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Tragically Hip

I come from downtown
Born ready for you
Armed with will and determination – and grace, too

Since they’re gearing up to launch their 11th studio album, “We Are the Same” on April 7th – I thought it would be beyond appropriate to re-boot Wednesday Wadio with a delicious slice of the Tragically Hip. When they were invited, at Dan Aykroyd’s insistence, to play an episode of Saturday Night Live which he hosted in 1996 it was a big night for Kingston, Ontario’s favorite sons. Dan even represents the Limestone City as he introduces the first song – my all-time favorite “Grace, Too“.

Dan’s friends, the Tragically Hip

The song’s lovely bass intro was the first feature that grabbed me way back in my University days, 1994 to be exact. I remember my friend Steve Barry had all of his friends (of which I was one,) over to his house as soon as he got back from the record store with the comprehensively classic album “Day for Night” on CD. We sat scrunched in his room as it kicked off with Grace, Too – and I remember the boys were all suitably impressed. In fact it’s amazing we even got to the bars that night. The record also contains Hips canon classics like “Thugs”, “Nautical Disaster”, “Scared” and “Inevitability of Death” – and little did I know we were in for long afternoon of many repeated listenings and a lot of Molson Canadian. It’s a great, solid record from start to finish which I can admit now – although in 1994 my epiphany had not yet come and I friggin’ hated the Hip.

There was a website I loved devoted to explicating and deciphering Tragically Hip lyrics. It was called the “burning schoolhouse” or something and it may be ancient history as I can’t find it. I once read there that the song was about a pimp attempting to convince a young girl, straight off the bus, to come and work for him. “The appearance of conflict meeting the appearance of force” line would be especially meaningful under that interpretation. I know now from personal experience that lead singer, Gord Downie, saw no shortage of hookers growing up in Kingston. Did that come out wrong? That came out wrong.

That same night on SNL we were treated to the performance of another confirmed Hip classic, “Nautical Disaster“, which is a little easier to translate than Grace, Too. Primarily because it’s about a nautical disaster. If you’re a Hip rookie and you enjoyed what you saw and heard above – be sure to check this tune out before you leave me today.

I ask you – What kind of a frigtard designs a lifeboat for only 10 people?

It’s true – if nothing else, Canada is rich in lumber, fresh water and songs about people dying violent deaths at sea. I hope you enjoyed the return of Wadio today and of Pye in the Face in general. You can order the Hip’s classic, “Day for Night“, from Amazon MP3 by clicking the title and their upcoming tour dates have also been released.

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Fly is my favorite song off the new album, World Container, and although there isn’t a video for it yet, I did find this concert clip recorded in Belgium back in May. There’s some pretty good Downie Dancing throughout, and I love the guitar solo – which sounds much better on the record and reminds me of the one note solo from Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl, which I maintain is the best guitar solo ever. Yes, I said one note. World Container is the best Hip album since Phantom Power, and they’re playing at Avalon here in Boston in February.

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Drummer Johnny Fay once famously quipped to Billboard that being the biggest band in Canada was “like being the world’s tallest midgets.” HipWiki

Gord Downie appears to be flapping out a poutine-induced dutch oven at the beginning of The Hip‘s new video for ‘In View’ – and things go downhill from there. Throughout the course of the clip, he lifts dumbells, has severe communications problems, gets chased through Shanghai after stealing a cell – all in an attempt to phone a woman lass than half his age. I’m not sure what is happening here, but I think my first interpretation which revolved around the protagonist being an aging, Asian-hating pedophile is a little off. Only repeated viewings will tell for sure.

And repeated viewings there will be. It’s a catchy little tune, along the lines of Fireworks or Music at Work, and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album, World Container, which is being released in Canada on October 16th.

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“This is a success story that is unique unto itself, its country, and most definitely its band“. – Matt Sheardown.

Yes, I know it’s Friday. Many of you have have read me rant about this band over the years, and I’ve even dragged a few of you to their concerts with me. I wrote a decent piece about Gord Downie a few years ago, which is down for some reason – I’ll have to repost it from my desktop backup at home – but this article that Nate just sent me is truly amazing. It’s a comprehensive history of the band, written with painstaking detail and a lot of love.

“The music, though consistently solid, only tells us half the story of The Tragically Hip. Bands rarely become legends on music alone: The Beatles had LSD and Yoko Ono, The Stones had Keith Richards and Altamont, Nirvana had suicide and MTV Unplugged, and so on and so forth. The Tragically Hip have Gord Downie, and because of Gord Downie, The Tragically Hip have one of the most memorable live performance reputations this side of the 49th parallel. Sure, the sound is spot on, and the instruments rarely miss a step, but you can only hear them. The show isn’t in the instruments.”

The article’s author, Matt Sheardown, goes on to explicate his favorite Hip songs at the end of the article, and chooses 1994’s Nautical Disaster to bestow the following praise: For my money, the single greatest song the band has ever made. The lyrics are sung paragraphs, and the memories they drum up are so vivid in their unsettling nature. Brilliant from start to finish. Since Matt’s article inspired me to feature the Tragically Hip this week, I figured I’d abide by his opinion and use his favorite tune.

The Hip are proponents of all things Canadian, and their lyrics and themes often delve into obscure references that only select senior citizens in Manitoba may ‘get’ – but are important and fascinating all the same. Hip concerts around the world are flocked to by ex-pats, and they could sell out the largest venue in Toronto more nights in a row than any major act going. I’m talking to you, Jagger. Nautical Disaster is a great example of Hip Canadiana:

Few believe that the song is about a single theme, but it seems that one theme may be about the raid on Dieppe during World War II. Dieppe was a daylight, pre-D-day raid of a German held port on the coast of France. In the assault, carried out by Canadian troops, nearly 4000 men were killed out of a force of about 4800. The lyrics to “Nautical Disaster” are extremely close to these facts. Gord Downie himself has alluded to the fact that the song is one long metaphor for a failed relationship, but the literal meaning has ties to Dieppe.”

I normally introduce people to the Hip via Bobcaygeon or The Darkest One, but Nautical Disaster is definitely in the top three somewhere. It is reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in it’s imagery. It also reminds me of the scene in Jaws where Quint is describing what it was like to be on the U.S.S. Indianapolis when it was sunk: “So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks ttook the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.” Tragedies at sea. For my female readers (unveiled sexism) – picture the end of Titanic.

From the first line of the song, you know you’re in for something quite horrible: “I had this dream where I relished the fray, and the screaming filled my head all day.” It starts slow and builds to the line everyone loves to scream at shows “…off the coast of France, dear!” before it kicks into high gear. Have a listen for yourself by clicking on Radio Pye in the left column, and you can read some great fan explication here.

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On “Bobcaygeon,” the highlight of this album and possibly the Hip’s best song ever, Downie’s enigmatic lyrics paint a picture that accumulates detail with every listen. – Amazon

You can never predict what will inspire my choice for the Wadio from one week to the next – this time around, it was as simple as a fireside conversation with an old friend about his dock sales route. “Last week I went up through Napanee, stopped in Belleville, made a run down towards Trenton and then right back up to Bobcaygeon“. I smiled and looked over at Moynihan, as I knew exactly what he was thinking – That’s the town they mention in that Hip song!

The Tragically Hip’s lineup has remained absolutely unchanged since 1983 when they started slugging away on the Ontario club circuit – and they’ve grown over the past 22 years to become the undisputed and revered godfathers of Canadian rock. My history with the Hip has been love/hate (read about it here). I have seen them live four times and their lead singer, Gord Downie, solo twice. I have grown slowly to love this band over two decades, and like Marmite – most people either love them or hate them.

Bobcaygeon is one of their more readily digestible dittys, and was once described by Downie as a “cop love song”. The song weaves the tale of a man who hates his job and spends every waking hour longing to return to the arms of his significant other, and opens with two of my favorite lines ever: I left your house this morning about a quarter after nine / coulda been the Willie Nelson, coulda been the wine. Ah yes, Lovemaking – country-style. I wonder which one of them was holding the fly-swatter.

In the video, Gord is a Toronto horseback cop (not to be confused with RCMP), and his girlfriend is Native American. But the actual lyrics never get this specific, which is why I hate literal interpretations and music vids in general: Drove back to town this morning with working on my mind / I thought of maybe quitting / thought of leaving it behind / went back to bed this morning / and as I’m pulling down the blind / the sky was dull and hypothetical / and falling one cloud at a time.

Sounds like someone needs to pay a hasty visit to Monster.com. As the song progresses, the protagonist is involved in breaking up what sounds like a white power rally (which is probably why the woman is portrayed as ethnic in the video): In the middle of that riot / couldn’t get you off my mind. He then returns home to the rural paradise that is Bobcaygeon, Ontario and resumes brooding/liquoring.

I love this song. The lyrics are simple – yet deep and engaging. The acoustic guitar is rustic and scratchy and the bassline dances around like a crazy person. As it slowly builds momentum towards the creshendo of the incident in Toronto, you learn volumes about this man and the remorse he has for his lot in life. Afterall, behind every suicidal cop, there’s an indigenous woman.

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Canada Day, Up Canada Way…

by Dave on June 28, 2005

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… a great song by a truly great Canadian. And I thought of the title tonight because I’ll be heading up to the Great White North for Canada Day – which is this Friday, July 1st. The song is rivaled only by Bud the Spud and Little Wawa in terms of ruling the entire repetoire. Have a look here if you want to play it alone on the guitar in an air-conditioned room whilst slathering yourself in poutine and maple syrup. That might just be the only way to help my American friends grasp the true essence of Canadiana, get arrested for indecency or whichever comes first.

With songs like Give Me Cold, Cold Beer, The Hockey Song, The Bars of Vancouver, “Wop” May, The Man in the Moon is a Newfie, She Don’t Speak English and Snowmobile Song rounding out the catalog – I know I’ve probably peaked your interest in Stompin’ Tom Connors. Now, mine is always peaked – which is why I’ve learned the hard way not to go outside in tight shorts – so I did a few searches for recent news on old Tom.


The Canadian version of the upcoming Live 8 concerts takes place in Barrie, Ontario on July 2nd, and will bring a sudden influx of over 35,000 people into the community. But starving Africans aren’t the real draw, as the line-up includes a veritable who’s-who of Canadian rock icons. Not so fast, Celine. While Barenaked Ladies, Bruce Cockburn and Bryan Adams don’t exactly have me rubbing my snowballs with glee – the show closes with Our Lady Peace, The Tragically Hip and Neil fucking Young! I used to spend a lot of time in Barrie and know it pretty well. And for that reason I can honestly say it would take Neil Young to get me to go back. Actually, a hand-written note from Neil himself. Actually a hand jo… I don’t much care for Barrie.

A DJ in Ottawa has made the news this week by raising such a stink over that fact that Stompin’ Tom was not included in this roster of Canada’s finest that it has cost him his job: “A true Canadian icon like Stompin’ Tom, it’s unbelievable this guy’s been overlooked. I made a vow to play non-stop Stompin’ Tom until Bob Geldof put ‘The Stomper’ on the bill.” Since the station only had one Connors song in its library, Big Joe Mufferaw, Brown played it six times in a row until he could get a colleague to rush out and buy more Connors CDs.

Put the fuckin’ Stomper on the Bill, eh? You don’t like Mondays, Geldof? Well I don’t think you’ll like gettin’ gooned by the fuckin’ Stomper much neither. Fuck’s sakes (and scene). Ottawa DJ Jeff Brown – Pye in the Face salutes you, buddy.

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That’s a bit of a clunky article title I’ll admit. But it’s definitely search engine friendly, so cut me some slack. Tonight Janet, Bryan, Jennifer, Betsy, Bo, Mark and I went to see the Hip play in Boston. And it was amazing.





I’ve seen Downie solo twice, and this was the fourth time I’ve seen the Hip – honestly don’t think the man has ever put on a better show. With me present. 3 encores, energy like nutty bananas. Great time. These Canadian cats have a lot of life left in them.

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