Archive for August 2016

Soundtrack: The Tragically Hip

August 23, 2016

It was with mixed emotions that I watched Gord Downie’s final performance with The Hip. That sounds like a memorial, or a goodbye. It’s almost too hard to believe that it is.

I saw the broadcast of the concert in Kingston on our TV in St. John’s, Newfoundland. This is far away from the places where I saw The Tragically Hip live, about two decades ago. In Montreal, 1996. At Another Roadside Attraction in Camrose, Alberta, and at some point at Molson Park in Barrie, Ontario. In 1999 I saw them in Prince George, BC. I was working for a newspaper, so I had comp tickets and got to write about the show. The memories are rich with associations. In Montreal I went to the show with two of my girlfriends, we had three tickets, two together, one single. I took the single seat. I was on my feet the whole time at that concert, someone tapped me on the shoulder to share what they were smoking, all of us singing every single word and howling along with Gord. Those same two friends, they had tickets to the final show in Kingston. Knowing they were there I feel connected, again, to the memories of that Montreal experience so long ago.

I watched the Kingston show with my husband, and another important person in our lives. A young woman who has babysat for us since we moved here five years ago, who has been like family to us in a place that was at first so strange. She stopped by to visit that night and we talked until the show started, and right through to the third encore. I hope we’ve helped to pass along our enthusiasm for this iconic Canadian band to the next generation.

Sunday morning following The Hip’s final concert, my husband and I took our three children, as we often do on weekends, for a hike. The blueberries here have just started to ripen, so we brought a few bags along for collecting berries. My husband found a Tragically Hip playlist, and we listened to Bobcageon as we drove towards Quidi Vidi. The kids chatted in the backseat, and I was stunned by the music. I said, “It’s still emotional, listening to this.” I was remembering the first time I really listened to Thompson Girl, we were in the process of moving from Sudbury to Thompson, MB. I was sad, and scared, but amazed to know that Gord and the band had been to Thompson, too. My husband added, “Even more so, to listen to this music while driving.” We were also thinking of all the trips across the country we did when we were first together, chasing tree planting contracts up the Yellowhead Highway. The Hip was part of the soundtrack of our coming of age.

To get to the hike, we parked on the gravel below the towering cliffs of White Hills, above the Quidi Vidi gut here in St. John’s. The kids ran out of the vehicle to do what they always do when we arrive at this spot—climb the steep section of a wooden ramp erected up one part of the sloping rock. My husband and I sat for a few minutes longer, listening to Gord sing, his voice pulling reminiscence out of us like a puppet master with a string.

My husband was watching the kids in his sideview mirror. Later, he told me he saw our agile middle child scuttle up the ramp and stand at the top like the king of the castle. Then our youngest clambered up, crouching two thirds of the way up the ramp. His shoulders jerked twice before my husband ran out of the truck like someone bound to rescue a child from a burning building.

I jumped out of the vehicle in time to see my husband lift our son to his shoulder and run back down the ramp with him. Our little guy was shaking with sobs. Behind them, I could see a cloud of wasps near the top of the ramp.

We scoured our son’s body for swelling. Amazingly, he’d only been stung once, on his arm. When I asked him why he hadn’t run away from the wasps, he said, “You told me if I stay still, they’ll leave me alone.”

Sweet little pumpkin.

We brushed ourselves off, and with relief watched the bump from the sting disappear within minutes. We climbed the path, away from the wasps, and settled into the blueberry bushes.

Courage was in my head. So was Ahead By A Century, the line about the hornet sting. Once, on the block tree planting, I was stung by a hornet right between the eyes. The next day both my eyes were swollen half shut, and Gord’s song was my theme of the day. Jump 20 years ahead, and, I’d almost forgotten…. I also got to see The Hip live in St. John’s, only two years ago, at a folk festival here in Bowring Park.

Now, I have a whole new set of images to associate with the music of The Tragically Hip. My son, his skinny legs folded at his sides like a frog’s, head on his arms, his dad rescuing him from a swarm of wasps. A pinprick of guilt over the shared moment with my husband, lost in memories, when our son needed us. A smooshy, balloon-soft bubble of adoration when I look at our kids, squatting in blueberry bushes, or chasing each other in tag. And a soundtrack that spans this whole country, a couple of decades of our lives, and counting.

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