No one will ever have the same same effect on Canadians as Gord Downie. His potent and enigmatic personality shone through Tragically Hip songs and spilt over into Canadian culture for over three decades. Today, we celebrate the life of Gord Downie, a once-in-a-lifetime story teller, performer, advocate and Canadian.

SOURCE: CBC
SOURCE: CBC

 

BEGINNINGS:

In 1984, Gord Sinclair and Rob Baker were students at Kingston Collegiate in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario. They’d perform together at the KCVI Variety Show under the name “the Rodents”. Not long after the inception of the Rodents, Gord Downie and Johnny Fay joined the band and the group decided on the name “The Tragically Hip“, a phrase from Monkees’ Micheal Nesmith’s movie Elephant Parts. The group began playing gigs around Kingston, the most memorable venue being at a Queen University pub called Alfie’s. Second Guitarist Paul Langlois joined in 1986, solidifying the band.

Throughout the mid-1980’s, the band played small venues all across Ontario. SONiC Boy Andy was at one of those shows in Moncton and called to tell Garner about it:

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LISTEN: Early Tragically Hip Memory

Originally Aired: September 22, 2017

 

It was at one of these shows the band got the first record deal. Then-MCA Records president Bruce Dickinson was at a show at the Horseshow Tavern in Toronto and was so impressed that he signed them to a long-term contract almost immediately. The band recorded and released their self-titled debut EP in 1987, producing two singles, “Small Town Bring-Down” and “Highway Girl“.

 

DEBUT LP: 

Two short year later, the Hip released Up To Here. The album’s four singles, “Blow at High Dough“, “New Orleans is Sinking“, “Boots or Hearts” and “38 Years Old“, brought the band mainstream attention. All four songs were adopted by Canadian modern rock stations across the country and the band soon became an icon of Canadian culture. Road Apples followed in 1991, becoming their first No. 1 on the Canadian charts. The band initially wanted to call the album Saskadelphia, but the name was rejected by their American label for being “too Canadian”. It was during the Road Apples tour that Downie became recognized for his ranting and story telling during songs like “Highway Girl” and “New Orleans is Sinking“.

One of Gord’s most memorable rants occurred during the band’s performance of “New Orleans is Sinking” in 1990. The track “Killer Whale Tank” was included as a B-side for the single “Long Time Running” in 1991. Skip to 1:50 for the story of the “Killer Whale Tank”.

 

ONLY IN CANADA: 

Although the Tragically Hip had close to immediate success within Canada, they never achieved the same level of success internationally. Many attribute this to the “blue-sy” sound of their first two albums. Rock radio stations in the US were uninclined to play the songs due to the hint of country twang, while their sales and dominance of modern rock radio in Canada gave them the freedom to continue exploring their sound.

SOURCE: Toronto Star
SOURCE: Toronto Star

 

FULLY COMPLETELY: 

In 1992, the Tragically Hip released Fully Completely. During the recording of the album, Downie announced that he would no longer sing lyrics written by other members of the band. Their sound changed drastically – leaving behind the blue-sy twang they had been known for and adopting a more intricate approach to song writing. The album is heavily centered around Canadian icons and history. Writer Rob Mitchell described the album as “a trippy Canadiana dream/nightmare – like The Odessy [sic] directed by Atom Egoyan”, a Canadian film maker.

 

Mitchell was right – the album just oozes Canada. The song “Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)” makes reference to Canadian author Hugh MacLennan and was inspired by his novel “The Watch That Ends the Night”. “Looking for a Place to Happen“, deals with the subject of European encroachment and the eventual take over of Indigenous land, making specific reference to Jacques Cartier. The third track “At the Hundredth Median” references the line of longitude separating parts of Western Canada from the Central and Atlantic regions. “Locked in the Trunk of a Car” was inspired by the 1970 kidnapping of Quebec Cabinet Minister Pierre LaPorte during the FLQ crisis.  The ninth track “Fifty Mission Cap” tells the life, career and death of Toronto Maple Leafs player Bill Barilko while referencing fifty mission caps – hats provided to elite bomber pilots of the allied forces during WWII. The tenth, and one of the Hip’s most iconic songs, “Wheat Kings” tells the story of the wrongful imprisonment of Canadian David Milgaard. Themes depicting Indigenous injustice and Canadian history became a consistent message throughout the Tragically Hip’s music.

SOURCE: CBC David Milgaard on the day he was released from his wrongful imprisonment in April 1992.
SOURCE: CBC
David Milgaard on the day he was released from his wrongful imprisonment in April 1992.

 

Instead of touring, the band created and headlined Another Roadside Attraction, a travelling music festival that took place across Canada in 1993, 1995 and 1997. The Hip headlined each year, with supporting help from bands like Midnight Oil, Crash Vegas, Hothouse Flowers and more. The band originally wanted to call the festival Heksenketel, which is Dutch for “witches’ cauldron”, but the name was already taken by another festival. The name “Another Roadside Attraction” was taken from the Tom Robbins novel of the same name. While on that tour, the band tested out songs from the upcoming Day for Night. “Nautical Disaster” was often played during “New Orleans is Sinking“.

 

Enjoy their entire set at the final year of Another Roadside Attraction in 1997.

 

DAY FOR NIGHT & SNL: 

Following the 1992 release of Fully Completely and 1993 tour of the album, the band didn’t slow down. In 1994 they released Day for Night, their fourth album. The album debuted at No. 1 in Canada and has gone on to become 6x Platinum within the country. Downie’s vocal style drastically changed during the making of the album and the band began experimenting with different song structures.

Due in part to the success of Day for Night, the band performed on the John Goodman-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live. Cast member, fan and fellow Kingstonian Dan Akroyd introduced the band. Watch their performances below.

“GRACE, TOO”

 

“NAUTICAL DISASTER”

 

CANADA’S BAND: 

By this point, the Hip had become a part of Canadian culture. In 1998, fourteen years after forming the band, the Hip released Phantom Power. The album earned them the 1999 Juno awards for Best Rock Album and Best Album Design. “Bobcaygeon” won the award for Single of the Year. Over the next four years, the band released two more albums – 2000’s Music @ Work – earning them the 2001 Juno for Best Rock Album – and 2002’s Violet Light.

On October 22, 2002, the Tragically Hip performed “It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken” and “Poets” for Queen Elizabeth II while on her tour of Canada. That same year they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

 

In 2004, the band released their ninth studio album, In Between Evolution. That November, they performed the halftime show at the 92nd Grey Cup in Ottawa. The band also guest starred on Corner Gas as an unnamed local band jamming in Brent’s garage.

 

In 2005, the band released Hipeponymousa double-CD, DVD box set including every song and music video to date. Shortly afterwards, they released 2006’s World Container. The success of the album provided them a gig opening for The Who.

On February 23, 2005, the band traveled home to Kingston to perform the first ever show at the new K-Rock Centre – the same venue where they would perform their final show 11 years later. In 2012, the city of Kingston renamed the street outside the venue “The Tragically Hip Way“.

In 2013, the band – along with the Guess Who, Rush and Beau Dommage – were honoured by Canadian Post in a series of postage stamps.

 

FROM RADIO TO TV: 

To promote the release of 2009’s We Are the Same, the Hip invited George Stroumboulopoulos for an interview at Bath House Studios in Ontario. They played seven songs from the album and five specialty versions of other songs. The interview and performance were broadcast live in more than 80 theaters across the country.

gord and strombo

 

By 2012, the band had another album ready to go. The first single “At Transformation” debuted during Hockey Night in Canada. On October 2, the night of the album’s release, the band performed a live streamed set from the Supermarket Bar in Kensington, Ontario. In July 2014, the band was back in the studio working on what would become their thirteenth studio album. During that time, they also released a re-mastered version of Fully Completely for its 25th anniversary. They also embarked on a North American tour in 2015 celebrating the re-release.

 

GORD’S DIAGNOSES: 

On May 24, 2016, the band released an official statement. Gord Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Shortly after the announcement, Downie’s doctor spoke at press conference, saying that his condition was classified as glioblastoma multiforme and that it was “incurable by nature“. The band then announced plans to tour that summer.

 

The Tragically Hip’s thirteenth studio album, Man Machine Poem, was released on June 17, 2016.

The Man Machine Poem Tour consisted of 15 dates across Canada. On July 22, 2016, the band kicked off the tour in Victoria, BC with two shows at Edmonton’s Rexall Place on July 28th and 30th. The final show took place on August 20, 2016 in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario where it was presented as a live cross-platform broadcast by CBC.CBC aired the performance on CBC Television, CBC Radio One, CBC Radio 2, CBC Music and YouTube. The show was free of advertisements and watched by 11.6 million people – roughly one third of Canada’s population. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in attendance, meeting with the band prior to the show. The concert consisted of 30 songs and three encore sets. The band performed Fully Completely‘s “Ahead By a Century” as the final song.

On the night of the tour’s final show, Pearl Jam paid tribute to Downie and the Hip by dedicating their song “Light Years” to the band. Eddie Vedder also spoke on his respect of Downie’s bravery and dedication to music:

 

Although it was widely assumed that the tour would the band’s final tour, the Hip never confirmed nor denied to be true. They said that all future projects would be dependent on Downie’s health.

 

2016-ON: 

On October 13, 2016, Downie gave his first interview since his diagnoses. He spoke with Peter Mansbridge, detailing the effects of the cancer, most notably memory loss. He said that, at the time, the band was working on a new album and had four albums worth of unreleased music.

On October 18, Downie released his fifth studio album Secret Path. It was a concept album, telling the story of Chanie Wenjack, a First Nations boy who escaped one of Canada’s residential school and died on the 600km walk home. The release included the album, an animated film and a graphic novel.

On December 22, 2016, Downie was selected as The Canadian Press’ Canadian Newsmaker of the Year – making him the first ever performer to be awarded the title.

On June 17, 2017, all five members of the Tragically Hip were awarded the Order of Canada by Governor General of Canada David Johnston. Downie received his on June 19, while the rest of the band received theirs at a later date.

 

The trailer for Long Time Running, the documentary following along with Downie’s diagnoses and the Man Machine Poem tour. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to high critical acclaim. Both critics and audiences scored the film at a perfect 100%.

 

Never one to slow down, on September 27, 2017, Downie announced his second solo album since his diagnosis. Introduce Yerself  will be released on October 27, 2017.

 

But then on October 17, 2017, Gord passed away. The band posted this statement.

 

It’s been a pleasure doing business with you, Gord. We as a country thank you.

Filed under: Forever Hip., Gord Downie, The Tragically Hip