It should come as no surprise that I’m a huge fan of The Tragically Hip. Let’s face it, Rebel Rebel shares a lot of the same ingredients that musically defines the band: hard rock, Canadiana, and a softer side when our words are better heard with a whisper, so whether it was directly or indirectly, The Hip have helped define the songs we write. Indeed, Headphone Music (name of this Blog series)is dedicated to the music I love; the music that has helped define who I am as a person and the songwriter I have become, and Gord Downie, Paul Langlois, Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair, and Johnny Fay have been making said music together since ‘83, one year before I was born. It’s like we’re old childhood friends.
It’s safe to say that The Tragically Hip need no introduction, but yesterday I watched an interview with Gord Downie on Q with Jian Ghomeshi from 2009, hot on the heels of their album We Are The Same, which is what inspired this write-up. In fact, if one ever were in need of a crash course on The Hip this hour long interview is probably one of the best places to start.
But I digress.
Perhaps my biggest motivation for this piece is to offer a tribute to a band that sometimes gets taken for granted. We all know the hits - every bar band in Canada has their rendition of “Wheat Kings” - but I think some of us sometimes forget to dive into their catalog.
Tracks like “Grace, Too” or “Little Bones” cannot be denied as amazing, but a song like “The Depression Suite” off the aforementioned We Are The Same occasionally gets overlooked, more often than not because it’s new(er). Actually, those who are familiar with the song often consider it a little light-hearted and goofy, but the lyrics paint an incredibly deep sense of meaning. The main hook, “Are you going through something? ‘Cause I am, too.” is this painfully vulnerable statement, which is followed up later with “And I’m thinking, just in passing, what if this song does nothing?” As a songwriter, that has got to be the most terrifying thought I could imagine.
Now, I’m fully aware we live in a single driven world these days, Rebel Rebel, for instance, only released a single track as our debut - a song called ”Kingston,” a tribute to The Hip’s hometown Kingston, Ontario - but I feel when it comes to music, sometimes all people need is a little push before they realize they can go a bit further.
Maybe that’s what this article is really about.
You see, before The Tragically Hip inspired our music, Neil Young inspired theirs, and he was inspired by Elvis Presley, and so on and so on and so on. This trot down musical memory lane is not mutually exclusive to songwriters, it’s for song-listeners too, and far too often we become settled with today and forget that there’s more to discover, both yesterday and tomorrow.
To truly open yourself up to an artists recordings; the tracks you skip to get to ones you know all the words to, is a beautiful thing. And my thinking, just in passing of course, is what if this song does something?