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.

14- Goodnight, Attawapiskat

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.

And, speaking of lending a voice……..for longer than anyone can imagine, the Indigenous Peoples have lived on the land that has come to be known as Canada. Their voices have a long, strong, proud tradition. Unlike Gus, the Polar Bear, who did not have the ability to advocate for himself, the Indigenous Peoples have long sung their song. Unfortunately, we, as Canadians, have not done a very good job of listening.

Of all of the legacies Good Downie and The Tragically Hip leave behind, their respect for the beauty and importance of Indigenous culture stands at the forefront. The story behind the song, Goodnight Attawapiskat, is a case in point. Attawapiskat, like many First Nation communities, has a long history of existing in sub-standard conditions. Basic rights such as access to clean drinking water have been issues for entire generations there. 

(#NEP) In the case of this song, the people of Attawapiskat had been attempting to build a school and were having a hard time doing so. The Hip came up and agreed to play a benefit concert. They headlined a bill that included several bands comprised entirely of local youth. At one point, Gord agreed to sing on stage with one of the bands. The female lead singer immediately stepped aside to give Gord the spotlight. Gord refused to let her sit any songs out, admonishing her band, good-naturedly, to never let anyone silence their singer. They performed Knocking on Heavens Door together. 
Gord claimed that being at Attawapiskat deepened the feelings of respect he had for Indigenous Peoples and that he took that feeling with him everywhere he went afterwards. He was known to close shows from all over North America with the words, “Goodnight, Attawapiskat!”

Hello! Good evening, folks!
We are the silver Poets 
Here in our thousand mile suits
We’re here to get paid
We know nobody who ever got laid
Telling people what to do.”

A video of the band performing “Goodnight, Attawapiskat” in Attawapiskat, can be seen here.

As always, your comments are welcome. Please feel free to discuss this song, the lyrics, the musicianship or comment on your feelings toward Indigenous Peoples and the conditions they find themselves living in. Thanks for reading this post and enjoying an important song called Goodnight, Attawapiskat by The Tragically Hip.

15-Gus, the Polar Bear of Central Park

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 song is based on the true story of a polar bear named Gus. Gus was a featured attraction in the Central Park Zoo in NYC. After years in captivity, Gus began displaying signs of mental and emotional distress. King of the Tundra no longer, this majestic creature languished under the constant gaze of those who never knew he was in such pain. In this song, I swear Gord’s voice and the guhas an extra growl-like quality to it. I have always admired how the Tragically Hip so willingly gave voice to those unable to speak for themselves.

Whats troubling, Gus? Is it nothing goes quiet?
Is that what’s troubling you, Gus? The mere mention of the name
Used to be enough to make every bird stop singing.
Is that what’s troubling you, Gus? No one is afraid.”

A link to a video of the band performing this song live can be found here.

In this post, as in all others in this series, your comments on this song are most welcome. Feel free to talk about the lyrics, the musicianship, the subject matter of this song, your thoughts on zoos and/or animal rights……whatever your heart desires. Thanks for reading this post about Gus, the Polar Bear from Central Park by The Tragically Hip.

5- At Transformation

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.

Early on, when the band was just coming together as a unit and trying to discover the voice with which they should speak to the world, they made an important decision. They decided that every original song they produced and put on an album would be done with joint credit given to all five members. (#NEP) Although Gord Downie often did most of the writing of the lyrics, the process of creating a song often involved each member of the band having their input, as well as, adding their knowledge of the music their instruments produced and how they could add layers of meaning to Gord’s lyrics. As you may know, a strict reading of the lyrics to almost any Hip song does not give too many hints at what the song actually sounds like when it is performed by all five members of the band. Gord’s voice was as much an instrument as any guitar; his lyrics akin to the notes and chords of his bandmates, combining to produce a musical performance that was always unique, visceral and mesmerizing to behold. For that reason, I have always preferred watching The Hip perform in person (when they were still touring) or now, watching videos of live performances captured for posterity. The song, “At Transformation” is an exception to this rule.

All five members of The Tragically Hip were multi-talented men. Rob Baker was as talented an artist as he was a guitarist. Baker studied Visual Art at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario (where the band originated). He was responsible for designing most of The Hip’s album covers and t-shirts in the early days of their career. Baker even won a Juno Award for his work on the album cover to Phantom Power. Flash forward a few years……..when Gord Downie’s wife, Laura, was recovering from breast cancer, the band took a short hiatus from recording and performing. During that stretch of time, Rob Baker was able to indulge in his passion for Art by creating his own original work, as well as, taking in Art shows by other artists of interest to him. One such show was by a young man named Cameron Tomsett. Baker was impressed with Tomsett’s work and brought several pieces back for the boys in the band to look at. They were impressed enough that they commissioned Tomsett to create the album cover art for their new release, “In Between Evolution” (which can be seen at the top of this post). Tomsett’s art and sense of artistic expression were, also, incorporated into the video for “At Transformation”. In my opinion, the video is stunning! The song’s lyrics describe the battle to survive cancer and fight for life anew so, the words have an intensity all of their own. However, like all Hip songs, the introduction of the influences of the rest of the band take Gord’s lyrics to a new level of urgency and passion. Art and Music have a transformative effect on all of our lives, just as they did on each Tragically Hip song, just as they do in this Tomsett-inspired video.

Gently breathing
Lit by the morning sun.
Through the night,
It had been raining venom.I want to be kind,
Not a bullet in the right place
Or just of two minds,
More important than important.”

The brilliant video for “At Transformation” can be viewed here.

Thanks for visiting my blog and reading this post. Please feel free to comment on any aspect of this song, on Art that moves you or on the beauty of collaboration or anything else of interest to you now that you have read this post and watched this video and listened to these lyrics. Thanks to every member of The Tragically Hip for making such good Art.

The Men They Couldn’t Hang

I love live music. I love the energy of a band as they dive into a treasured song. I love the way a crowd of strangers unite in response; jumping and swaying and fist-pumping in time with each note. I love it when a crowd sings as a choir and becomes as one with the band; a shared journey made possible through the poetry of song. I have been to many concerts that have left me sweat-soaked and emotionally-drained. That is my kind of fun!

CINCINNATI – JUNE 23: Iggy Pop of the Stooges rides the crowd during a concert at Crosley Field on June 23, 1970 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

The best concert I ever saw live was Iggy Pop at The Warehouse in Toronto in the mid-90s. Iggy ripped through a set dedicated to his seminal album, Raw Power! That music was as loud as I have ever experienced. My ears rang for days afterward. But, it was an amazing time, just the same. This concert was my first real experience with a mosh pit that teemed with violent mayhem. Sweat and beer and testosterone; a potent combination, especially when soundtracked by the driving beat of one of Rock’s sonic pioneers. I truly believe that a Rock n’ Roll Show should have elements of violence and sex in it. After all, if you are not worn to the core by the end of it then, what really was the point of it all? Iggy Pop at The Warehouse was definitely a Rock show, in all regards. Music, as catharsis. Visceral and muscular. Fun beyond measure.

When it comes to great Canadian live acts, the best I have seen in person was The Tragically Hip. They were a tight, five-piece band out of Kingston, Ontario. Some describe The Hip as playing straight-ahead guitar-oriented rock. But, that does the band a disservice. What elevated The Tragically Hip to the top of the musical mountain in Canada was combination of the poetry of the lyrics to Hip songs and the showmanship of lead singer, Gord Downie. Simply put, Downie was one of the single-most electrifying frontmen for any band, anywhere in the world. With Gord, you never quite knew what to expect on stage. He sang. He primped and pranced. He played excellent guitar. He offered monologues that, may or may not, have had anything to do with the song being played. He sweated and wiped that sweat away to theatrical effect. He made eye contact and bore his thoughts into our brains. He was amazing. A hint of the intensity of a Tragically Hip performance can be seen in their performance of “Grace, too” from a concert in London, Ontario. That clip can be seen here.

A Tragically Hip performance was only part of their package. Their enduring legacy will be the songs they sung. It is, somewhat, cliche for us as Canadians to say that we have an unnatural relationship with that cultural juggernaut to the south of us called America. We bathe in their references, their personalities while, at the same time, revelling in all that makes us different and separate from “them”. Gord Downie and The Hip wrote songs about Canada and about Canadian things in ways that made them seem like secrets that we could hoard. Like school children, we liked looking at the pictures of ourselves that The Hip painted. A Hip concert laid our Canadian souls bare. We danced to our History. We shouted out our stories. And, at the end of it all, as sweaty a mess as we physically were, we all felt proud of being who we were at the moment. We were Canadians in the presence of beautiful artists and storytellers. Like the weather, we were all affected by the experience.

So, in 2015, when it was announced that Gord Downie had an incurable brain tumour, it shook us all to our core. To have Gord taken away from us seemed unthinkable. As we digested the news reports, it was almost as if we could all hear the Gods laughing. In response, Gord and the boys announced a final, cross-country, ten concert tour. It seemed equally unbelievable that someone with a brain tumour could still summon massive amount of will and physical energy required to perform at the level of intensity that we had all come to expect from a Hip show. But, there he was. For ten nights, Gord Downie stood on that stage and gave every last bit of himself. At each venue, paramedics stood on guard should Downie collapse. But, at each venue, the band played on. Every song a parting gift to a grateful nation. Canada was never more unified than on the night of The Hip’s final show. It was played in their home town of Kingston, Ontario and was billed as a “National Celebration”. Our national TV broadcaster, the CBC, aired the three-hour concert commercial-free. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau donned a Canadian tuxedo and attended in person. People gathered in arenas and parks, taverns and town squares, back yards and living rooms to give thanks for everything Gord Downie and The Hip had done. It was all coming to an end and, when it did, with “Ahead by a Century”, the tears were real and they flowed freely. McLeans Magazine did a good job of capturing this emotion by filming the reactions of Canadians as they gathered in various locales across the country. This video ALWAYS makes me cry and leaves me spent; like all good music should, I suppose. It can be viewed here.

One of the things that happened during this farewell tour was that more scrutiny was given to the lyrics of The Hip songs. One of the most appealing aspects of their songwriting was that they often welcomed us, as an audience, into their stories by starting off with recognizable, universal truths. But, as often was the case, they would proceed to confound us with symbolism and/or obscure references that, at first blush, didn’t always connect with how the song began. Thus, their music invited you in but, if you stayed, you had to prepare yourself to think and engage. As a fan and as a reasonably intelligent person, I enjoyed learning more about these stories being shared. I will conclude this post by talking about one of their most popular songs, “Bobcaygeon” and how I am still learning new things about it even now, long after Gord has gone to walk among the stars.

Like many of the people, events and settings referenced in Hip songs, Bobcaygeon is a real place. Located about two hours northeast of Toronto, Bobcaygeon is situated in a part of Ontario affectionately known as “Cottage Country”. The Kawartha Lakes region is where city dwellers come to get away from the noise and congestion of city life. As cultural myths go, Canada conjures images in the mind of lakes and forests, soundtracked by the cry of the loon, illuminated by a firework of sparks from a thousand camp fires. Bobcaygeon is that myth brought to life.

The song “Bobcaygeon” contains one of the most beautiful and popular verses in their entire musical canon. “It was in Bobcaygeon, that I saw the constellations, reveal themselves, one star at a time.” *(When I retired from teaching, the staff at my school gave me a framed print of those lines.) Even the most beer-swilling of Hip fans recognizes the beauty of those words. You only have to experience country-darkness once in your life to know how lovely the stars can be. This was the universal truth that pulled listeners, like me, into this song. But then, as I said above, The Hip added elements to the second half of the song that had always puzzled me….until recently.

The first half to two-thirds of the song has a peaceful, cottage pace-of-life feel to it. But then, the final third roars to life, “That night in Toronto, with its checkerboard floors, riding on horseback, keeping order restored, until The Men They Couldn’t Hang, strode to the mic and sang, and their voices rang, with that Aryan twang.” I never knew what this had to do with being in Bobcaygeon and under the night sky. I had always thought the “Men they couldn’t hang” part and the “horseback/order restored” lines were talking about an outlaw and the police. I was wrong. Here is what I have learned about what they were really singing about. The Bobcaygeon video is here, for those who wish to view it.

In Toronto, there is a legendary bar called The Horseshoe Tavern. It has “checkerboard floors”, as you can see in the photo. Also, if you watched the McLeans Magazine video of The Hip’s final song, The Horseshoe Tavern was one of the spots they filmed at. Anyway, The Men They Couldn’t Hang is an actual musical group from the UK. The are described as being folk-punk. Like The Hip, they sing about History and real people, places and events. And, like The Tragically Hip, they are amazing live. I am going to share with you a live performance of theirs singing a song called The Green Fields of France. It is, simply put, one of the single best live performances I have ever seen! First of all, the song is gorgeously written and speaks of the senselessness of War, as seen from the perspective of a fallen soldier during The Battle of the Somme in World War One. I had never heard of this song before this past week but, it is easily one of the best anti-war songs ever, I am certain. But, along with the glorious lyrics, if you watch this video, you will bear witness to a band and an audience as one…..and, I don’t just mean singing along together. Such fantastic trust on display. You have to watch it for yourself to appreciate it. If they played at The Horseshoe Tavern for The Hip members, the way they do in this video then, I can see why The Hip name-dropped them in one of their most popular songs. you can watch this extraordinary video here. I get goosebumps watching this; especially the rousing chorus. This is what live music is all about.

So, who inspires those who inspire us? For professional musicians at the level of an Iggy Pop or The Tragically Hip or even, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, they gain inspiration from their fellow musicians, as well as, the time and the place they find themselves. “Bobcaygeon”, for me, is now a song about finding inspiration; be it from the stars above or from the close, sweaty confines of a tavern where the poetry of song oozes from every pore of every human there, as well as, dropping down in balls of condensation from the ceiling to the floor. Inspiration sounds like a story and smells like a beer. It is sticky and sweet and, if your are fortunate at that moment, it will leave you changed.

I love live music. Do you? If so, what are some of your favourite memories of watching live music being performed. I would love to hear your stories. Feel free to leave them in the comment box below. Thanks for reading my work. Your willingness to do so inspires me.