Tomorrow is Canada Day, so I thought it might be nice to highlight some of my favorite Canadian songs for this week’s Friday Five. These are songs that are about Canada, or places in Canada, or being Canadian, or just have that distinctive Canadian vibe that I love so much.
If you know me, you know I love The Tragically Hip and Gord Downie. I couldn’t really let the holidays pass by without posting something Hip-related, eh? There is a great live recording out there of the Hip doing a kind of mash-up of “White Christmas” & “On The Verge,” but then I happened across Gord Downie’s “Christmastime in Toronto,” and well, that one seemed perfect.
It’s fitting, too, that I’m spending today in Kingston, Ontario — home of the Hip, and my favorite place in the world.
December 22: Gord Downie, “Christmastime in Toronto”
Tomorrow is the final stop on the Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem tour. The band will play one final show in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario, and then it’s radio silence as the world waits to see if Gord will be strong enough to make more music. As much as the band is preferring not to say this is the final show for them, it likely will be. I was one of the lucky ones to get tickets to the event, so we’ll be there to celebrate and cry with everyone in Kingston. It’s going to be an evening so full of joy and so full of emotion, too. It seems weird to think that this is my very first time seeing the Hip, and it’ll also be the last.
I’ve had their catalog playing non-stop for a few weeks now, so it seems appropriate to devote this Friday Five once again to the Tragically Hip. I shared my favorite songs last time, but there are so many gorgeous tunes. Here are a few of them.
It’s been a very long and emotional week for music lovers across Canada and beyond. The news of Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer left all of us in shock. I’m not Canadian, but anyone who knows me knows that I might as well be. I bleed red and white. My cubicle at work is wall-to-wall Canadiana. I care as much about the political climate in Canada as I do my own country. If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be Kingston, Ontario. The Canadian national anthem makes me tear up every time I hear it. I love hockey, the Harm (Sarah Harmer), and the Hip.
Though it’s tough knowing that this is the end for the Hip, and the end for Gord, I know fans everywhere are trying to focus on all the band gave Canada over the years, and how many lives they’ve touched. And everyone is grateful to Gord for spending his precious time left with us, his fans.
To celebrate Gord, I’m devoting this edition of the Friday Five exclusively to the Tragically Hip. It was tough to narrow it down to five songs, because there are so many that are pure poetry, and so many that capture the history and beauty of Canada. But these are my favorites, and two tracks (“Now For Plan A” and “The Lookahead” — the videos for these are actually like short films) feature my favorite singer-songwriter, Sarah Harmer.
1. “Now For Plan A”
In your face, the endless patience / The fleeting nature of life on display
It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations / Reveal themselves one star at a time
Courage, my word / It didn’t come, it doesn’t matter / Courage, it couldn’t come at a worse time
4. “Nautical Disaster”
I had this dream where I relished the fray / And the screaming filled my head all day
5. “The Lookahead”
You weigh a snowflake / The glamour of the sky / Descending / Past perfect eyes
“You don’t have anything by the Tragically Hip?” he asked, followed by that short spurt of air through his nose that I knew to be thinly-veiled disdain.
“The Tragically Hip?” I’d heard of the band, but I couldn’t say that I’d ever heard anything by them. It was 1997 in rural New York, and I was into the Indigo Girls, and Offspring, and Stone Temple Pilots. The college radio station, where I was a DJ, had introduced me to a few new things, like Better Than Ezra and 8 oz. Joe. But not the Hip.
My new boyfriend, three years my senior, grew up a few miles south of the Canadian border in Vermont. He loved hockey, he loved the Tragically Hip, and he reminded me daily that Canada was just all-around better than the US. I’d been to Canada once or twice, and I didn’t understand what the fuss was about. How was it better? But he insisted. He wanted to be Canadian. He felt he was, just by being in such close proximity to its border.
“They are the best band in the world.”
I shrugged and watched him continue to flip through my vast collection of CDs.
It would be a few years before I met the love of my life, who actually lived in Canada for several years and introduced me to its wonders. I grew to love it the way my old boyfriend had, and felt most at home in Kingston, Ontario, not far from where my great-grandparents had a farm on the shore of Lake Ontario. Kingston has given birth to so many Canadian greats: Sarah Harmer, the Arrogant Worms, and, most famously, the Tragically Hip. It has such a rich musical history, and maybe that’s one of the things I sensed as the city and the country wove its way deeper into my soul.
I can’t say that I’ve been a Hip fan since the 80s, like many. But I remember when the street in front of the K-Rock Centre became Tragically Hip Way in 2012. I remember seeing Gord Downie perform with the Sadies at the Greenbelt Harvest Picnic that year. I remember listening to “Now For Plan A” for the first time, and falling in love with the songs. I remember being disappointed that we couldn’t go see the Hip play Kingston in support of that album, and doubly disappointed when I learned Sarah Harmer came out to sing a few songs with them. I remember watching Gord Downie’s dance moves on shaky YouTube concert videos, and how the songs hooked themselves in my brain and wouldn’t let go. They were my workout soundtrack, my workplace soundtrack, the songs I sang as I cooked dinner for my family. I caught myself singing “The Lookahead” while in the kitchen just last week.
I came to understand that to love Canada meant loving the Hip too. Sure, the band has its detractors. But the Hip are Canada — they are its voice, its poetry, its essence. They are places, moments, memories. They are so deeply intertwined with the Canadian culture and landscape that you cannot separate the two. And as Canada mourns the news of Gord Downie’s terminal cancer, I mourn too.
This time, I won’t miss out. I had planned to go see the Julie Ruin with friends on August 20th — I adore Kathleen Hanna — but when the Tragically Hip announced their final tour this morning, I had to change my plans. The Hip will play their very last show that day, in their hometown, my beloved Kingston. I know that it will be tough to get tickets; I even went so far as to get an American Express card just so I can make a go at the presale. I want to be there and experience the Hip for both my first and last time. And even if I can’t get tickets, I’ll be in Kingston. After the crowd spills out of the arena, I’ll be standing on Tragically Hip Way with my Northern brothers and sisters, and together, we’ll look up and watch the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time.