By Jacqueline Howell
The inevitable final Tragically Hip show is already here. All summer long, fans, whose numbers include any music journalists worth their salt and still with a beating pulse and at least a generation of Canadian musicians and those in the know outside our frail borders, and writers and thinkers have been grappling with a new kind of loss. A post-modern kind of turmoil. This turmoil comes from an inner churn that is like standing in a crowd while people brush past you going somewhere else, from different sides at once, ungently, causing you to pivot and move by inches as unconsciously as something not-quite rooted to an ocean floor. This churn, though, is internal, mostly. Yet-
– A nation stands and takes notice of something that has always felt (rightly or wrongly) like your private ritual with friends of your youth, tinsel-bright like Christmas, strained and tense and fraught like Christmas is now.
A nation becomes festive and also, somehow, poignantly mournful and the media rises up to reclaim some of its tarnished, squandered and plundered glory and beautiful power to lead people again, and of course, commercial interests are around every corner, too.
We’ve become a web of loosely connected cultures and private worlds that wrestle with all these things inside of a single tweet, a Facebook post that you’d expect would shower down love but is ignored (or brings dull negativity instead of support), a chance meeting with former loved ones, a sudden revelation that your dad knows who The Tragically Hip is (and likes them.)
This is news, but all this news either comes screaming at you like Toronto Sun 150 point red font, or is sent too late by telegram.
Of course, music is forever selective, personal, private, no less private than your religious feelings and political leanings, if any. As dear and as vulnerable as your love and your secrets (if you have any). So-
– All there is left to say is that the entirely real grief that has risen up from this land from coast to coast and all the way up north in the places you’ll never get to see; the rare feeling of national unity that Canadians reject out of hand to avoid becoming one degree more American than we already are; the conversations with strangers, with authorities, with artists, who are really kindred spirits in a language of music that has always been the one and only currency you trust; the sight of our best, ever, forever poet looking up at a weeping willow in contemplation, in real life, in the strange twists of fate that can happen when your heart and mind is open and you’ve chosen to be bold and start a magazine; even the deafening, and deaf, silences from the corners of life you once believed were true blue and have breathed their last, laughed their last, toasted their last, are part of this thing. From across a canyon.
A nation is growing up and it’s painful. You will have growing pains all your life if you are really alive and so what do you do with that?
First you grieve what is gone, already, and what is ending. That won’t stop with Saturday August 20th when all who are not at a final show in Kingston who care deeply, all of us sports fans now, all of us unified, will be watching from home, yard parties, bars, music halls and even the famed checkerboard floors – but it better damn well unlock something deep that needs to get some air that we’ve been struggling for all summer. This city is nice to tourists but has a default mode of making eye contact behind that on the rarest of occasions, like when our grandfathers celebrated winning the cup and when the Jays won it all (twice in a row!) more than 20 years ago, and the streets were filled with a joy and what should be a human cameraderie that we were all raised to pretend is not ours to claim. It’s no wonder some of us treat family members like lepers and old friends like strangers. But even an old injury or a ghost limb still can hurt.
This, here, is the kind of talk and noise that hits your system in times of grief, of the rising waves of anxiety, the inability to make a decision, of the grief that triggers the other grief in hearts, the tenderest places, the ones that make a person say: I (finally) don’t want to see my old friends anymore (anyway), and reach for strangers instead in our limited way of socializing now, one eye on the mobile and the other on the door, where home awaits and you can really have a good cry. It’s the grown up kind. It’s the post-modern kind. Home awaits, luckily, after all, to unburden all of it but not until after there have been real singalongs with real fans. After beer has been spilled on you and by you and no one checks their makeup anymore. After you approach something of the spiritual cleanse of a proper Irish wake. Or a proper British music festival. Or something bigger and more alive than what Canadians were supposed to be like before all of this, before we grew up. Before we learned our history and our geography and our culture from one very strange and beautiful man and ignored all the rest of ’em who called themselves teachers all our lives.
Then you go on.
Here are 32 (one for each year) of our favourite Tragically Hip songs, noting that there are endless live variations, a brisk history in the live bootleg trade, and three decades of innovation and growth beyond this list. Have we ever heard “She said I’m fabulously rich” sung? Or has it so long been the crowd-sung-unofficially changed (by the singer, too, now) “She said I’m Tragically Hip”? Dunno.
We think it’s useful if you are rusty or new to approach the huge catalogue of music via tempo shifts. So here’s a split between ROCKING and ROLLING (for the ladies…) Still time to jump on board. Just. Do.
For all those who will take to the Toronto streets in celebration tomorrow night, we’ll see you out there and one or the other of us will be in a red Tragically Hip hockey jersey from 15 years ago that is good as new. We’ll be a little active on the Twitter during the evening at Jacqueline‘s and Dave’s accounts as well a bit of Facebook/ Instagram.
At the Hundredth Meridian ” I need to debunk an American myth. I take my life in my hands.” Also contains the best asides ever, worthy of MacBeth.
Boots or Hearts Has an entire music festival named in its honour. “When it starts to fall apart, it really falls apart. Like boots or hearts oh when they start, they really fall apart.”
Fifty – Mission Cap (“Bill Barilko”) “I worked it in to look like that.”
Little Bones “2.50 for a highball. And a buck and a half for a beer. Happy hour, happy hour, happy hour is here” / “2.50 for an eyeball. And a buck and a half for an ear…” Cancon and the infinite radio replays of this song is probably the root of “the haters”. Which is ridiculous.
Looking for a Place to Happen
Nautical Disaster (Gord Downie’s intro from a live recording: “No Canadian band, no Canadian musician, would be complete without a song about a nautical disaster.” (“New Nautical Orleans Disaster”)
Music @ Work (Yes, even video stars. Big time. A video as good as the lyrics which are historic.)
38 Years Old
Ahead by A Century “I tilted your cloud. You tilted my hand.” In the running for The Hip’s most beautiful songs, from their body of work in the dream-world lyrics they do like no other.
Apartment Song (Did this inspire the gorgeous Apartment Story by The National?)
Escape is at Hand for the Travelling Man
Flamenco (The guitar chords. The lyrics.) Contains the wonderful line “Maybe a prostitute /could teach you/ how to take a compliment”
Gift Shop Could be about the Grand Canyon. Could be about marriage or life changes. That’s The Hip.
Grace, Too This is how you start a rock song.
Long Time Running You can remember the greatest bar band that ever was, that The Hip once was. (Perhaps a shared title with The Cowboy Junkies.) TIMELESS.
Springtime in Vienna
(Gord Downie solo) Coke Machine Glow
(Gord Downie solo) Vancouver Divorce
When the colour of the night and all the smoke for one life gives way to shaky movements, improvisational skills, a forest of whispering speakers Let’s swear that we will
get with the times, in a current health to stay
Let’s get friendship right
Get life day-to-day
In the forget-yer-skates dream
Full of countervailing woes
In diverse-as-ever scenes
Proceeding on a need-to-know
In a face so full of meaning
As to almost make it glow
O’ for a good life, we just might have to weaken
And find somewhere to go. Go somewhere we’re needed. Find somewhere to grow.Grow somewhere were needed.
Let’s go somewhere we’re needed. Find somewhere to grow. We grow where we are needed.
All lyrics are copyright The Tragically Hip
Photo gallery c. Dave MacIntyre / Step On Magazine