Yer Favourites: Reflections on The Tragically Hip

Trying to sort through a fraction of what I’m feeling before I start to cry again.

There is a consensus among us all. A communal sorrow of Canadians coast to coast. I have been taking comfort in reading the words of others and reliving our shared memories. Their experiences are so similar to mine, we could have all been there together, and my heart aches, and it’s not fair. Terminal. That means the end. That means there will be no more.

Each profile I read, every time a band covers a song, when I stop and think too long, I get choked up. Last night at WayHome, the Arkells played Music at Work and I lost it. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. I don’t know how to describe this collective grief.

These songs, the soundtrack of my life, each one a different chapter in my history. Some transport you back like a time machine, some you just can’t bear to listen to again. The words are weighty and each line is loaded and they mean something to me. A deep something, something different each time I hear it. It means something to you as well. Some of the most significant moments of my life feature The Tragically Hip. My happiest memories. I just sit and think and reflect and then I feel sad again. I’m mourning something that hasn’t happened yet, something that will never happen again.

– – –

We’re sitting around that glass-top patio table in the backyard, hashing it out for hours and someone keeps grabbing refills. You think you know this song. As you tip your head back, you think you see a shooting star, but it was gone too fast to catch it.

A bonfire on a summer night and you can’t tell which is warmer, your toes as they move closer to the flame or the dying day pressing in around you from all sides. Your whole body smells like fire and will take days to wash out. The smoke burns your eyes but you don’t move away, because you know in a few seconds, the wind will change directions and you’ll be okay. Someone pulls out a guitar, there’s always a guitar nearby, and they play you a little something they’ve been practicing. And everyone sings along, some loud and some soft, but all together at once and it is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard.

The screen door snaps shut behind you as you head to the water and the music fades away as you get closer. It disappears as you jump in.

The gravel, kicking up and hitting the sides of the car, keeps time as you head out, or home, and there is comfortable silence between you as you all look out your own window. Everyone is too tired and sore to speak, but the radio plays on.

Trying to fall asleep on someone else’s dorm room floor but every time you doze off, those punching chords rouse you. The playlist is looping and after seven times, you know all the words. That night in Toronto, it could be every night.

A warm coffee in your hands as you bob your head along, steeling yourself before another long day of hard work.

Slow dancing in front of a cast iron stove as the music trickles in from the floor above. It’s snowing outside and you can’t see the lake anymore at this time of night. As you whisper the words in your heart, you know Gord was right, that it was worth the wait.

It’s Canada Day, in an open field, surrounded by friends who used to be strangers. Everyone screaming that we also come from downtown and we were born ready for you. For what? For whom? For life? Love? A challenge? A triumph? Armed with will and determination and grace, too, above all to see us though.

The sadness of watching your Jays hat fly off your head when the wind tipped it as you race across the lake. Mourning your own 50 mission cap that had been your most loyal travel companion.

A car passing by with the windows down and you wish they had a red light so you could listen a little longer.

Fireworks. Always fireworks in our hearts. Sparklers too, if you’re lucky.

A laugh so loud you think your brain or chest or both will explode and you wonder if anyone else has ever heard anything nearly as funny as this in the history of the world. You’re lucky to have such funny friends. You want to bottle this moment forever. Someone should write this down before we forget.

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One thought on “Yer Favourites: Reflections on The Tragically Hip

  1. When I was in high school, I chipped away at my volunteer hours by volunteering for the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia. In 2003 I volunteered for another year; headlining were Bruce Cockburn and Gord Downie (and the Country of Miracles). Gord at this time was touring his solo album – I believe it was Battle of the Nudes. I will never forget that weekend.

    Our volunteer duties usually consisted of set up/tear down of the stages, maintenance of this and that, and odd jobs here and there. A day or two before the festival was about to start I was asked to paint one of the ticket vestibules near the main entrance to the festival. I was not overly happy because this meant working alone, in the heat, away from all of my friends while they set up the main stage. An hour into painting, ordinary vehicles began pulling through the main entrance, which was unusual because we never saw anything other than moving trucks. Out of one of the vehicles popped Gord Downie. I likely dry brushed the same 4 inch spot for about 20 minutes while I watched him talk to band members and festival coordinators 10 yards from where I was working. Amazingly none of my friends had noticed he had come in yet, turning my forced tedious task into the best possible scenario for a smug face-rubbing later on.

    What happened next still hits me hard in the stomach, even today… Gord pointed at me. I had clearly offended him with my staring and he was tattling on me to the volunteer coordinator. The coordinators left and he started walking over to me. Without saying a word, he took my roller out of the pan and started painting the vestibule… I can’t recall all of the things he said, just topics and little moments that stand out. I remember talking about school, and my favourite bands. He said I looked like Rob (Baker – Guitarist for the Hip) because of my long hair. He got paint on my shoe and decided to paint the other one to match. I kept that shoe for a long time until my mum threw it out while I was at university, I don’t blame her it smelled SO BAD.

    Admittedly, I was never the biggest Hip fan. I actually volunteered mainly so I could get free tickets to see Bruce Cockburn (I was middle-aged at 16). But this day was just too cool I couldn’t have imagined at the time it getting any better. When I met up with my friends, no one believed what had happened but Gord strolled over to the main stage where we were to begin sound check and everyone looked at me like I was a superhero. He had all of his guitars brought out so we could see them and even let us play a few. Everyone riffed a Hip song they knew, luckily I knew a little of New Orleans is Sinking. Gord seemed impressed but not surprised that a gaggle of long haired 16 year olds wearing led zeppelin and neil young shirts could play.

    That night, we all went to the show with our free passes and Gord let us sit in the moving truck next to the stage that acted as the gear area for the roadies. Occasionally he called out to us from the stage and even paid special tribute to our friend Taylor forced to work the spotlight for the entire show – Taylor is now the lead singer of the band Bleeker currently touring the US.

    I rarely tell that story, let alone in such detail – and I still keep certain parts just for me – but all your words sort of inspired me to write some of it down. Gord is a special man. His spirit has had a lasting impact on me since that day. I’m not the worlds biggest Hip fan, and I don’t know all of the words… and I can still only play new orleans is sinking. But I am one of the biggest Gord fans, and I will cherish those memories for a VERY long time.

    Liked by 1 person

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