I’ve spent every summer of my life in Muskoka. I’ve sat by more campfires than I can recall, and listened to countless albums while doing so, but there’s one band that always sends my mind adrift to those nights even when it’s the dead of winter and I’m stuck in the city – and that’s The Tragically Hip.
The Tragically Hip are one of the first bands I recall being introduced to as “Canada’s Band.” Canada’s Band can be a lot of different bands to different people, but I think that to me, The Hip indeed claim that title. Heck, they start “Wheat Kings” with a loon call!
“You can’t be fond of living in the past, ’cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re gonna last” – Wheat Kings
I know people who can agree that Rush are very talented, but can’t stand Geddy Lee’s vocals for longer than a minute. I know people who like some Guess Who songs, but they wouldn’t choose them as the only band to listen to for the rest of their life. And I know people that will go see Blue Rodeo perform every single summer…. but not if they have to choose between them and The Hip. I don’t believe I know anybody that doesn’t like the Hip.
I’ve only seen the Hip twice. The first time was at Fort York… Tegan and Sara opened back when nobody really knew who Tegan or Sara were. My dad and I went I can recall commenting that they were pretty good but they had really awkward stage banter and I really wished they would just stop talking and perform. (I think this a lot at shows. I’m not here to hear your speeches, I’m here to hear you play.) The crowd was thin for them but we remained towards the back in the non-alcohol section as I was a minor then.
When the Hip came on, the lawn was quickly overtaken by the fans, and boy were they in the mood for some Hip tunes! I thought it was weird how rowdy these fans were, because I don’t particularly see the Hip’s music as being…. well, anything other than pretty tame, frankly. They, too, obviously already knew that The Hip are “Canada’s Band.”
“It’s warm and it’s safe here and almost heartening
Here in a time and place not lost on our imagination” – The Darkest One
There’s something that happens when you hear songs like “Bobcaygeon” live for the first time. There’s a rush of familiarity followed by a wave of contentment, as if your soul knows that this is the way these words, these melodies, and these chords were to be ingested. And I did; I soaked it up.
When I saw The Hip for the second time, again with my dad, I knew it would be the last time.
Gord was wholly present in every moment he spent on that stage. Despite battling brain cancer, something I cannot even fathom having to deal with in a private setting never mind in the face of an arena of loving fans over the course of many months, traveling the country and trying to get in as much time with his family as he could. But that’s just what Canada’s Band would do, isn’t it?
He took his time after each song and looked into the eyes of the audience, bowed, waved, and smiled. I mean really looked, really smiled, and thanked them. Us. We were up higher, but even I felt like we got some attention from Gord. If his intent was to make every person in that audience feel seen, he did it with stunning precision.
I think they sounded better that night at the ACC than they did at Fort York. Maybe I’m just saying that because of the emotion involved in this particular performance and knowing that it would be the last time I would. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up a few times. You felt the love that night, and I have no doubt I’ll reflect fondly on these memories every time a Tragically Hip tune fades into my speakers.
Rest easy, Gord Downie. Gone too soon, but never to be forgotten.