I’ll be turning thirty-three next month. One of the odd things I’ve noticed about growing older in this world has been the realization of a strange sort of parameter for measuring life and age and growth: when you measure your life in new constants, in things you have always known and experienced, you’re young… and when the constants you’ve always known suddenly stop, or expire, or die, then you’re old. For example – I’ve never lived in a world without the Apple MacIntosh computer. I’ve never lived in a world that didn’t have CD players. I’ve never lived in a world without the AIDS virus. I’ve never lived in a world that didn’t know Ghostbusters, or The Terminator, or Indiana Jones.
I’ve never lived in a time that didn’t have the Tragically Hip.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Tragically Hip. I don’t own a single album. I’ve never been to a concert, even though they played one in my slightly-out-of-the-circuit Canadian city a little over two years ago. Put me on the spot and I would probably struggle to identify one of their typically poetic lyrics by the correct song name.
But I still knew them. It was next to impossible not to. The moment Gord’s twangy wail of a voice started up, wavering like the guitar riffs that adapted to whichever poem they were communicating this time… no one else sounded like the Hip.
I liked their music. I liked the way lyrical veins of bitter history and sad truths braided themselves with nostalgia and anger, with the sound of tires on gravel and the scent of a city in winter.
And I knew them because they were always there. I heard them in theme songs of Canadian TV shows, on soundtracks. I saw them cameo in our movies, our sitcoms. They released 15 albums, 58 singles, and Downie made 6 albums of his own. Whether watching MuchMusic and seeing their videos when I was in high school, or catching Downie’s interviews on the Strombo Show when I was in college, or hearing a song on the radio as I drove from home to university to work and back – the Tragically Hip were there, in that sort of way that you never really notice or quantify.
I wasn’t surprised when I read the headline, when I turned the keys in the ignition and fired the car engine and the radio to life together to hear song after song on every radio station, all variations on that poetic twang that spanned thirty goddamn years. We all knew this was coming. 1/3 of Canada tuned in to listen to Gord Downie commandeer his own goddamn wake.
I didn’t go to any of the concerts on that last tour. When the last one, the finale in Kingston, was broadcast live across the country (no, you don’t understand, no one else has ever done that), I was driving my wife and a friend down a prairie highway, windows cracked just enough to alleviate the August heat without interfering with the music.
“Little Bones” was the song.
It was just as it had always been, the Hip stepping into the soundtrack of my life, and then out again.