7- Fifty Mission Cap

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.

When most people evaluate the legacy created by The Tragically Hip, one of the most common responses is that the band celebrated Canadian stories. That assessment is undeniable. When you go through The Hip’s musical catalogue, it is filled with references to noteworthy Canadians such as Tom Thomson, David Milgaard, Hugh McLennan, Bobby Orr and, in “Fifty Mission Cap”, Toronto Maple Leaf hockey player, Bill Barilko. The other thing that stands out about The Tragically Hip is that they loved a good story. So, when a noteworthy Canadian was the subject of a good story in his/her real life, that subject matter was mined for gold. In Barilko’s case, his story became the hit song known as “Fifty Mission Cap”.

I really like this song for many reasons. First of all, the song is about hockey and, despite my love for Keri, I still love hockey. Secondly, the song is about the Toronto Maple Leafs and I still love the Leafs, even though it is been over fifty years since they won The Cup, as the song points out. But, mostly, I love this song because of a writing technique the band employs that helps to replicate the setting of the song within the lyrics of the song. Let me explain.
If you have ever found yourself somewhere where a group (of guys, probably) are talking hockey, the structure of their conversation is often the same no matter where you go. There is usually one guy with a bigger voice than the others who tends to use it to dominate the conversation with his stories and/or opinions. Then, his friends will interject their smaller thoughts when the dominant talker takes a breath. If you listen to “Fifty Mission Cap” and, specifically, to the interplay between Gord Downie (as the big voice in the room) and Paul Langlois (as the little friend who is trying to get a word in edge-wise) you will see that they have replicated the boys-in-the-bar style of talking hockey, perfectly. So, for me, it is not always the words that The Hip uses in their songs that does it for me, it is, also, the way the lyrics are structured. In this case, a hockey tale is told for all to hear, as if the boys were in a basement rec. room watching the game on TV.

*In this verse of the song, Gord sings the main words and Paul whispers the words in parenthesis.

“Bill Barilko disappeared that summer (in nineteen fifty-one)
He was on a fishing trip (in a plane)
The last goal he ever scored (in overtime)
Won the Leafs the Cup.
They didn’t win another ’til nineteen sixty-two
The year he was discovered.”

The video for “Fifty Mission Cap” can be viewed right here.

***A tiny bit of Tragically Hip trivia courtesy of (#NEP): Bill Barilko was a defence man who played for the Leafs. After scoring the overtime, Cup-winning goal, Barilko flew in a plane to go on a fishing trip. The plane crashed and was not found for almost a decade. Flash forward, when the band travelled up to Attawapiskat for that benefit concert, they flew over the exact location where Bill Barilko’s plane had crashed. Do with that bit of trivia what you will. 🙂

As always, your comments are welcome on all matters, whether they are hockey-related or not. Thanks to the band for telling such good stories about the people and institutions that make Canada the terrific country is it.

8- Courage (for Hugh McLennan).

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 have been to a few Hip shows in person. Whenever “Courage” starts up, the crowd always goes wild and there is lots of singing along and dancing in the aisles to accompany the song’s lyrics. However, this song is one of those examples of audiences not really understanding what the song is all about and, not really caring, anyway.

(#HM) Hugh MacLennan was one of the most respected authors that Canada has ever produced. He is best known for his books, Two Solitudes and Barometer Rising. Initially, his desire to write stories about Canada was mocked and ridiculed as being overly provincial. Who would ever want to hear stories about this place? Well, evidently, many people did and, as a result, MacLennan is rightfully credited as being one of the authors who helped to establish our literary culture in Canada. But, like many writers, MacLennan suffered through periods of self-doubt and depression. He wondered if his life’s work had any meaning. It was only later on in his life that he began to appreciate what, in fact, he had managed to accomplish.
The Tragically Hip were much the same as MacLennan. They believed in the stories our country had to share and set out to give meaning to them through song. But, being a rock n’ roll group, at their core, The Hip, often found themselves lost in a whirlwind of hotel rooms, hockey arenas, beer-swilling fans all singing and dancing but, not necessarily, appreciating the nuances of the lyrics the band worked so hard to create. So, “Courage” is really a song about finding meaning for yourself and your life’s work, amid the cries of those who take you for granted. It is a salute to a kindred spirit whose books influenced the band tremendously but, in all likelihood, have never read by most of their fans. And, like MacLennan, himself, The Tragically Hip can, at this late stage of their being, look back upon their career with a fair bit of satisfaction for what they have accomplished, too.

“There’s no simple explanation
For anything important any of us do.
And yeah, the human tragedy
Consists in the necessity
Of living with the consequences
Under pressure, under pressure
Courage, my word, it didn’t come, it didn’t matter.”
 

*This verse is taken, almost verbatim, from The Watch That Ends The Night by Hugh MacLennan.

The video for “Courage (for Hugh McLennan)” can be found here.

Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog and read this post. If you have anything to say, of literary merit or otherwise, please feel free to do so in the comments box below. Thanks to everyone in The Tragically Hip, for having the courage of a Hugh McLennan, and writing songs that have helped shape the culture of our country.

9- Trick Rider

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 a bit of a cheat on my part because “Trick Rider” is not a Tragically Hip song. It came about as a result of a solo project by Gord Downie and was featured on an album called Coke Machine Glow. “Trick Rider” is a beautiful song that, for my money, is one of the best songs ever written about the emotion parents feel watching their children grow up. As mentioned in a previous post, Downie had entered a stage of his life where family became more important than ever and making a difference in the real world became his calling card as a performer. This song is quiet and slow and is what I would have wanted to write for my girls if I had even half of his writing chops.

Being a parent changes everything.

“I’ll be your friend, your last refuge
When things get weird and weird breaks huge
I’ll stroke your hair, I’ll dry your cheeks
When failures come and no one speaks.”

The video for this beautiful song can be found here.

For this album, Gord played with a backing band called The Country of Miracles. It is Julie Dorion’s lovely harmonies that you can hear in the background of this song as it plays. I think it is important to state that Gord Downie, like all of us, lived a multi-faceted life. He loved his family. He pursued his poetry. He immersed himself in Indigenous culture. He had friends beyond those four other guys in The Hip. These “other friends” were important to Downie’s sense of self, as well as, his creative impulses. It is a credit to everyone in The Hip that solo projects and collaborations with other musicians were welcomed as necessary for the self-actualization of all involved. Some fans worried that the fact that Gord was playing with a new band meant that his old band was being replaced. But, as “Trick Rider” shows so well, there is beauty and wonder all around us. The important thing is being open to joy that springs from new sources. We are all richer when we embrace the tapestry that is Life.

As always, I thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to read this post. Your comments regarding “Trick Rider”, Gord’s solo projects, the adventure that is parenting or your thoughts on collaboration, creativity and where we draw our inspiration from, are all welcome in the comment box below.

Thanks, Gord, for creating such a wonderful song. Fatherhood is awesome! 🙂

10- Lake Fever

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 Hip are famous for writing songs that contain stories within stories. “Lake Fever” is a song about two people about to share a passionate moment, coupled with a historical story about cholera outbreaks that happened along Lake Ontario hundreds of years ago when ships from across the world brought diseases into the harbours of new, growing settlements that had yet to adequately deal with the issue of sewage disposal and the importance of keeping water clean. Sweaty, feverish topics, both, no?

Life and death, love and sex. A song that begins quietly; often just with Gord and an acoustic guitar at centre stage. But, one that builds, layer upon layer of beautiful harmonies, until it reaches a soaring crescendo and then, ends restfully, spent-like, talking in whispers again. “Lake Fever” juxtaposes death with a joyous act of passion in an all-or-nothing wager. Gord sings hard on lots of songs, as he does on this song but, his voice would not be enough for a story as old as time. The soft harmonies on vocals by Paul Langlois and Julie Dorion counter-balance the earnestness of Gord’s voice and give the song a fullness and a richness that young love and old death deserves.

In the end, “Lake Fever” is a celebration of lives lived in the most meaningful way. As for the history depicted in this song, (#HM) Gord Downie once famously said the following at a concert in Toronto, “I know you don’t want to hear it but, in 1832, there was a cholera epidemic up and down the Lake. Many people died where you stand tonight. And now, here’s a song about two young people who don’t give a shit!”

I’ll tell you a story about the Lake fever or
We can skip to the coital fury
You didn’t say, yes or no, neither,
You whispered, Hurry.”

The video for “Lake Fever” is here.

As always, thank you for visiting my blog and for taking the time to read this post. I hope you enjoyed peeking behind the curtain of such a terrific song. I appreciate all comments so feel free to discuss how you liked the song, the history it portrays or, even, the passion of the young lovers, if you wish. Thanks, as well, to The Tragically Hip for writing such a great song in the first place.

11- Fireworks

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.

Prior to meeting my wife, I lived and breathed sports. I participated in many sports betting pools. I organized my weekends around the tv schedules for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Blue Jays and around the NFL games on Sunday. I knew all the players and all of their stats. It was all so very important to me at the time.

Then, along came Keri. Keri is the girl in the first verse of this song. She did not give a fuck about hockey. She ended up taking my hand and loosening my grip on Bobby Orr, as it were. But, by becoming a part of my life, she changed it for the better. I wouldn’t want to go back to the life I had where players and their teams filled my world with meaning. I believe myself when I say it, too. My life is good. I wouldn’t change a thing. 

“If there’s a goal that everyone remembers,
It was back in ol’ 72.
We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger
But all I remember is sitting beside you.

You said you didn’t give a fuck about hockey!
And I never saw someone say that before.
You held my hand and we walked home the long way.
You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr.”

The video for “Fireworks” can be found here.

As always, feel free to comment on any aspect of this song or about hockey or about Love or about anything you wish. I am happy that you stopped by to visit my blog, to read this post and to learn a little bit more about me and my life. Thanks for listening to the song, “Fireworks” by the Tragically Hip, too. 🙂

12- In A World Possessed By The Human Mind.

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.

Many people, fans and non-fans alike, are familiar with the fact that Gord Downie died of brain cancer. What few people know is that his very public struggle with the disease was, in fact, not his first experience with cancer. (#NEP) A few years earlier, Gord’s wife, Laura, contracted breast cancer. She went through all of the treatments and tests and, for awhile, Gord stopped writing and focussed on being a husband and father first. Luckily, thanks to the many advances that have been made in the treatment of cancer, Laura, survived.

When you first learn that a loved one may die, it changes your heart. For Gord, that change manifested itself in a change in the tone of the songs he wrote. He claimed that he didn’t want to write representational songs any longer. He wanted his songs to be more realistic and attuned to the world around him. 

“In A World Possessed By The Human Mind” is about being scared to your core about losing someone you love. It describes the haze one experiences during the testing phase when doctors offer their prognosis and everything spins in your mind. Mostly, this song is about Love.

“Everything is quiet.
A little Super-Dangerous.
Quiet enough to hear God rustling around in the bushes.
Oh, but it was you.
Girl, I was so afraid.
You said, “You shoulda seen the look on yer face.”

The video for this song is a true cinematic affair, as it were. It is lovely and can be found here.

As always, I welcome your comments on the contents of this post. Feel free to discuss any aspect of this song; its’ lyrics or musicianship, if you like. Also, if you feel brave, you may wish to tell your own stories about cancer and/or loss, of Love given or received or whatever your own heart may desire. Thanks for visiting my blog and reading this post and listening to “In A World Possessed By The Human Mind” by The Tragically Hip.

13- Poets

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 remember all the hoopla surrounding Y2K very well. For those who don’t, there was genuine concern all around the world that when the clocks ticked away those last few seconds of 1999, computers around the world were going to crash and all of the things that we use computers for were going to shut down. People stocked up on food and water, they took cash out of their bank accounts, they filled up on gasoline, too. The fear of the unknown was a very real thing for many people.

What I remember most about that night was that there was a world-wide concert being televised. This concert featured performers from every part of the planet. Canada was being represented by The Tragically Hip, who were performing live from Maple Leaf Gardens, I believe. I tuned in expecting them to play their hit song, “New Orleans is Sinking”, for a world wide audience but, instead, they played a song that I hadn’t heard of, up until then, called “Poets”. Initially, I was disappointed with their choice. But, over time, “Poets” has become one of my favourite songs.

One of the reasons that Gord was Gord and I was not, was because he saw the bigger picture better than me. He knew that, in times of darkness and doubt, it is the poets and artists and singers and playwrights that we can all depend upon to guide us into the light. He wasn’t wrong. We all survived Y2K. I did so by hearing “Poets” for the first time.

“Don’t tell me what the Poets are saying.
Don’t tell me that they’re talking tough.
Don’t tell me that they’re anti-social.
Sometimes, not anti-social enough.
Alright!”

*I could not find a video of that performance but, watching Poets performed live is a treat, no matter when it happens. So, enjoy Gord at his improvisational best at Barrie, Ontario. The link to this video is here.

As always, your comments on this post are most welcome. Feel free to comment specifically about this song, its’ lyrics, the musicianship or else, comment about your experiences during Y2K or about the importance of The Arts as a means of providing guidance and direction to us all in Life. Comment about anything you wish, actually. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I hope you enjoyed listening to “Poets” by my Boys, The Tragically Hip.