KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #100: Ahead By A Century by The Tragically Hip.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, 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, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #100: Ahead By A Century by The Tragically Hip.

As I type these words to you today, we are having a major snow storm roll through my area. All schools have been cancelled which means that for the children in my town, today has been declared as a “Snow Day”. I can remember the joy that I felt, as a child, whenever we would have a “Snow Day”. It meant freedom! It meant fun! It meant a complete break from the regular humdrum of everyday life. It was a glorious feeling. So, as I type these words to you this morning, I do so knowing that my own children lay asleep in their warm beds; blissfully unaware of the joy that awaits when they awaken. It isn’t quite same as Christmas morning but, it is close. Childhood should be a time of magical moments such as these. Yet, far too often we ask our children to bear the burden of adult decisions. Each time we do, we borrow from their bank of childhood innocence, robbing them of treasure that is rightfully theirs. But, on a day like today, we get to give our children a little of their precious childhood back.

We are 400 songs in on our countdown of the best songs of all-time and I can’t help but think that today’s song…..Song #100 on the list…is the perfect song for today. “Ahead By A Century” by The Tragically Hip, is a song whose premise is built upon the notion that there is beauty and magic and wonder in the innocent exploration of our world by children. By the time, “Ahead By A Century” came to be recorded and released, The Tragically Hip were on to their fifth studio album already. It was an album called, “Trouble At The Henhouse”. By this time, many of the members of the band (singer, Gord Downie, guitarists, Rob Baker, Paul Langlois and Gord Sinclair, along with drummer, Johnny Fay) were becoming fathers themselves and were well-versed in the worlds that very young children inhabit. So, who better to tell that tale than a man whose poetic version of Life became the lens through which so many of us, as Canadians, came to view life, too? Gord Downie was a story teller of unparalleled grace. He could make demands of our intelligence with his lyrics but, he could, also, touch our hearts, seemingly at will. And so it was when he came to write the lyrics for “Ahead By A Century”. This is a song that, for my money, has one of the best opening verses ever written. It is a masterclass in the #1 rule of story writing, which is: “Show. Don’t tell”. This is Gord’s take on childhood:

First thing we’d climb a tree

And maybe then we’d talk

or sit silently

and listen to our thoughts.

With illusions of someday

Cast in a golden light.

No dress re-hears-al

This is our life“.

“Ahead By A Century” went on to be The Tragically Hip’s first #1 song in Canada and it became a staple of all of their live shows. It is a song that is easy to love and to feel thus, it was, also, the most appropriate choice as the final song that The Tragically Hip ever sang together live.

In 2015, a news conference was called to announce that lead singer, Gord Downie, had developed a rare form of brain cancer and that, worst of all, his cancer was not curable. He was given less than a year to live…..if he was lucky. If we were lucky. In a Herculean feat for the ages, Gord Downie willed himself to go out with the band for one last, small tour of our country. It was a tour to say, “Thank you” to everyone who had been involved in the journey of the five guys from Kingston, Ontario. This tour involved all of us, as Canadians and united the country in a manner not seen since Terry Fox tried running across this great land using only one good leg. In Canada, our heroes rarely come Hollywood Handsome. In Gord, we had a man with a balding head and a sock, for warmth, wrapped around his neck. For this tour, he often wore a t-shirt with the shark from the movie, “Jaws” pictured on it, along with silver pants. He was quite a sight but we couldn’t have loved him more.

Before Gord could even think about touring, he had to re-teach himself his own songs, as brain surgery had impacted his memory. He, also, had to submit to a battery of fitness and other health-related tests each day in order to keep the liability lawyers and insurance agents at bay; each of whom was worried that our national hero might collapse from the strain of performing and actually die on stage in front of us all. His bandmates each told him that they would put down their instruments and walk off the stage at a moment’s notice….all he had to do was give them the word that he had had enough and couldn’t go on anymore. But, Gord kept on. He kept on all the way through ten shows in ten cities; culminating in one final concert in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario.

At this point, the mythic nature of what Gord had accomplished gave way to the personal. That final show was televised commercial-free by our national television broadcaster, the CBC. It was a Saturday night as Canadians gathered in arenas, in local parks, in basements and backyards….not to watch Hockey Night in Canada but, to watch Gord….one….last….time. We watched in groups that varied in size but, in reality, we watched alone; savouring each and every song that The Hip played….counting them down, marking them off our mental set-list until it came time for the final song which was, “Ahead By A Century”. A song written about the magic of childhood innocence became a song transformed into an anthem of gratitude and a new national hymn. To the crowd that assembled in that hockey rink in Kingston, Gord waved and made eye contact with as many as he could. The boys in the band played on. Then it ended. The boys embraced each other. Gord kissed them all. The crowd cheered and cried. I cheered and cried. Then we all went home.

Gord Downie died not too long after that night in 2016. In life, as in death, Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip always meant more to Canadians than simply being a rock n’ roll band. Whether it was their songs or their musicianship or the seemingly ordinary way their lived their lives as scandal-free, family men who gave back to their fellow musicians as easily as they gave back to us, as fans, The Tragically Hip were special. We knew that because we felt that. Our lives are meant to be lived as joyfully and as artfully as possible. Gord’s final tour was an example of what each of us are capable of. It was self-actualization on display for all to see. It was said by those who loved and admired him that he now walks among the stars. I believe that to be true.

I will play a number of videos below. The first will be the official video for “Ahead By A Century”. The second video will be one that I have shown before, on my own social media pages. It is the one that MacLean’s Magazine put together that showed people from all across Canada watching Gord and the boys play that final song. I will, also, play two videos that show how “Ahead By A Century” lives on after Gord’s death. The first is a TikTok video created by guitarist Rob Baker of The Hip in which he plays the chords to the opening verse of “Ahead By A Century” and invites viewers to submit videos of themselves singing the lyrics. It is wonderful. The joy is very real in all submissions. Finally, regular readers of these posts may be familiar with a man who makes these posts better with his insightful comments, Mr. Ian Jack. In 2016, Ian was teaching at a school not too far from here. He, along with some of his colleagues at the school, managed to record his entire school singing “Ahead By A Century” in tribute to Gord and the band and in recognition of how their music had touched all of our lives. That video went viral and became, what Ian describes as, “one of the highlights” of his life. I will play that video, too, with his kind permission.

As I end this post, I can hear some of the neighbourhood children beginning to head outside into the blizzard to play in the snow that is still falling in copious amounts. I can hear the sound of squeals and of laughter. That sounds like music to my ears. I will wake my own sleeping children in a few moments, too. I am looking forward to witnessing the happiness on their faces at the turn their world has taken for this day. Childhood should be filled with more feelings like that, don’t ya think? It’s a “Snow Day”! It’s, also, Tragically Hip day in the countdown.

Here they are, with a cast of thousands to follow, with their #1 hit song, and the final song they ever played, “Ahead By A Century”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Ahead By A Century” by The Tragically Hip, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Tragically Hip, can be found here.

The link to the video by MacLean’s Magazine, showing Canadians watching Gord Downie sing “Ahead By A Century” one…last…time, their final concert in Kingston, Ontario, can be seen here. ***Be forewarned……I have watched this video countless times and I always, always am moved to tears.

The link to the video that shows guitarist Rob Baker’s TikTok tribute to “Ahead By A Century”, can be found here.

The link to the video for “Ahead By A Century”, as covered by the staff and students of Newcastle Public School, under the musical direction of Mr. Ian Jack, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Song in Modern Music History…Honourable Mention Song #13: Fifty Mission Cap by The Tragically Hip.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, 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, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Honourable Mention Song #13: Fifty Mission Cap by The Tragically Hip.

In our previous Honourable mention Song post about the song, “Egg Man” by The Beastie Boys *(which you can read here), I introduced you all to one of my wife’s best friends, Jackie Pepper. Well today, you are going to meet the third member of their “ladies who lunch” trifecta and that is a woman named Siobhan Percolides. My wife met Siobhan and Jackie when our children were toddlers. All three ladies enjoyed each other’s company and have been able to be there for each other as their children have grown up (all three families have two children each). As well, all three women are married and, as couples, we have been able to share some enjoyable evenings of good food and good conversation together that, in these pandemic times, allow us all to feel as though we still have a bit of a social life outside of our homes. But, for the sake of this post, the third thing that Jackie and Siobhan share in common is that they both have a similar taste in music to me, rather than to my wife…..which amuses me. Siobhan, in particular, shares with me a love of the Canadian band, The Tragically Hip. We have both seen The Tragically Hip live several times and still enjoy listening to their music, even though they stopped releasing new material in 2016, with the death from cancer, of lead singer and songwriter, Gord Downie. So, when I put out the call for Honourable Mention songs, it didn’t surprise me at all that Siobhan came back with a Tragically Hip nomination which was, “Fifty Mission Cap”. Here is the story of a song which, in itself, tells a story that is as Canadian as could possibly be. Here is “Fifty Mission Cap” by The Tragically Hip.

When most people evaluate the legacy created by The Tragically Hip, one of the most common responses about the band is that they known for celebrating 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, also, 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. *(For those unaware, my wife is not a sports fan. Prior to meeting her, I was a hardcore fan who watched every game, kept track of player point totals, participated in sports pools and so on. Then, I met Keri and all of that changed. *You can read about how I knew Keri was the one, here. It is a sports-related post with a sweet twist).

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 use 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. In doing so, they begin to tell the story of Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman, Bill Barilko, who scored the winning goal in 1952 that helped my Leafs to win the Stanley Cup as champions of the league. That very summer, he was killed in a plane crash. His body wasn’t found for almost a decade.

“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.”

***A tiny bit of Tragically Hip trivia: Bill Barilko’s plane crashed in a deeply wooded area in the northern reaches of Canada. He was headed for a fishing lodge which was known as a fly-in lodge, accessible only via an airplane. Flash forward thirty years, when the band travelled up to Attawapiskat for a benefit concert, *(which you can read about here), they flew over the exact location where Bill Barilko’s plane had crashed. Do with that bit of trivia what you will. 🙂

Gord Downie adds an extra layer of Canadianna to “Fifty Mission Cap”, when he informs us that he “stole” the story of Bill Barilko from a hockey card that he kept tucked away in a cap. Collecting hockey cards was a huge part of my childhood. I spent every quarter I ever got for my weekly allowance (for doing chores around the house) at the convenience store at the end of my street buying Opee-Chee hockey card packs. They went for ten cents a pack and always came with eight hockey cards and one stick of rock hard pink bubble gum. The smell and feel of those freshly opened hockey cards is one of the things that most defines my childhood. And while I never had a Bill Barilko card, like the one shown to the right, I did have lots of other memorable cards, such as Wayne Gretzky’s Rookie Card, which is now worth several thousand dollars but, to me at the time, it was just another card to trade and play with and, eventually, to lose like it was no big deal. In fact, the story linked above about my wife and hockey is about a hockey card. It is one of my favourite stories of all time. Well worth checking out, if you haven’t read it already.

In closing, I am always grateful to live in a country like Canada. I live a safe and peaceful life here. I am safe and free to roam around without restriction or limitation. I, also, live in a country with a tremendous history of Art and Culture that takes many forms. One of the forms I like the best…..and Siobhan, too……is listening to storytellers like Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip. So, Siobhan, I thank you for nominating “Fifty Mission Cap” as your Honourable Mention Song. It fills me with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, on multiple levels. I, also, want to thank you for all of the stories shared and comments made all throughout this musical countdown journey of ours. Your input was gratefully appreciated and helped make things way more interesting for me as this process unfolded.

So, without further delay, here is the classic Canadian song, “Fifty Mission Cap” by Canada’s own, The Tragically Hip. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Fifty Mission Cap” by The Tragically Hip, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Tragically Hip, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #222: Beds Are Burning/The Dead Heart by Midnight Oil.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, 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, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #222: Beds Are Burning/The Dead Heart by Midnight Oil.

In 1873, a surveyor named William Gosse was in the Northern Outback of Australia. He happened upon a giant, monolithic rock formation. He christened his “discovery” as “Ayer’s Rock”, in honour of the, then Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. Unbeknownst to Gosse, the large sandstone formation that is one of Australia’s most recognizable geological features, already had a name. It was called Uluru. It had been called that for thousands of years, from the time of Creation, by the aboriginal population who inhabited the region…the Anangu. But, as we know from countless examples of other indigenous populations that were colonized by stronger armed white colonizers, no one cared much about who these “savages” were, what their traditions and culture were or what the names they had ascribed to places of great value and importance to them. All that mattered was that they get out of the way of expansion. So, as telecommunications were starting to improve and we were all getting to know more about other countries, that rock in the northern outback of Australia was presented to the world as Ayer’s Rock. And so it was for over a century.

In terms of the journey toward reconciliation between white colonizers and the Indigenous Peoples who bore the brunt of colonization efforts, Australia is further down the road than is my country of Canada. In the mid 1980s, public sentiment manifested itself into political will. That political will turned out to take the form of a public apology from the government of the day to all Indigenous Peoples for harm done to them as a result of colonization. Furthermore, some of the traditional territories of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia were being returned to them, in a full, political autonomous sense. In other instances, the land was returned in more of a shared-custody arrangement in which the Indigenous Peoples would share in the decision-making that went on in a given region and, more importantly, that Indigenous terms would be used to name places of importance. One such shared-custody arrangement involved Ayer’s Rock which was to be jointly known as “Ayer’s Rock/Uluru”. In preparation for the signing back of “Ayer’s Rock” into Indigenous care, a contest was held to find an original song to capture the spirit of the occasion. Out of all of the Australian bands who submitted entries, the winning song turned out to be, “The Dead Heart” by Midnight Oil.

As a result of winning this contest, Midnight Oil was invited to participate in a concert tour of small Indigenous communities that were scattered throughout the Outback. Midnight Oil were always a very politically-minded band so, as they toured these small communities, they were struck by the desperate state in which many Indigenous Peoples were living. They recognized the depth of the devastation wreaked by colonization, they realized how much would be needed to rectify the situation and, as well, they could see, quite clearly, how little was actually being done to help by the government. From this tour came the inspiration for an album called, “Diesel and Dust”. From this album came a song that helped to shine an International spotlight on the plight of Indigenous Peoples in Australia. That song was, “Beds Are Burning”.

“Beds Are Burning” is a song all about making reparations to the Indigenous Peoples of Australia and, specifically, it is about returning land that traditionally belonged to Indigenous Nations. For many people around the world, “Beds Are Burning” was our introduction to Midnight Oil. What we saw when we watched them perform was what a tremendous live band they were. The passion of their principles shone through in every song they played. In many ways, for the sake of comparison, Midnight Oil are quite a bit like our own, The Tragically Hip. They are beloved in Australia, much the same way that The Tragically Hip are in Canada. Midnight Oil is a five-piece band, fronted by one of the most energetic and charismatic singers of all-time, Peter Garrett. The Tragically Hip is a five-piece band fronted by one of the most energetic and charismatic singers of all-time, Gord Downie. Both “The OIls” and “The Hip” reference the history of their homeland in their songs. Both bands have enough faith in their fans to write complex, intelligent songs that make you think. Finally, both bands believed in the idea that Indigenous cultures in their home countries had worth and beauty and were important and had been done a real disservice by white colonizers. In 1993, Midnight Oil came to Canada and joined The Tragically Hip in a festival tour that became known as “Another Roadside Attraction”. It was during this tour that Garrett and Downie were able to sit and talk and discuss their shared passion for the beauty of Indigenous cultures. At that time, Midnight Oil had completed their tour of Indigenous communities back in Australia. A decade or so later, Gord Downie would take “The Hip” to play a benefit concert in a remote Indigenous community called Attawapiskat. That journey forever changed Downie, in the same manner that the tour of the Aussie Outback forever changed Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil.

One of the things that Midnight Oil proved was that being a political band that sang songs about the issues of the day in their home country could, also, prove to be a formula for commercial success. The album “Diesel and Dust” has been ranked on Australian lists as being the #1 most successful and important Australian album of all-time. In addition to Indigenous issues, Midnight Oil has written songs about the environment, about poverty and economic disparity, as well as, a laundry list of songs about Australian history, in general. They are one of the biggest selling bands in Australian history, with sales in the tens of millions of copies worldwide. They write with passion and they play with passion; making the most of the public platform they have been given.

So, without further delay, I am going to play both “The Dead Heart” (which helped them to win the contest regarding the return of Ayer’s Rock/Uluru into Indigenous care). I will, also, play a live version of “Beds Are Burning”, too. For what it is worth, I think that Midnight Oil are an amazing band. I hope that you like them, too. Let’s go!

The link to the video for the song, “The Dead Heart” by Midnight Oil, can be seen here.

The link to the video for the song, “Beds Are Burning” by Midnight oil, can be seen here.

The link to the official website for Midnight Oil, can be seen here.

The link to the video of Canada’s own, Tragically Hip, when they played in the northern community of Attawapiskat, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Tragically Hip, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for never shying away from playing songs that may come across as being political. The link to their wonderful ensuite can be found here.

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).

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

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 (and, some trepidation) that it was announced the remaining members would reunite on stage at The Junos this past weekend, supporting 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 but, a popular one, none-the-less, 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, among other things, the sombre atmosphere that ensued after the tragedy of 9/11. It is a song about recovery and about the importance of, among other things, 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 is, also, no accident that the band asked someone like Leslie Feist to stand in Gord’s spot on this occasion. First of all, my her own admission, she was not their to replace Gord Downie. Leslie Feist was there to help friends 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. I will try not to be-labour my points but, there are deep ties between so many people connected with Leslie Feist and with The Tragically Hip.

Let’s start with Leslie Feist, herself. 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 and, as a prize, 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”. But, prior to joining BSS, Feist toured with an Indie band called “By Divine Right” which, at one point in time, toured with The Tragically Hip. The Hip were always known for being very good to their opening acts and, so, they got to know Leslie Feist very well and came to respect her for her skill at songwriting and with playing her 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, who were a talented and dynamic band but, also, were a collection of artists who all had solo careers, too. Because of the inter-connectivity of the many moving pieces to the Ontario Music community, Gord Downie turned to BSS leader, Kevin Drew, to produce his final solo albums, after he was diagnosed with cancer. Drew helped shepherd Gord through the process of recording two dozen personal songs. Drew and Feist were once a couple, too, if that holds interest for you. 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 is dying. Leslie Feist stands in for Gord at the 50th Anniversary Juno Show on the weekend. The dots, they do connect themselves, sometimes.

So, 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 grieving. 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, himself, 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, “It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken” by The Tragically Hip 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.

20- Yer Not The Ocean

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.

In 2005, The Tragically Hip released their best selling cd of all time, Yer Favourites. This 2-CD set was a collection of live performances, re-mixes and studio versions of their most popular songs to date. It says something about the success of The Hip up to that point that they had enough legitimate hit material to warrant a double CD. But, they did. Fans, like me, ate it up. Listening to Yer Favourites is like being at every Hip concert that they played. As fans, we like to hear the songs that we like and this collection tied the career of The Tragically Hip up neatly with a bow. It was every song that made The Hip seem like The Hip. It was a complete a collection of the songs that we really wanted to see them play live when we saw them in arenas or at festivals. Truth be told, if the members of The Hip had decided to stop creating new material and spent the rest of their career touring and simply playing their hits, no one would have minded.

But, Gord Downie and the rest of the members of the band were never ones to sit on their laurels. Coasting, in an artistic sense, went against the grain of who they saw themselves as artists. So, in 2006, they released an album of completely new material called World Container. Coming, as it did, on the heels of the wildly popular, Yer Favourites, many fans were not prepared to embrace this new material. In fact, many fans thought that The Hip had “sold out” because many of these songs sounded different. There was more instrumentation featured. Many of the songs had a Pop flavour. This wasn’t our Hip music. What actually had happened?

By the time World Container had been released, the members of The Tragically Hip had been together for almost twenty years as a band. They were no longer the young rockers touring the world, seeing the sights, meeting so many influential people. Life has a way of changing you over time, if you are open to the lessons it has to teach. Because The Hip viewed their world through a poet’s eye, each member of the band had grown as individual human beings and their lives had evolved. They weren’t young, single men anyone. Most were married by this point. Some were fathers now, too. I know that my outlook on Life changed as I grew from a child at home, to a young man out in the world for the first time, to a married man, to a father, to a retiree, which is where I stand now. I thought I knew a lot back in my twenties but, looking back from where I stand today, I didn’t know as much as I thought. For The Hip, the release of Yer Favourites was their way of saying that the fun times would always remain special but, that those days were over now. The release of World Container was the band announcing that it was time to grow up.

Most Hip fans did not want to grow up. The news that new music was being released meant that the band was moving on. While fans were certainly invited to continue the journey, many greeted the release of World Container with skepticism. One of the big reasons for that was that this album was being produced by a legendary figure in the Canadian music industry, Bob Rock. Mr. Rock first came to the attention of Canadian music fans as a member of a band called The Payolas. The Payolas featured singer, Paul Hyde and guitarist, Bob Rock. They had several hits, the biggest of which was called, Eyes of a Stranger. The video for that song can be viewed here. It is instructive to listen to this song because it is not a straight-ahead rock tune. It infuses elements of ska and reggae into the rock song format that was so prevalent at the time. The Payolas were a breath of fresh air that blew across Canada’s music scene in the 1980s. However, like many bands, longevity was not to be their calling card. Paul Hyde and Bob Rock soon went their separate ways. For Rock, that meant beginning a career as a producer. He gained lots of fame by sitting behind the control panel for some of the biggest selling albums of all time. Most notably, it was Bob Rock who produced Metallica’s Black Album. Prior to that album, Metallica had been, primarily, a speed metal, hardcore band. But, under Rock’s supervision, Metallica released songs that became big hits with non-metal fans. Songs such as Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters are terrific rock songs. Bob Rock helped make Metallica more accessible to a broader swath of the music-buying public. This did wonders for the financial success of Metallica and those involved in the business of promoting their music. But, to the original Metallica fans, the release of the Black Album was the signal that Metallica had officially sold out. That money seemed to matter more than artistry hit a nerve, even with Metalheads. Metallica’s fans directed their venom at Bob Rock, accusing him of ruining their favourite band. If those accusations hurt, Bob Rock didn’t show it.

(*THM) Bob Rock was introduced to The Tragically Hip by Canadian music promoter, Bruce Allen. Allen was one of the biggest names in Canadian music in the 80s and 90s. But, the scuttlebutt was that Allen didn’t think much of The Tragically Hip’s music. In fact, it is said that he felt they were over-rated and given far more credit than they deserved. In facilitating the connection between Bob Rock and The Tragically Hip, Allen may have been trying to perform a service that he felt was necessary for the band. Instead of singing about Jacques Cartier and small towns like Bobcaygeon, perhaps Bob Rock could bring them more out into the mainstream of Canada’s rock scene. Regardless of his motivation, Allen set in motion a collaboration that resulted in the musical release of World Container.

Not surprisingly, World Container was met with mixed emotions from fans and critics, alike. This did not sound like Road Apples or Fully Completely at all. It sounded more Popish, for sure. But, it, also, heralded a new focus from Downie on writing songs that better reflected the current states of their collective lives. The songs on World Container and those that followed on other albums, were far more personal; often dealing with marriage, children, health, death, the state of the environment…in other words, things that grown-ups tend to be thinking about. The first song on World Container is called Yer Not the Ocean. In short, this song is about looking back at your youth and realizing that many of the things you thought were significant and weighty, actually, were nothing of the sort at all compared to what awaits in the future. When I listen to this song, I can almost envision the conversations that went on in studio prior to recording it. I can imagine Gord Downie telling Bob Rock that the band wanted to explore weightier themes in their songs going forward and Rock replying that this was fine but, first, the band was going to have to explain this to their fanbase. Yer Not the Ocean is that explanation.

Yer Not the Ocean opens with the following lines:

Again I’m talking to the lake, I’m standing on the rocks
You’re not the ocean, I’m better to watch
Britney Invisible or The Stranger In Myself
Than a wall of water just hitting the shelf

“Britney invisible” is a nautical reference that refers to sailors watching the sea with interest, waiting for something to happen, like the wind to pick up and a storm to come in. “The Stranger in Myself” refers to a book about a German soldier in WWII. Willy Peter Reese was in his late teens when he found himself at the Russian Front. He was a Nazi but, he had a poetic side and, as a result, he kept a diary of what he saw and felt. His diary was found upon his death in battle. In his poems, Reese often commented upon the inhumanity of war and of the nobility of a life dedicated to something larger than himself, in this case, the Fatherland. Many who have read this book have commented that Reese sure had a lot to say about Life when, in reality, he knew so little about all that it had to offer. I can certainly remember being 20 years old and thinking I had all of the answers, too.

When Gord Downie references A Stranger in Myself or “Britney invisible”, he is telling his fans that what the band had talked about in their music before…..on Yer Favourites….was important but that the band knows so much more about Life now and has so much more to say. Of course, Gord says that in his own poetic way but, none the less, World Container was the start of, what has come to be known as, the second half of The Hip’s career. Some fans stopped their Tragically Hip journey with the hits on Yer Favourites. But, thanks to the influence of Bob Rock, as well as, an outlook dedicated to more mature issues by the band, I find much of the material from the second half of their career to be very interesting. I love the hits, don’t get me wrong but, I enjoy their “new” stuff, just as much. I hope that you will think so, too.

The video for Yer Not the Ocean can be found here.

Thanks, as always, for reading my words. I hope that you enjoyed this post. If you wish to comment on anything I have said or to talk about the quality of Yer Not the Ocean or to pass on any great lessons in life that you have learned along the way, please feel free to do so in the comment box below. Thanks to Bob Rock, The Tragically hip and to The Hip Museum for the content of this post.

Bye for now.

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!