I'd heard of The Tragically Hip, but didn't know much about the band until last week other than the fact that they had an amusing name. That changed last Saturday.
I was dicking around on Twitter while enjoying a couple of beers, as I'm wont to do, when my timeline filled up with #thehip. Apparently I follow a lot of Canadians. The tweets were unusual in their emotional rawness and cultural connection.
Intrigued, I started clicking around on the Ghooghles to see what the fuss was about. And, man, it's a hell of a story.
The Hip are a uniquely Canadian thing, perhaps our Northern neighbor's most beloved musical act. (Bryan Adams and Anne Murray notwithstanding). Nine of their 14 albums have topped the Canadian charts. Their songs tell the stories of Canada's cultural heritage - from small prairie towns to hockey to the indigenous First Nation people. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said recently that The Hip has "been writing the Canada's soundtrack for more than 30 years."
Unlike acts with similarly fervent local followings like Midnight Oil, The Hip never broke out beyond the borders of their homeland. But based on the past few months, maybe being a nation's band is more than enough.
In May, The Hip's frontman, Gord Downie, announced that he had untreatable and terminal glioblastoma - an aggressive brain cancer. Despite ongoing chemotherapy, Downie and the band decided to tour one more time.
Their final show was last Saturday in their hometown of Kingston. The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) showed the concert in its entirety, a marker of the country's connection to the band. After seeing the outpouring of feels and joy on Twitter, I tuned in for the final 30 minutes or so. I knew fuck all about the band, but even I was moved by the moment, Downie's connection with the crowd, with his bandmates, and with his circumstance. At times, he seemed alternately inspired and deeply sad. As an example, go to the 1:50 mark of the video below, the band's performance of Grace, Too. If seeing that and knowing the reality behind it doesn't move you, then you're made of stone.
Here's the entire show, if you've got a couple of hours to burn. The Hip closed out its touring career with Ahead by a Century, their most popular single. You can see it starting at about 2:32 in the video below.
Downie's an incredible showman, renowned for his connection with audiences. His emotion, his passion, his mortality, and The Hip's unique relationship with their homeland made this show unforgettable. I'm glad I stumbled on it, and I wish I'd stumbled on the band long ago.