members of The Tragically Hip, Scott and Tessa had known each other since childhood. From the very earliest of their days skating together, Scott and Tessa possessed a chemistry that was noticeable to everyone who watched them perform. As the pair grew into teenagers and then, young adults, we grew with them. Their journey became our journey, too. We followed their successes through the ranks and, as a nation, we were extremely proud of them, both.

But, more than just having pride in their athletic accomplishments, we, as fans, were heavily invested in the relationship they portrayed. The smouldering looks they gave to each other. The gentle caresses. The loving embraces that, inevitably, gave way to broad smiles and hugs and her head resting on his shoulder. It was a fairy tale romance being played out before our very eyes. They were the most popular couple in Canada. Everyone was convinced that their love was a love for the ages. Wedding fever consumed us all. A Tessa and Scott engagement announcement following the Olympics was what many Canadians were expecting and/or hoping for. So, in this context, when the duo announced that they would skate to Long Time Running and that there would be a denim jacket present (Gord Downie often wore a denim jacket. It became one of his trademarks), it was almost too much to imagine. Canada’s sweethearts honouring Canada’s band and its poetic heart, Gord Downie. The video can be seen here. I will admit to crying freely while Tessa and Scott performed.

Relationships are funny things, sometimes. When The Hip revealed themselves in their documentary, we found what we had hoped to find and we were pleased. After the Olympics, when Scott and Tessa came back to Canada, they revealed a secret, too. It came to light that Scott Moir had had a girlfriend, not named Tessa, for quite some time. The relationship portrayed onscreen and on ice by Tessa and Scott was, simply that, a portrayal. It was a staged play. It wasn’t real. Our collective hearts cratered. Through no fault of her own, Scott’s girlfriend, who Tessa was intimately familiar with, instantly became the most hated woman in Canada. Since that time, she and Scott have kept a very low profile. Meanwhile, Tessa has been attempting to establish a career for herself in broadcasting. She has appeared as host on talk shows and is the product spokesperson in several advertising campaigns. But, each time we see her alone, it reinforces the feeling of heartbreak that resides within us. There is no wrong in this situation. There was no infidelity on Scott’s part. It is simply that the reality for us was not what we were expecting and we can’t help feeling somewhat disappointed.

As it turns out, what comes of being with another is unique to those involved. That was the essence of the song, Long Time Running. Sometimes it actually is well worth the wait and, sometimes, it isn’t.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you have any comments to make regarding the song, Long Time Running or the documentary or how you feel about how The Hip ended it all as a band and/or how Scott and Tessa ended up as a team and as real people, please feel free to leave them in the comment box below. As always, I appreciate the time you spent reading my words. Take care and bye for now.

17- Grace, Too.

The Tragically Hip were about to experience their big moment in the spotlight of American television. They were the musical guests on Saturday Night Live, hosted by their friend and fellow Canadian from Kingston, Ontario, Dan Ackroyd. It was a star turn, ten years in the making by that point. Yet, for the most part, it was their national debut in the United States. For a band that had always believed that they would forge their creative identity by sticking to the roots of Rock n’ Roll….“The Blues are still required”…..as it were, appearing on SNL was a pivotal moment in their career. As it turned out, it was a moment that is remembered by many who watched them that night as the time when Gord Downie appeared to muff the opening line of “Grace, Too”. Canada’s rising musical stars appeared nervous as the cameras rolled and a continent watched. But, in reality, how Gord opened “Grace, Too” was as crafted as anything he had ever done on any stage. He was the master of calculated improvisations for a reason. On this night, the reason had something to do with a birthday party for his eleven year old nephew. For Gord Downie and The Hip, family always mattered, even on that night in Manhattan.

Dan Ackroyd was one of the original members of SNL when it debuted waaaay back in the 1975. He is a cast member emeritus. Consequently, when he agreed to come back and host the show it 1994, it was with one condition…..that The Tragically Hip would be the musical guests. Traditionally, the music slot on SNL is reserved for a big name act and/or a hot new act that has a lot of momentum or cache associated with their name. The Tragically Hip checked none of those boxes. In Canada, they were coming off of the huge success of the Fully, Completely album. They were something special back home. But, with the exception of some U.S. border towns like Buffalo and Detroit, The Hip were relatively unknown in America. But, thanks to Dan Ackroyd, there they were as the musical guest on the biggest stage in Television.

There are many ways for a band to approach such a moment. They could have prepped and preened and put on the kind of rock set that they felt an American audience would accept and understand. They could have played safe hits such as “New Orleans is Sinking”, which had received moderate airplay south of the border. But, instead, they stuck to their roots and their penchant for being somewhat contrarian when it came to the U.S. and decided to debut a new song. That song was “Grace, Too“.

Grace, Too” was the opening track on their new album called, “Day for Night”. The second song they played during the show was “Nautical Disaster”, also from their new album. It was a bold, risky move to use their golden moment on the biggest stage of their careers to debut two unknown songs. But, sometimes, the biggest statement any creative person or group can make is to have confidence in their work, regardless of how well it is known. The Hip had been rehearsing “Grace, Too” for awhile and they knew they had a powerful song on their hands. So, they opted to trust their own instincts and go with the best and freshest music they had. As a band, The Hip always played their best music and gave every audience their best show. That night in Manhattan would be no different. New song or old, The Hip took the SNL stage prepared to take on America on their own terms. They trusted that they, and their new songs, would be enough.

SNL came back out of commercial. Dan Ackroyd appeared wearing a white shirt with a huge red word CANADA emblazoned across his chest. He smiled and staked our national claim to that 30 Rock stage. He introduced, with pride, his friends from Kingston, Ontario, The Tragically Hip. The audience applauded then, grew silent in anticipation of what was to come from this unknown band. The now familiar opening guitar chords of “Grace, Too” were struck, Gord approached the microphone and launched into the song. Only, he said the opening line wrong! In the video of this performance, you can see Gord shake his head afterwards, as if to say, what the heck did I just do.

The opening lyrics go, as follows: “He said, I’m fabulously rich! C’mon, just let’s go! She kinda bit her lip, Geez, I don’t know“. When Gord’s opening words were, “He said, I’m Tragically Hip” it seemed almost cringeworthy. It reeked of the opposite of confidence. To name-drop yourself is the height of self-absorption. I can remember watching this at home, being so disappointed and thinking that The Hip’s moment was over before it had even really began.

But I was wrong.

In interviews afterwards, Gord admitted to being distracted prior to the start of his performance. Gord had always been a good family man. He was very loyal to those he loved. His personal generosity and charitable nature were legendary. So, it was in 1994, as The Tragically Hip were about to be given, potentially, the biggest opportunity of their career, that Gord Downie made a promise to his nephew. His nephew was about to turn eleven years old. Gord would have been there for the party if time had allowed but, he was to be in New York instead. So, he promised his nephew a secret shout-out from the SNL stage. Among the million and one thoughts coursing through his head as he hit the stage and listened to Dan Ackroyd’s introduction, was that he had to, had to, had to remember his nephew off of the top of the song. When you watch the video, you will see Gord bring his fingers together to make an “11”. That was the shout-out. That was what he was thinking most about as he mindlessly repeated Ackroyd’s final words.

As Gord realized his error, he quickly regrouped and gave a ferocious performance. Gord is at his finest, frenetic self throughout the remainder of the song. How he fails to bang his head into the microphone in all his flailing about is amazing to me. It is a showcase performance for everything that made Gord Downie the mesmerizing front man he was. While Gord thrashed about the space in front of the mic stand, the band played on. “Grace, Too” is a song filled with powerful, growling, driving guitar chords. Rob Baker turns in a virtuoso performance on stage-right from Gord; his notes revving Gord’s vocal engine from the start to the finish. One of the hallmarks of all great bands is the level of collective skill that the band brings to bear but, also, how well the individual talent of the players serves to raise everyone’s game. On a night when Gord experienced a rare stumble out of the gate, the band picked him up and helped Gord right himself and then, rise up above it all. At the time, I thought the SNL performance was a disaster but now, looking back at it with more mature eyes, it has become, for me, the definitive live performance of “Grace, Too“.

On the Monday morning following the SNL show, I was driving to work and listening to the radio. The Toronto-area DJ was raving about how The Hip had “killed it” on Saturday Night Live and that all of Canada must be so very proud of how they did. At the time, I had tuned into the SNL show because I wanted to see a Canadian band do well in America. Many Canadians felt the same way because that was an inherent measure of the worth of any of our creative talents. We appreciated them at home but, if they made it big in the U.S. then, we would reeeeeeally love them. The fact of the matter was that The Tragically Hip sought to change the metric by which success was measured for Canadian acts. They did this all throughout their career. They did it on that night in Manhattan, too. They took to the biggest stage in America and trusted themselves, as musicians, as songwriters and as performers. The lessons embedded in this translate nicely to real life for all of us. If we want to be liked then, the best way for that to happen is to be ourselves. We need to trust that who we are is enough for others. Those who like who we really are will be the ones to become our good friends and our family. Those will be the people whose opinion matters in the end.

The video for this great song, “Grace, Too” can be found here. Remember to watch for the secret shout-out as Gord starts to speak and then, the shake of his head and the roll of his eyes as he realizes his opening error. Then watch him work. What a tremendous live performance!

As always, I thank you for reading my words. If you have any comments to make about this song, this particular performance on SNL, on what you think this song is actually about (because it has been the subject of more debate than most Hip songs) or whatever you heart desires, feel free to do so in the comments box below. If nothing else, always remember that the essence of who you are is more than good enough to be welcomed into the lives of others. You are worthy simply because you exist. That, for me, is the lesson of “Grace, Too“.

16- Little Bones.

This is the start of a second, fifteen-part series that highlights songs by the Canadian musical group, The Tragically Hip. *A simple scroll through my archives will reveal songs #s 1-15 in this series. In each post, I will focus on one song and will tell you the back story of how it came to be written, what the meaning is behind the lyrics and any other interesting tidbit that I think you might want to know. I wish to stress that I am just a fan of the band and not, in any way, an expert music journalist. The information I present will be my own thoughts, feelings and ideas with, two exceptions. I have learned lots about The Hip from two external sources; (1) The book, The Never Ending Present by author Michael Barclay (#NEP) and, 2- a website for Hip nerds like me called The Hip Museum (#HM). When I use information in a post that I obtained from either source, I will credit them accordingly. Other than that, I hope that you enjoy this post, my past Hip posts and all future Tragically Hip posts to come.

“Little Bones” is an interesting song in The Hip’s musical catalogue for several reasons. First of all, there is the story of the song’s lyrics, themselves. For that, I turn to (#NEP). “Little Bones” was part of an album called Road Apples. For those who may not be aware, the term “road apple” is uniquely Canadian and refers to frozen cow or horse dung which is, then used, as a hockey puck in pick-up hockey games. Now, I am a Canadian boy and I played my share of road hockey games in my youth and I can swear that I never played with frozen poop. But, in many rural, farming areas, where the games are played on frozen ponds or lakes, having access to cheap, disposable “pucks” is helpful and road apples are, indeed, a thing.

For many bands, the first album or two come to fruition in a burst of adrenaline and hopeful ambition. As bands tour with their early material and try to make a name for themselves in the public eye, they learn to hone their skills as individual players and then, collectively, as a unit. The Tragically Hip were no different. By the time this album came, The Hip had arrived at some important decisions; first of all, they decided that they were going to take control of the production of each album and, consequently, each song on each album. Secondly, the band members made a decision that, from our perspective seems obvious but, at the time, was a hold-your-breath moment for The Hip and that was, to let Gord Downie be the principal song writer. Up until then, Paul Langlois had written or co-written many of the early hits. But now, the poetic aura that emanated from Gord had become apparent to everyone. As Langlois stated, Gord had a way of taking the common, shared experiences of the group and then, creating universal messages out of it. He said, “Little Bones” was a prime example of how Gord worked his magic. Here is that story.

As part of the band’s decision to take control over the production of their work, the group scoured North America for a recording studio that was in sync with the mindset of the group at the time. The Hip settled on a gothic mansion in New Orleans that was being restored by Canadian producer, Daniel Lanois. At the time, Lanois was a hugely respected producer, having helped famous bands like U2 define their sound during the 80s and into the 90s. The mansion he was rehabilitating in New Orleans possessed interesting architecture and an even more interesting history….it was said to be haunted. The building was creaky and dark and had multiple floors, with rooms off of rooms that led in all manner of directions. It was an easy place to become lost. And The Hip loved it!

Anyway, in getting to know the city, the band members were all struck with the humidity and how it affected their ability to play their instruments, as well as, how much harder it was to play one of their favourite pastimes…pool! They were, also, becoming acquainted with the local cuisine and came to love Cajun dishes; especially those involving shrimp or chicken. From these everyday experiences sprang the inspiration within Gord Downie’s mind to write the lyrics that became, “Little Bones”.

It gets so sticky down here, better butter your cue finger up. It’s the start of another new year, better call the newspaper up. Two-fifty for a hi-ball and a buck and a half for a beer. Happy hour, happy hour, happy hour is here.”

Out of the minutiae of life while recording an album in The Big Easy came “Little Bones”. Sources of inspiration appeared almost effortlessly for Downie. A book he was reading at the time, Last of the Crazy People, by Canadian author, Timothy Findlay, made it into the song. *(the cat in the story was actually named, Little Bones). As did a controversial news figure at the time, Dr. Shockley, who promoted a view of creating genetically superior babies by excluding, what he considered to be, “inferior” genes from society’s gene pool.

The long days of Shockley are gone, so is football Kennedy style, famous last words taken all wrong, wind up on the very same pile. Two-fifty for a decade and a buck and a half for a year. Happy hour, happy hour happy hour is here.

In addition to how Gord parsed together the lyrics for “Little Bones”, a second aspect of note about this song is its musical construction. Many fans consider the guitar work to have “an edge” to it that was new, at the time. Well, just as Gord Downie was soaking up the atmosphere of New Orleans for source material for his new songs, the rest of the band was revelling in the musical atmosphere of being in the home of The Blues, as well as, enjoying bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, who were breaking big with their funk-driven sound. When you listen to “Little Bones” in this context, it is easy to pick up on the funky, bluesy influences that made their way into the song. Between the lyrics and the music, “Little Bones” is one of The Hips least Canadian songs but, one of their most powerful and driving of rock songs. This is what comes from being open and receptive to new ideas, people, places and cultures.

The video for “Little Bones” can be viewed here.

As always, I welcome your comments about this post, the particulars of this song, about New Orleans, Gord’s writing style, the band’s musical leanings or whatever you wish to discuss. Thanks to The Tragically Hip for their openness to experience new ways of living and learning. The fruits of your labours are a joy for us all to behold.

1- Nautical Disaster.

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.

This is my favourite Tragically Hip song. This is a song that I like for many reasons. I love the history behind the song. Like “Lake Fever”, it is actually a story within a story….a retelling of a dream…..a conversation between the narrator and Susan, who is either a lover or a therapist, take your pick. It is based, on all accounts, upon the sinking of the German battleship, Bismarck during the second world war. But, the story of the song actually begins a few decades prior, during World War One.

The most famous ship sunk during World War One was the passenger ship, Lusitania. It was sunk by a German U-Boat. U-Boats changed the way naval warfare was fought in a very significant way which influenced what happened years later when the Bismarck was sunk and which inspired my favourite Tragically Hip line of them all. You see, what initially happened in WWI when a ship was sunk was that other ships in the area would stop and rescue any survivors who had ended up in the ocean. Humane treatment of prisoners was one of the unwritten rules of battle at the time and thus, the rescuing of survivors was a time-honoured tradition. However, with the advent of U-Boats, that tradition became deadly. What changed was that once a U-Boat sunk a ship, it would wait where it was until another ship in the convey stopped to rescue survivors. Then, as the rescue was being completed, the U-Boat would sink the rescuing ship, as it was sitting “dead in the water” as the term has come to be known. Such was the alarming rate of ship loss that the Royal Navy passed a new rule: no ship was to stop for survivors any longer. If they did, their safety could not be guaranteed. 

Leaving fellow sailors to die in the ocean went against the moral code of seamen on both sides of the conflict. But, that was modern warfare in those days so, survivors were left in the water as ships sailed away to safety.

Fast forward, I once saw a documentary about the discovery of the wreck of the Bismarck. It was a National Geographic documentary featuring Dr. Robert Ballard (who discovered the wreck of the Titanic). In this documentary, Ballard set sail, along with a British sailor who had been in the battle that sank the Bismarck, as well as, a German sailor who, despite all odds, managed to find rescue. After the wreck was discovered, the two men, along with Dr. Ballard, held a peace ceremony and dropped flowers in the water. The sailors were interviewed about their memories and both said that they were haunted by the screams of the men left to die in the water. It was stated that some British ships left rope ladders down as they sailed past so that some men might be able to latch on as the ship sailed past. This is how the German was rescued.
When Gord Downie was interviewed about this song, he mentioned having watched “a documentary”. I know he saw the same one I did because the lyrics match the eye-witness testimony so precisely for it to be a fluke.

Anyway, Nautical Disaster is a song about the callousness and inhumanity of war and what war makes us all capable of doing to our fellow human beings. Yet, it remains one of the most popular and requested Tragically Hip songs of all time.

Then the dream ends when the phone rings
You’re doing alright he said, it’s out there, most days and nights,
But only a fool would complain.
Anyway, Susan, if you like
Our conversation is as faint as a sound in my memory
As those fingernails…scratching on my hull.”

The video for “Nautical Disaster” can be seen here.

I hope that you enjoyed this post and, if you have checked out all fifteen then, I hope you enjoyed the whole series. If you like what I did with these posts, let me know and, perhaps, I will be able to do something like this again with other Tragically Hip songs and stories. For now, I will thank you for being here and reading my work. But, most of all, I will thank Gord Downie, Gord Sinclair, Paul Langlois, Johnny Fay and Rob Baker for making such good art. I am changed for the better because of your efforts and your personal and professional integrity. This series of fifteen posts doesn’t begin to say Thank You in the depth required but, it is a start. Thanks, Boys! I appreciate it all!

2- New Orleans is Sinking

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.

While not the first song to get the band airplay, “New Orleans is Sinking” is widely regarded as The Hip’s first big hit. Lost in the warm glow of nostalgia, many people, today, think that this song is about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that storm caused the city of New Orleans and the surrounding towns. It is not about Hurricane Katrina.

What “New Orleans is Sinking” is all about was a thematic undertone of much of their early work and that is, the band declaring their intention to not play the Pop Music game but, instead, to stay as authentic to the roots of their craft as possible. The first clue to this is the fact that the sing is set in New Orleans which is part of a geographic area hailed as the birthplace of The Blues. The Tragically Hip always felt that The Blues were an integral part of the music that wanted to produce. The sweat, the craftsmanship, the heart-and-soul nature of the lyrics and notes that swell up from the depths of the totality of one’s experiences, were all a source of inspiration and attraction for the band.

Secondly, The Hip spent part of their own song talking about what they see as what ails the Music industry. “Colonel Tom, what’s wrong? What’s going on? Can’t tie yourself up for a deal.” Colonel Tom refers to Colonel Tom Parker, the man who managed the career of Elvis Aaron Presley. Many people say that Elvis rose to fame on the backs of the Bluesmen and women who came before him and who, in his wake, never fully received their due. The Hip didn’t regard Elvis as being an authentic Bluesman and they didn’t want to chart the same path as he did. In the same verse, The Hip have Colonel Tom respond to their criticism, “Hey North! You’re South! Shut your big mouth! You’ve gotta do what you feel is real.” The Tragically Hip kept it real, including having as much say as possible about the production process of their records. After recording this album, The Hip purchased a farm in Bath, Ontario, which became known as Bathouse Studios. They recorded much of the rest of their musical catalogue there, under their own roof, on their own terms, working with people they respected and, as always, The Blues were still required.

This would be me, standing at the foot of the driveway at Bathouse Studios in Bath, Ontario, this past summer. I was fanboy enough to stand were I stood but, not fanboy enough to knock on their door. But, never-the-less, that is where much of The Tragically Hip’s magic happened. The search for that magic was on-going at the time that “New Orleans is Sinking” was written but, it is clear from the lyrics that The Hip knew where they were going. They were going home. This is where they went. This is home.

The video for “New Orleans is Sinking” can be enjoyed here.

Thanks for coming along on our musical journey this day. I hope your enjoyed this post. If you have any comments about The Blues, Elvis, this song, New Orleans or Bathouse Studios, please feel free to drop me a line in the comment box below. Thanks, as always, to The Tragically Hip for having the confidence to, among other things, make God a woman.

3- Springtime In Vienna

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.

I love a good line. The Tragically Hip are known for their imaginative, poetic, intelligent use of words in their songs. It is one of the qualities of the band that endears them to me. Sometimes, it is the language, itself, that catches my eye…..such as, “A bum’s eye for clothes”. Sometimes, it is an ordinary line that Gord’s voice makes extraordinary…such as, “I want to help you lift enormous things.” from At Transformation. Sometimes, the line they come up with is interesting because of the language used and then, how that language reflects a broader truth that the band is aiming for. For me, that is the case with Springtime in Vienna. The line that I love is simply, “We live to survive our paradoxes.”

“Springtime in Vienna” explores the nature of paradoxes and, in particular, the contradictions inherent in any act of creativity. True creativity is the ultimate in freedom of expression. However, for a band who understood the business implications of their creative decisions, lines like “Instructions from the manual could have been much more plain. The Blues are still required. The Blues are still required again.” offer insight into the artistic compromises that must occur. Creativity is freedom but, there must be rules. As soon as there are rules, then freedom is no longer pure. The band accepted that it lived a paradoxical life thus, “We live to survive our paradoxes.” They would be creative, on their terms but, within reason it seems.

(#HM) The origin of this song occurred one evening in New Orleans, when the band witnessed a lovers quarrel. Paul Langlois is credited with saying that the quarrel made him feel it was Springtime in Vienna. This is a reference to when the evil that was the Nazis invaded the beauty of Vienna, flush with the awakening of springtime. That Hate can emerge in the amid Love, as in the lovers quarrel or, Evil can temporarily push aside Beauty, as in Vienna during World War II, caused Gord to think of the very creative paradoxes that the band faced early in their career, as they sought to define the uniqueness of their voice in an industry that demanded conformity and predictability.

For me, I appreciate the choice of the word, paradox, for this song because it is a rich, literate word that gives a sense of the intelligent discourse the band wished to have with its fans. But, juxtaposed to this was the realization that for many fans, screaming the word, paradoxes, from the cheap seats was really just an exhilarating, cathartic experience. Let’s be honest, the word sounds cool to shout out. The dichotomy of expression; from band to fan and from fan, back to band, is at the heart of The Hip’s creative paradox. That they kept producing such excellent work for over thirty years is, to me, evidence that they have, indeed, learned to survive their own paradox…and, quite nicely, at that.

The video for “Springtime in Vienna” can be found here.

Thanks, once again, for stopping by to read my words. I appreciate it very much. If you have any comments to add about this song, about paradoxes in your own life, about screaming words out in public or anything else that may tickle your fancy, please feel free to do so in the comment box below. Thanks to The Tragically Hip for the integrity of their creative expression. It is most appreciated..