The Tragically Hip awarded the Order of Canada Print
Written by Jason Daniel Baker   
Sunday, 16 July 2017 04:00

To call it "poignant" would be the most insensitive of understatements. The feeling goes beyond what words in any language can express. The moments were mostly heart-warming but partly gut-wrenching for Canadian rock "n' roll fans.


Gordon Downie - Canada's patron saint of cool - had announced he had inoperable brain cancer. He and his band, The Tragically Hip - a polite but nevertheless badass Canadian composite of The Fall, Joy Division and The Stranglers if Tom Waits was singer/lyricist - announced a farewell concert which was held in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario. That was last year in August.


The Tragically Hop National Celebration Flyer


The decision to end Canada's most beloved, and critically acclaimed (both when understood and misunderstood) musical project (one with some American chart success but considerably more of it in Canada) came with the evident realization that soon Downie would become incognisant before slowly dying from his horrific illness. Not only do we have to lose this artist young, but to know that it is happening slowly and painfully.


"I heard he gots like a meejor brain hemerrhoid, eh!" Was one of the more jaw-dropping articulations about Downie's health a fellow Canadian made to me at the time. I resisted the urge to correct him that it was inoperable brain cancer. Coming off as a know-it-all was entirely inappropriate to the occasion - one of those times when it is better to be a dumb-ass than a smart-ass and show deference to the band.


The compromise of a last show (on 20 August 2016 at Rogers K-Rock Centre in downtown Kingston) seemed the only way to leave on a high note and they flawlessy delivered their best. It was a charity concert to fight Aboriginal poverty - an issue dear to Downie's heart. It was also a love-in for the nation as a whole. It is one of those things that sticks in the mind when comparing farewell tours of other bands which turn out not to be farewell tours but rather a kind of grim selling point for tickets to their respective concerts to cash in before they drop dead. The Hip did one last show for their fans broadcast free to air across Canada and a nation witnessed it whether at the concert, at home or viewing parties from coast to coast. They came out for multiple encores to play old favourites they hadn't gotten to. They did it for charity and as a thank you to us.


To any true Canadian, no band had more class coming up or going out than The Hip. They maintain a significance in our culture sure to resonate beyond the Canada we know now and well into what the nation will be in at least a century of time. So will arguing over the meaning or meanings of Tragically Hip lyrics which is as Canadian as double-double in your coffee. As Canadian as having to forcibly evict a beaver from one's property. As Canadian as hitting mute when Don Cherry's face comes on your TV screen during Hockey Night in Canada. As Canadian as apologizing when it isn't your fault.


Cameras captured moments where tears welled up at various points in the show all across the venue as if keeping time with the realization that it was the end of a band that used the language of music to tell the story of modern Canada.


The Tragically Hip wrote us many more national anthems than our official one. It's true. When a dorky Toronto Maple Leafs fan in the audience proposed to his equally dorky girlfriend and they kissed after she agreed, it was our version of the famous scene of the sailor kissing the nurse scene in Times Square at end of World War II. The sense of communion in that moment and others during the concert was as strong as any religious experience.


Downie often said it is a misconception that Canadians aren't patriotic. Downie's signature quivering voice - one which even the biggest of fans can easily liken to the sound an old refrigerator makes when its broken was as good as it has ever been - is as characteristic to him as his uncanny resemblance to Gerald S. O'Loughlin. He and his bandmates became icons a long time ago. But now everyone knows it.


The Order Of Canada


On 19 June (in the run-up to Canada Day on 1 July), as recognition of that, they were awarded the Order of Canada - our highest civilian honor and one which has renewed credibility merely with their inclusion. The Order of Canada had some dark days after it was awarded to then stripped from some of the biggest shit-bags the country has ever produced (David Ahenakew, Conrad Black, Garth Drabinsky, Alan Eagleson, Steve Fonyo etc). Joining itself to the Hip makes up for a lot.


Also, Canada's offences against music extend well beyond Justin Bieber, Celine Dion, Nickleback, etc (a list too long to print out...I know!). I always felt like The Tragically Hip, among many other awesome Canadian bands, compensated for most of it if not all. The Hip helped us show our true faces to the world with pride in communicating who we are as a people.


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