As a curious and culturally diverse American teenager, I walked into a Toronto music store at 18 and bought a CD set of Juno award winners. Among some bands that had made the American music charts was a group with a cool name and a song that referenced what could potentially happen to an American city. If you are Canadian or a Canadian music fan you probably know where I’m going with this.
The Tragically Hip “New Orleans Is Sinking.”
I was on a band trip when I purchased that cd set and I listened contently as we passed mile after mile from Toronto back to the southern United States. I found myself going back to The Hip and playing them over and over. There was something about them that drew me in.
When we got back home I went to my local music store and I found their EP. I snapped it up as quick as I could – I didn’t want anyone to steal it out from under me! I took it home and found out about the last American exit. I kept playing that EP over and over.
The problem become access to The Hip’s music. At the time, Napster was taking off and I wasn’t going to steal their music (we didn’t understand the change it was making at the time) and the music stores didn’t carry Canadian bands.
Time went on and I got older. Eventually I found Phantom Power and absolutely loved “Bobcaygeon” and “Fireworks.” Then I found Yer Favourites and felt like I could somewhat understand what I’d been missing.
But that time is too late. I’m too late. A couple of months ago The Hip’s lead singer and amazing lyricist Gord Downie announced that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Terminal brain cancer. The Hip and Downie are doing a farewell tour across Canada. Unfortunately I won’t and will never got the chance to see them.
Gord introduced me to the Wheat Kings. Not just the Brandon Wheat Kings but the story of wheat and the story behind a wrongful conviction.
I was introduced to Bobcaygeon. To which I laughed and thought he made that up. Nope it’s an actual town in Ontario and it was the home of riots in 1933.
I was introduced to the Hundreth Meridian. What is up with that? It separates Western Canada from the rest of the country.
Then one of my favorites is “you said you didn’t give a fuck about hockey and I never saw someone say that before.” Gord’s godfather, Harry Sinden, was the coach of Team Canada when they played the Soviet Union in 1972. Paul Henderson scored the winner in the series and Foster Hewitt made a legendary and unmistakable call of the goal heard ’round the world.
It’s things like this that seem so minor to some but are huge to me. I could go on and on with other songs and the way they’ve helped me to explore other parts of the world. I am not ready to let Gord go. I never got the chance to see The Hip in concert. Most of all I’ll never get to see more of the world through Gord’s eyes. He won’t die of vanity but I would hope we can get Ry Cooder to sing his eulogy.