Tag Archives: The Tragically Hip

The Never-Ending Present

5 Apr

One of the best things I didn’t get in Denver was a copy of this book, The Never-Ending Present: The Story of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip by Michael Barclay.

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I was pleased to see that the publisher, ECW Press, a small publishing company out of Toronto, had a booth in the exhibit hall. I made my way over and had a nice conversation with Amy, who told me that she had no ARCs, but could send me one. Yeah!

I received the ARC a few weeks later. I came back with a pile of ARCs, finally finished made it to this one. It was worth the wait!

Publisher’s Summary: In the summer of 2016, more than a third of Canadians tuned in to watch what was likely the Tragically Hip’s final performance, broadcast from their hometown of Kingston, Ontario. Why? Because these five men were always more than just a band. They sold millions of records and defined a generation of Canadian rock music. But they were also a tabula rasa onto which fans could project their own ideas: of performance, of poetry, of history, of Canada itself.

In the first print biography of the Tragically Hip, Michael Barclay talks to dozens of the band’s peers and friends about not just the Hip’s music but about the opening bands, the American albatross, the band’s role in Canadian culture, and Gord Downie’s role in reconciliation with Indigenous people. When Downie announced he had terminal cancer and decided to take the Hip on the road one more time, the tour became another Terry Fox moment; this time, Canadians got to witness an embattled hero reach the finish line.

This is a book not just for fans of the band: it’s for anyone interested in how culture can spark national conversations.

When I first heard about the book, I expected it to be a straightforward band bio. On the page before the Prologue, however,  the author tells readers that the book is a documentary combining a chronological history of the band, thematic reflections on the band’s work and influence, a description of Gord Downie’s work that lead to The Secret Path, and a collection of impressions by friends and fans from The Hip’s early days through the final concert in Kingston. Barclay also tells readers that you can read chapters in isolation or out of order. Although I read the book sequentially, I can see that this is completely possible. It would be a great way to reread the book.

I have to admit that I read much of the book with my computer parked on YouTube, searching up bands and songs from the 80s and 90s. Many names were part of my youth and young adulthood, but I needed reminders of who they were or what songs were on that album. The first half of the book was a wonderful stroll down memory lane.  I am the same age as most of the band members so many of the bands they listened to were ones I heard. And many Canadian artists who began in the music industry at the same time as The Tragically Hip  were on the radio when I was in college and starting my career. For the most part, I loved this. Occasionally, it seemed like there was a lot of name dropping and info about the music business that only real music aficionados would appreciate, but it never lasted long. I could have skipped those chapters ( per the author’s forward) but found something new and interesting, even where I felt the book bogged down for me.

I don’t claim to be a huge fan of The Tragically Hip. I had two cassettes in the 90s (Up to Here and Road Apples) and brought both of them with me when I went to Colombia. Living on the west coast if the US for the last 20 years, I hadn’t paid them much more attention until the news of Downie’s terminal diagnosis became public along with the final tour dates. I watched the concert in Kingston and felt really connected to Canada and Canadian culture.

I found a couple of aspects of the book fascinating. First, although many people connect to the “Canada’s Band” mythos, Barclay brings in many voices that counter that narrative. I actually appreciate that. I grew up in small town Ontario and I know that this is not the experience of many, if not most, Canadians.

Secondly, this wasn’t just an uncritical homage to the band. Barclay, and the people he interviewed for the book (or for articles he’d published previously) are not mere band sycophants. Chapter 15 “A Heart-Warming Moment for Literature”  talks about Gord Downie as a poet. There are voices that argue that Downie is Canada’s greatest poet. There are voices that argue that Downie is no poet at all. It is this sort of discourse, which occurs throughout the book, that gets me so jazzed about the book.

If you are in the GTA, there is a book release party at the Horseshoe Tavern tonight (April 5th) and another in Lindsay on Saturday. Details can be found here.

 

 

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My Canadian Week

23 Oct

I had a sad moment last week. I was sitting in a conference room with seven other 6th grade teachers and I realized I was the only one who knew, and cared, that Gord Downie, lead singer of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip, had died.

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I don’t feel foreign very often, but I did that day. I felt a little alone in that room.

Later in the week, while reading That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston, I felt like I had insider information.

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Much of the story is set in Muskoka, where my sister has lived for almost 30 years. I laughed out loud at parts that American readers will not see as funny. I felt smugly superior, even though I was home alone. You don’t need a Canadian background to find the book witty and engaging. You simply get to enjoy it at an even deeper level, if you are.

Publisher’s Summary: Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history. The imperial tradition of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage. But before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer of freedom and privacy in a far corner of empire. Posing as a commoner in Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an extraordinary bond and maybe a one-in-a-million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process.

Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved not by the cost of blood and theft but by the effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a surprising, romantic, and thought-provoking story of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

 

The New Anne

29 May

I was excited but skeptical when I heard that a new Anne of Green Gables series was in the works. I had read all the books as a child and, like many Canadians, watched Kevin Sullivan’s 1985 television mini series with a heart full of love. I was thrilled when they filmed part of the second series (Anne of Avonlea) in the Allan Gardens near my apartment in Toronto when I was at U of T. I walked right past the filming one wintry night and saw Anne &  Morgan Harris (Megan Follows & Frank Converse).

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My emotional attachment to Kevin Sullivan’s production is strong, and my concern over Anne With an E, understandable.

And so, I began watching this weekend.

My heart leapt with joy when I heard the The Tragically Hip’s “Ahead by a Century”.

“This might be okay”, I thought.

And it was more than OK!

Yes, they have added background stories and added some pieces, but, as a lifelong fan of Anne, I don’t find these non-canonical additions uncomfortable.

The actors portraying Anne, Marilla and Matthew (Amybeth McNulty, Geraldine James, and R. H. Thomson) are fantastic and capture the essence of each character. I think my heart will always hold Jonathan Crombie as the perfect Gilbert. Lucas Jade Zumann is just a little too broody, but he has moments when I see the Gilbert I love. I think, as the series progresses, I might soften towards this new Gilbert.

So, to sum up, I will continue watching enthusiastically. If you haven’t watched it, or have been hesitating like I have, fear not. You won’t be disappointed.

The Tragically Hip

20 Aug

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Many Canadians will tune away from the Olympics today to watch The Tragically Hip’ last concert live. I’ve already bookmarked the CBC’s live stream site on YouTube.

 

All of Canada mourned when the band announced in May that lead-singer Gordon Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. They released their last album in June and the CBC decided to live cast the final concert from their hometown in Kingston, so the nation could say goodbye.

It is not surprising to me how Canada is rallying around the band, and doing it in a way that, I think could never happen un the USA. Because it is not about whether you like The Hip or not. It’s about rallying around an idea of what it is to be Canadian. When the CBC asked fans to answer the question“What does the Tragically Hip mean to you?” in 3 or 4 words, they got answers like “Canada’s heart and soul” and “Great poets of our time”.

I was never a rabid Hip fan, but I concur with the two sentiments above. They appeared just after I’d finished university and had started teaching, but I had cassettes of  “Up to Here” and “Road Apples”  that I played frequently. And they were two  of the cassettes I took with me when I went to teach in Colombia.

I called my 85-year-old mother this morning and, half-jokingly asked if she’d be watching. She said she would. So, this afternoon, I will join millions of people, in Canada and across the world to watch this

If you don’t know The Tragically Hip, you can get the check out Rolling Stone’s  article about what they consider their 10 essential songs.

 

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