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The stage at Rexall Place, Edmonton, July 30, 2016

The Tragedy in Being Hip

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.”

–        Ahead by a Century, Trouble at the Henhouse
2016-07-30 19.39.58Like the loss of a Canadian NHL team, or the closing of Eaton’s, another Canadian icon will write its final chapter in a few weeks.  And just like almost all Canadians were glued to their television sets almost 44 years ago to watch Henderson jump into Cournoyer’s arms, a generation that was just in grade school back then will tune in Saturday night to watch five Canadian boys take the stage one last time, right back where they started in Kingston, Ontario.

No Canadian band has burned itself so deeply into my psyche than The Tragically Hip.  Their music has intertwined with my entire adult life.  As a young cadet at the Royal Military College in Kingston, I remember them – not so much as the eclectic, metaphoric group they grew into – but rather as a gangly group of wannabes. Their frothy cover songs and unripe originals did not do much to capture the imagination of a young lad who was more interested in the heavy metal riffs of Zeppelin, the mythological lyrics of Rush, or the guitar solos of Eddie van Halen.. The intended sarcasm of their name escaped my young mind, and we the sometimes showered the fledglings unkindly with the little bones of half-eaten 5¢ chicken wings during King’s Town Happy Hours gone awry.

51lg+oujt-LOnly a few years later, while serving in Germany, I fatefully unwrapped the cellophane from their second CD – Up to Here –  recommended by a mate.  Feeling a little homesick for my old stomping grounds, I gave it a listen – a deep, deep listen. The album and the Band struck a chord, in fact several pleasing, appealing chords. And the lyrics were clever, melancholic poems with a deep sense of Canadiana about them. The album made me feel for home.  I was hooked like a pike in a Northern Ontario lake.

I guess that is what The Tragically Hip has done for millions of us throughout the last 30 years – forming the soundtrack of a generation expressed through a strangely overt, yet unsurprisingly subdued sense of national pride. Through the national glue of hockey and canoes, of flora and fauna, of places and things they shouted, “We are Canada!” in a way that was an inside-joke – something you just could not understand, unless you knew about toques and pucks and Bobby Orr. Unless you understood Canada.

Canadians are a unique collective – so humble, so self-effacing, yet so proud. Only we understand experiences like Paul Henderson’s winning goal, or righting David Milgaard’s wrongful conviction, or that once there was a fishing fan named Barilko; only we celebrate places like Golden, Thomson, Bobcaygeon, Lake Memphremagog,  and Mistaken Point – or lay claim to the 100th Meridian where the Great Plains begin.  Many of us only began to understand the beauty of our country through the words of the Tragically Hip. They brought Canada to life in a way school atlases never could.

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Sadly, I had written off seeing them live this last tour as the free enterprise vampires sucked the tickets up in seconds after they went on sale. I was angered and dismayed that lifelong fans like me would not get a chance to celebrate them again. And, after hearing the hue and cry, I was jubilant that the CBC recognized the significance and would broadcast the final show from YGK live. Like the 1972 Summit Series final game, at least this unforgettable moment in Canadian history would be experienced live, even if on television.

2016-07-31 06.23.00But out of nowhere, my brother who understood my affinity for the Band – because his may be bigger than mine – surprised me with tickets for the final Edmonton show.  And so my wife, Sue, and I became part of the half million or so lucky Canadians who will see the last tour live.

As one of my friends rightly noted, my words cannot do justice to the experience. The concert and the mark it left on those who were there, are indescribable. The emotions inside the stadium were beyond any live event I have ever felt – perhaps because I am a Leafs fan.

Gord lived up to his legendary antics, thrilling tens of thousands of animated and lucky fans in his metallic suits and feathered hats, in turn like a metallic pink or turquoise or silver crayon gone wild.

I did not hear every Hip song that holds deep meaning to me. How could I hear them all? There are just so many.

But from the opening chords of Blow at High Dough, to New Orleans is Sinking, to the poignant refrains of Courage , Grace, Too,, and so many more to the end of their second encore and Bobcaygeon, it was an emotional roller coaster. Each song brought back so many memories and reminiscences…it was a dry ice-, light- and sound-filled travelogue through my last 30 years.  Happy times, sad times, challenges, triumphs all rolled up into one evening.

And each time we thought it was over, the musicians of The Hip demonstrated the classy humility that we all strive to display. Knowing that Gord Downie is their voice and the recognizable tip of the Hip’s iceberg, they surrendered the stage repeatedly to their lead singer to absorb our love – fully and completely. And as we shouted ourselves hoarse and clapped until our hands were red, he looked back at us all with many emotions: sorrow that it was likely the last time that he would thrill an Edmonton crowd, and joy that he left us so fulfilled.

But mostly what I saw on Gord’s face was a deep, deep gratitude. Gratitude that we have appreciated the poetry, the music, the showmanship, the enigmatic persona – the whole musical adventure and journey.  That we grew from six people in seedy pubs and taverns to almost thirty-thousand in the shrines of hockey all across Canada.

And after what possibly seemed like an eternity for him, but only a moment for us, he left the stage… leaving a vacuum in the moment and quite possibly forever.  Though others did, I did not cry, but I did feel a well of sadness.

I felt for him, and for all those that know they face a shortened future because of some incurable illness.

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And selfishly, I also felt a tiny bit of me slip away, too…30 years of memories seemed to fade slightly with The Hip’s departure from Edmonton’s and Canada’s stage. It was an evening of ups and downs that left me hoarse, ringing, and emotionally drained. I would not have missed it for the world!

And for those that are not fortunate enough to see them live one last time, the broadcast of their final concert is not something to miss. I know like the majority of Canada, I will be glued to the set, with a beer in hand, watching history. Just as they would like us all to be.

It will be Tragic, yes; and it will also be epic.

In the end, I have a feeling we will all be saying, “The Hip shoots and they score!”

Later,

ASF

 

 

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