Monday, July 1, 2013

Tragically Hip - Canada's Most Canadian Band

Canada was given its independence from our mother country Great Britain on July 1st 1867. Hence forth every July 1st is celebrated as Canada Day. Canada did not win its independence through revolution, daring or war but rather from loyalty, respect and peace. You decide which is better. Despite being geographically the second largest country in the world, Canada is often ignored by the rest of the world. We are known for a few things like hockey, maple syrup, bacon, a butt load of comedians, and not being America. Equally impressive, though often overlooked, is the great music Canada has produced over the years.

Per-capita Canada has an insane number of really good rock bands, unfortunately many of them are not too well known outside of the great white north. Since the nineties it has been said that Tragically Hip is Canada’s best kept secret. As a Canadian I can assure you that this in fact is true. Tragically Hip are so popular here, yet no one outside of Canada appears to have ever heard of them, the contrast is so drastic the Hip must qualify as a Canadian secret more than any other. There is an additional accolade I would give Tragically Hip, they are also Canada’s most Canadian band, and that may be one of the reasons our neighbours down south never really learned to love the Hip, maybe they just don’t quite get it; maybe?

Canada is the first nation in history to officially adopt a federal policy of multiculturalism, because of this Canadian culture being mixed of many things. You might ask how is it possible to judge how Canadian something is since so many different things, both local and foreign, make up Canadian identity. The thing is no matter where you go there always are small cultural nuances, and Canada, as a huge, widely diverse country, that is largely ignored, we have many. Tragically Hip, as Canada’s most Canadian band, is constantly singing about simple, subtle, much unknown Canadian things.

In the song “Wheat Kings” the scene is set in Saskatchewan and the narrative is about David Milgaard who wrongly sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Gail Miller. This travesty of justice was a big deal in Canadian news in the nineties, when after spending twenty three years in jail the Canadian government finally accepted Milgaard’s appeal and was set free. If you didn’t live in Canada you probably didn’t hear about it.

“Twenty years for nothing, well that’s nothing new,
Besides, no one’s interested in something you didn’t do.”

Wheat Kings:

In the song “Bobcagen” multiple reference to the music scene in Toronto are made like “The Horseshoe Tavern” which has a “checkerboard floor” and the band “The Men They Couldn’t Hang.” The song is most interesting since it seems to tell two possible parallel interpretation, one about Gord Downie reminiscing about the Hip’s early days, and also there appears to be a story about a police officer trying to keep order during a racial charged riot. However I cannot find any record of any racial motivated riot in Toronto since the 1933 Christie Pits riot which was fueled by feelings of anti-Semitism.

“That night in Toronto with its checkerboard floors,
Riding on horseback and keeping order restored,
Til the men they couldn't hang,
Stepped to the mic and sang,
And their voices rang with that Aryan twang.”


The song “It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken” is named after and about a Canadian written and published graphic novel of the same name. This appeal to other obscure Canadian art is another qualifier for Tragically Hip being the most Canadian of all Canadian bands.

It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken:

Cover of "It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken."
“At The Hundredth Meridian” where the Great Plains began refers to the longitude 100 which runs through Manitoba. West from there, there is nothing but open fields of wheat and grass for about 1,300 kilometers and only stops when you reach the Rocky Mountains. Probably didn’t know that if you didn’t live in Canada.

At The Hundredth Meridian:

Gord Downie openly declares in the song “50 Mission Cap” that the lyrics are stolen from a hockey trading card. How Canadian can you get really?

50 Mission Cap:

My favorite Tragically Hip song, that just so happens to be very Canadian, “Fireworks.”


“If there's a goal that everyone remembers it was back in ol' 72
We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger
And all I remember was sitting beside you
You said you didn't give a fuck about hockey
And I never saw someone say that before
You held my hand and we walked home the long way
You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr.”

The goal that everyone remembers was Paul Henderson’s goal that won Canada the Summit Series in 1972. In our own small way Canada won the cold war right then and there. Also in the seventies Bobby Orr was the greatest hockey player in the world and most young Canadians at the time looked up to him like some kind of super hero, including future greatest hockey player of all time Wayne Gretzky.

Paul Henderson celebrating after scoring the winning goal at the Summit Series
“We hung out together every single moment
Cause that's what we though married people do
Complete with the grip of artificial chaos
And believing in the country of me and you
Crisis of faith and crisis in the Kremlin
And yea we'd heard all of that before
It's wintertime, the house is solitude with options
And loosening the grip on a fake cold war”

The Cold War was a big deal for Canada. The threat of a third world war and nuclear holocaust was a big enough deal for everyone to take in, but we were Canada, we were American’s best friend, and if Russia was going to send nukes over the north Atlantic they would have to nuke Canada before they got to America. While there was a lot of concern about the cold war getting hot most Canadians were pretty comfortable with Russia and the peace we shared, after all we already beat them at hockey so what was there to worry about?

Did anyone outside of Canada care about our relationship with the United States and Russia? Even including the United States and Russia no one seemed to take any note of our uncomfortable geographic position. I guess NATO cared somewhat, but that was militaristic planning not cultural.

“Fireworks” in my opinion might just be Tragically Hip’s best song. The Hip use the Summit Series and hockey as a bridge to the cold war and the cold war as a bridge to maturing as an adult which it is a very charming backdrop to a song and it is very Canadian.

The only song that may be more Canadian than the average Tragically Hip song is “O Canada” our national anthem, that’s only a may be.

Happy Canada Day

These men are Canada's most Canadian Band.
- Colin Kelly

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