This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #335: It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken by The Tragically Hip (featuring Leslie Feist).
I was going to do this as a post that was separate from the countdown but then, again, I remembered that I am the King and this is my musical castle and I can do what I want with these posts so, for today, I intend to veer away from the list and talk about a remarkable performance that happened this past weekend at the 50th Anniversary Show for The Juno Awards (which are Canada’s version of The Grammys, for those pals of mine from the US).
The theme of The Junos this past year was to honour those who have made an impact on Canada’s music scene over the last half-century. While there are many notable musicians and bands worthy of praise, the one that seems to still rise up above them all is The Tragically Hip. It has been almost five years since Gord Downie passed away and for many of us it still doesn’t seem real. His death remains a wound that has not quite healed. The remaining members of The Hip (Johnny Fay, Gord Sinclair, Paul Langois and Rob Baker) have busied themselves with some small, side projects but, for the most part, they have kept a respectfully small profile. So, it was with some excitement that it was announced that the remaining members would reunite on stage at The Junos, supported by Canadian singer Leslie Feist, who was standing in for Gord Downie.
The song they chose to sing was one of The Hip’s more quiet songs called, “It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken”. The song was from a 2002 album called In Violet Light. Originally, the song was written as a response to the sombre atmosphere that ensued after the tragedy of 9/11. It is a song about recovery and about the importance of friendship. For that reason, it was a good choice of song for a moment in which we still grieve for Gord but acknowledge that we all need to move forward, too.
It was also no accident that the band asked someone like Leslie Feist to stand in Gord’s spot on this occasion. By her own admission, she was not there to replace Gord Downie but, instead, was there to help his friends to honour his memory. In that, she was a well-chosen representative. The story of this collaboration is one that was born several decades earlier and is filled with connections and relationships and friendships.
Let’s start with Leslie Feist. She has been a fixture on Canada’s music scene for over thirty years now. Feist’s first foray into professional music was at age 15 when she won a Battle of the Bands contest in Calgary. As a prize, she got to perform live at a festival that was being headlined by The Ramones. At this festival, she met a man named Brendan Canning who, at the time, was in a band called hHead. A decade later, Canning and Feist would play together in a Toronto-area collective called Broken Social Scene. Just prior to joining BSS, Feist toured with an Indie band called By Divine Right which, at one point in time, opened on tour for The Tragically Hip. The Hip were always known for being very good to their opening acts. They got to know Leslie Feist very well and came to respect her for her skill at songwriting and with playing the guitar.
While The Tragically Hip are regarded in Canada’s band, in practical reality, they were an Ontario band. Their studio was in Ontario. They networked with many local bands, including the many members of Broken Social Scene. Because of the inter-connectivity of the many moving pieces to the Ontario music community, it was to Broken Social Scene leader Kevin Drew that a dying Good Downie called upon for help producing his final solo albums. Drew helped shepherd Gord through the process of recording two dozen personal songs. Drew and Feist were once a couple, too. So, to review, Feist joined By Divine Right and toured with The Hip. Then Feist joined friend Brendan Canning and helped found Broken Social Scene in Toronto with Kevin Drew. Drew helped produce Gord Downie’s final solo albums as Gord was dying. Leslie Feist stands in for Gord at the 50th Anniversary Juno Show on the weekend. Sometimes, the dots connect themselves.
When you look at the video of that Juno performance, you are looking at a performance of a song about recovery from tragedy, while still in a state of grief. It is a song about friendship sung by people who know the true meaning of the word. It is Canada’s musical community coming together without a word about it having to be said. It just is. *(In the Comments section, I will post some bonus videos that relate to this post. Today seems like a good day to celebrate Canadian music and the Canadians who make it). First up, “It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken” by The Tragically Hip (featuring, Leslie Feist), as introduced by the King of Massey Hall, Gordon Lightfoot. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song “It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken” by The Tragically Hip (Featuring Leslie Feist) can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “1-2-3-4” by Leslie Feist can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Tragically Hip can be found here.
The link to the official website for Leslie Feist can be found here.
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