The Tragically Hip. Is there another band that personifies Canada more completely than the boys from Kingston? Not that I've ever found. Almost every album certified platinum (1,000,000 sales), many of those multi-platinum, and two albums, 1989's Up To Here and 1992's Fully Completely, certified diamond (10,000,000 sales). They've sold more albums than there are people in this country and were it not for a tragic illness we might have have the chance to buy many, many more.
In May of this year it was announced that lead singer, Gord Downie, has terminal brain cancer. If you're not a Canadian it's hard to truly understand how hard that news hit us. This was quickly followed by the announcement of a final Canadian tour to, yes, say goodbye but also to say thank you. To thank the fans, the people, the places, the very country that has supported them for the past 30 years. Those three decades have not been idly spent either. Ask anyone who's ever met them, worked with them, toured them and you'll hear stories of good 'ol boys who never bought into the rock star lifestyle and did their best to stay true to their roots. Who still live in their hometown of Kingston, less than two hours down Highway 401 from Ottawa, and regularly not only give back to the community by lending support to events and charities but also having raised their own families there have been regulars at school and sporting events just chatting and hanging out with other parents like everybody else.
I've heard these stories for as long as I can remember. Personally, my love affair with The Hip started the summer before I started high school. Road Apples had just been released and I was blown away by "Little Bones". I can still hear that opening riff blaring from the speakers of the arcade/pool hall/general store by my aunt and uncle's trailer. The following summer I had my first part time job and one of the first things I bought was a CD player and my very own copies of Road Apples and Up To Here. Later that year Fully Completely was released and I convinced the program director of our school radio station to add "Locked in the Truck of a Car" to the rotation. The Hip were a big part of the soundtrack of my teenage years and have been a favourite of mine ever since.
Fifteen years ago on the day I brought my son Liam home from the hospital "Little Bones" was playing on the radio when I picked up him and his mother at the front of the hospital, and two days ago I got to take him to see them play here in Ottawa for the second last stop on their Man Machine Poem tour. It was awesome and moving and heartfelt and sad and funny and one of the best emotional roller coasters I've ever been on. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when Gord said his final farewell of the night and don't think I'll ever hear "Courage" the same way ever again. It was the first song of the first encore and they hit the first note so hard and the lights came up so bright and it was just such a perfect song to play at that point that I nearly cried again. When they followed it up with "Wheat Kings", all 20,000 of us singing along, I actually did. My son has heard their music literally his entire life and I think he now finally understands why I love them so much.
Tonight our country comes together to bid farewell to some of its favourite sons. Kingston is abuzz with excitement and understandably so. This is a concert series that sold out in record time, even for a group that has a history of selling out Canadian shows faster than many bigger acts in the 90's and early 2000's. Extra shows were added and the CBC is even interrupting their Olympic coverage to broadcast the show live. Earlier today I was in Kingston for a job and I'm glad I wore my Hip cap. I've never had so many people come up and talk to me while I was working. Fans, people they went to school with, even one of their neighbours (if a random person at a gas station can be believed lol). If Thursday's show was any indication then this will be one for the history books. Gord has given us his all this summer and we have given him and the rest of the boys every bit of it back with love and support helping to make this tour absolutely legendary.
I know they'll never see this, but I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to The Tragically Hip for 30 years of music that has been such a big part of my life, for one last tour that gave us a chance to say goodbye, for a special night of memories with my son, for never forgetting who you are and where you came from, and for reminding everyone that Canadians can rock with the best of them.
Finally, I want to say a special thank you to Christa, my ex-wife, who got me the tickets to Thursday's show. Words will never do justice to how much being there with Liam meant to me.