I got into The Tragically Hip later in life. In my youth, I was more mesmerized by the shiny videos on Much Music over solid lyrical content or geographical relatability.
After it was announced this past May that lead singer Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer though, I felt like I had been hit in the stomach. First off, hearing news that someone so young (52), someone seemingly still so full of zest and future achievement, should have to deal with the evil that is cancer is always troubling. Life is unfair in so many ways.
Secondly, it was then that I realized just how deep their sound indirectly permeated into moments of my life – and all of Canadian's lives. The guitar riffs, the lyrics, Gord's voice ... they have become part of the country's landscape. I have many memories of their catalogue of songs playing on the radio as my family drove down the highway veins of the nation on summer vacation. Like a great soundtrack to a film, the auditory experience felt seamless to the views uncovered. The Tragically Hip were the earnest sound of Canada, from coast-to-coast.
My high school years are reignited as I recollect my best friend Rita, a huge fan who would play them whenever I visited her home. 'Trouble at the Henhouse' had just been released and I remember pausing to soak in the beautiful wordsmith of 'Ahead by a Century', my personal favourite song of theirs:
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 casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life
I've always loved this verse. It has since transcended that era and now, as an adult, perfectly sums up my feelings for friends and loved ones. Enjoy each other's company. Enjoy the moments, no matter how insignificant they initially feel. It all matters. I've evolved from being entertained solely by gloss and now covet the story a great song can share.
I created the following animated GIFs as a farewell to the band as they perform their last show on Saturday, August 20.
Thank you for being undeniably (and unapologetically) Canadian.
And thank you for reflecting and recording our values and history over the years.
To donate to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research, click here.