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.