Canada’s Glory Child
I got into the Tragically Hip in the 1990s when I drove from Missoula to Seattle on spring break and my buddy, Torrey, and I must have listed to Blowing High Dough about a hundred times.
We spent one night in Spokane and saw Pat Travers, then called a radio station half the night demanding that they play the Hip. A few months later I was in Seattle at the Down Under, I think, about three rows back from the stage and pushing hard to get closer. That’s when Torrey said, “Let’s get on stage and moments later he was up there air-guitaring with lead singer Gord Downy.
It’s an understatement to say that Torry and I feed off each other, and there’s always one upsmanship involved, so next thing I’m hoisted onto the stage, flopping around like Jim Morrison, until some big dude yanks me off and says, “Next time you’re up here it’s the exit.”
The show was too much fun to risk being thrown out so I fought my way back to the front and joined Torrey and another friend, John. We tried to hoist Johnny C onto the stage but he was too damned heavy.
Someone behind Torrey said to calm down and I could see the look in TC’s eyes. I quickly turned to the dude, who was with his girl, and said, “You better shut the hell up because you don’t want to piss this guy off. I watched him almost rip two guys’ heads off in Alaska. And he smashed one of those guys’ heads into a pickup truck. Is that what you want? Is that what you want?” Never heard another peep and Torrey and John and I rocked the night away.
I saw the Hip one more time in Missoula and there were fewer than a hundred people in attendance—they opened the beer garden, said “drink as much as you want,” and then Gord said, “We’ve played for more, we’ve played for fewer,” and he broke into about a 60 minute set that I’ll never forget.
Torrey so likes the Hip that he applied for a contest to video tape the band in concert and he won. When asked why he deserved to be the dude he said, “Because I am Tragically Hip.”
On to the music. My father, Fred, calls Gord Downy the master of the crescendo. Maybe Gord doesn’t have the best voice in the world, but I like his range of tones and I really like the Hip for their variety of tunes. It goes from punkish to downright beautiful in tunes like Wheat Kings and Fiddler’s Green. You can call songs like Little Bones funky. Apartment Song is irreverent. Highway Girl is killer as Gord breaks into soliloquy that screams Morrison and is just as good. Here are some lyrics from Highway Girl/Double Suicide Monologue:
She had a beautiful apartment. Well, actually, it was a lousy apartment, but she’s very handy with her hands and she has architectural digest magazine so she knows what she is doing. She likes to decorate her apartment in the Santa Fe tradition. I told her it was dated. But I see more of the world than she does. She got an apartment where the property was cheap, next to the freeway. She says I saved lots of money but I lose lots of sleep. And we laughed. And we’d laugh.
We’d take potshots at the passing cars and we’d laugh. We were dumping the body and we’d laugh. We found a place that was dark and rotten. A place where the police helicopters were never spotted. I destroyed the map that we so carefully dotted. Every day we’re dumping a body, she and me. Every single day. And we’d laugh about it.
That’s when I knew that it was time that we both kill ourselves together. Together we were nothing but a menace. Apart we were nothing but lonely. I read too much. I thought we should kill ourselves. She doesn’t read a thing. She believed me. Are you really the messiah? Yes I am. She was younger than me too. She was younger than me. And I said to her, I said, you know Pauline, no one stands on a burning bag of shit anymore. Nobody! Are you really the messiah. Yes I am. Believe it.
So we, uh, we opted to kill ourselves, as I said, but we had one rifle and one bullet, so I told her to put her head down close to the barrel and to put the barrel sort of into her mouth and I would be right behind her with my head right behind hers. And I said her life would end instantly, mine might have a few extra minutes of agony and suffering. We couldn’t pull the trigger so we attached a string to it and around the lamp and to a doorknob. The first person to come into our cheap, fucking apartment would blow both our heads off.
We got to thinking, we changed our minds, you know we got scared and we kind of chickened out and we laughed, you know, and we laughed together. What were we thinking? Together we’re not that bad. We’re not that bad. We don’t need to kill ourselves. We don’t need to kill ourselves. And then the D-Train rattled overhead and knocked the joor adar, the door ajar, the jar ador, the dar adoor, the joor adar. And it knocked the faulty lock. The door swung open and killed her. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Going to listen to the Hip, who are big-time in Canada? Umm, well, let’s see. Maybe start with Road Apples. Pretty tough to go wrong with that CD