The Tragically Hip were an iconic Canadian rock band that formed in 1983. During the 1990s, they became one of the most popular musical acts of any genre in Canada, despite not crossing over anywhere else in the world, and they're about as important and influential on the country's rock music scene as Pearl Jam are in the United States. The band's sound is a mix of alternative rock, folk and country influences, and their lyrics often make reference to Canadian topics and events.
In 2016, lead singer Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer; in the face of his diagnosis, Downie nonetheless played an entire farewell tour to support their album Man Machine Poem, which concluded with a final show in the band's original home of Kingston, Ontario on August 20, 2016 (an event so significant that CBC broadcast it on every one of their platforms, and prime minister Justin Trudeau even attended). Downie died on October 17, 2017, and the band announced that they were no longer active in July 2018.
- Gordon "Gord" Downie (lead vocals and guitar; died in 2017)
- Paul Langlois (guitar, joined 1986)
- Rob "Bobby" Baker (guitar)
- Gord Sinclair (bass)
- Johnny Fay (drums)
- Davis Manning (saxophone, left the band in 1986)
- The Tragically Hip (EP) (1987)
- Up To Here (1989)
- Road Apples (1991)
- Fully Completely (1992)
- Day For Night (1994)
- Trouble At The Henhouse (1996)
- Live Between Us (1997)
- Phantom Power (1998)
- Music @ Work (2000)
- In Violet Light (2002)
- In Between Evolution (2004)
- Yer Favourites (2005)
- World Container (2006)
- We Are the Same (2009)
- Now for Plan A (2012)
- Man Machine Poem (2016)
- Album Title Drop: Phantom Power is title dropped in "Something On".
- In Violet Light is taken from a line in "Silver Jet".
- Anachronism Stew: The video for "The Darkest One" has Downie's character paying Don Cherry's deliveryman for an order of Kentucky Fried Chicken (which has packaging from The '80s) with the "old-style" Canadian bills that were discontinued in the late 90's and early-00's.
- Asshole Victim: "38 Years Old" is about a man imprisoned for murdering his sister's rapist.
- Blatant Lies: During live shows, Downie tended to insert long, rambling, and obviously untrue monologues over instrumental breaks, usually in "New Orleans Is Sinking". The most famous tells about how he used to work at Sea World but had to quit after a killer whale bit his arms off, and another tells about how he drowned while trying to pull a family from a car during Hurricane Katrina.
- The Big Easy: "New Orleans is Sinking", "If New Orleans Falls", and the "Neworleansworld" segment of "The Depression Suite".
- BrotherSister Incest: "Pigeon Camera" is about this.
- The Cameo: Don Cherry and the cast of Trailer Park Boys appear in the video for "The Darkest One".
- Canadian = Hockey Fan: They wrote songs about hockey, and one of their more popular shirts looks like a hockey jersey◊.
You said you didn't give a fuck about hockey
- Discussed in "Fireworks":
Well, I'd never seen someone say that before.
- Canadian Music: One of the most famous examples. Their songs mention a lot of Canadian landmarks, people and places, to the point that it can be anathema for listeners who aren't familiar with the source material or their music videos:
- "Bobcaygeon" is an actual town in Ontario, but Downie admitted that he only picked the town name because it sort-of rhymed with 'constellations'. Despite this, the residents there hold the song and Downie in high regard, particularly because it made their small town famous across the country. When Downie died in 2017, the townspeople held a widely attended candlelight vigil in his memory.
- "The Darkest One" has cameo appearances from the cast of Trailer Park Boys and Don Cherry.
- "Fifty Mission Cap" tells the bizarre story of Bill Barilko, defenceman of the Toronto Maple Leafs who scored the goal ("in overtime") to win the Stanley Cup in 1951, and disappeared in a plane crash shortly after. The wreckage and his body were discovered 11 years later (the year the Leafs won their next cup).
- "Fireworks", a song about not getting too hung up on nationalism, which is actually a very Canadian sentiment. It begins with a line only Canadians could understand:
There's Mistaken Point, Newfoundland
- "Nautical Disaster" is (maybe) about the Battle of Dieppe, which took place during World War II, and involved the highest number of Canadian fatalities in the conflict.
- Downie would sometimes introduce the song during live shows, however, as being about the sinking of the Bismarck, a decidedly non-Canadian event.
- "Silver Moon" (a tie-in to the Paul Gross film Men with Brooms) has Downie working as the janitor/operator at a curling rink.
- "Courage" is subtitled "For Hugh MacLennan". MacLennan was a Canadian author and academic, a staple of Can Lit. The song includes a passage from his novel The Watch That Ends the Night.
- "Wheat Kings" (see the description below under Clear Their Name) is about a notable Canadian crime, wherein David Milgaard was falsely accused of murdering a young woman and spent 20 years in prison before he was pardoned.
- "It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken" picks up the title of a 1989 graphic novel by the Canadian cartoonist Seth.
- "At The Hundredth Meridian" even references Canadian geography, as the 100th meridian west is the point "where the Great Plains begin." Any Canadian will tell you there are distinct differences between Western and Eastern regions of Canada.
- "Three Pistols" references Tom Thomson, who was an extremely influential Canadian painter who was most famously cited as such by the members of the world-famous group of Canadian artists known as the Group of Seven, who went as far as to call Thomson the pioneer of their style. He's also mentioned as "paddling past", which is probably a reference to Thomson's accidental drowning in a canoeing accident.
- "Fly" contains this lyric:
There's Moonbeam, Ontario
There are places I've never been
But always wanted to go
- Clear Their Name: "Wheat Kings" deconstructs this while commenting on the case of David Milgaard.Twenty years for nothing
Well, that's nothing new
Besides, no one's interested in
Something you didn't do.
- Delusions of Eloquence: "Throwing Off Glass" describes a character (implicitly the narrator's daughter) who has the tendency to overuse words she likes the sound of. In a twist on this trope, the narrator seems rather charmed by this habit, as the ambiguous wording of the lyric suggests that her love of new words adds some enchantment to the world.And just like after she heard the word "iridescent"
And everything was iridescent for a while
- Dying Moment of Awesome: Frontman Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2016. In the same press release that the band announced his diagnosis, they announced that they would tour that summer anyway. On stage, Downie was noticeably paler and frailer, but lost none of his stage presence. The tour culminated in their final show, on August 20, 2016 in Kingston, Ontario. The three-hour concert saw the band run through most of their big hits, three encores and 30 songs. The concert, broadcast without commercial interruption by the CBC on television, radio, and online, pre-empting their coverage of the 2016 Olympics, was watched by one-third of the population of Canada. Talk about a way to go out.
- Also possibly an example of Do Not Go Gentle, as Downie took several opportunities over the course of the concert to call out the government's treatment of First Nations peoples - in the presence of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
- He then spent much of the final year of his life working as much as he possibly could. He recorded two solo albums, recorded additional Tragically Hip material to be released after his death and continued his charity work for environmental and First Nations causes.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Though "Small Town Bringdown" from their debut EP does somewhat foreshadow their style for the following 10 or so years, the rest of the album sounds absolutely nothing like anything else they've done.
- Epic Rocking: "Fight" (5:58), "Escape Is at Hand for the Travellin' Man" (5:52), "The Dark Canuck" (6:24), "Now the Struggle Has a Name" (6:04), and "The Depression Suite" (9:27).
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": Discussed in "World Container".Laugh at a funeral or two
Laugh and laugh till all the chameleons turn black
Laugh and laugh till you're told 'Please don't come back'
- Grief Song: "Escape Is At Hand For The Travellin' Man", if you know the story behind it.
- Iconic Song Request: In the 1990s, "Play some Hip!" was a frequent request made of indie club musicians. Some covered Hip songs, some didn't. The sarcasm occasionally backfired, as many Canadian indie bands such as Broken Social Scene and Fucked Up are actually fans of the Hip and friendly with its members.
Then a crowd appears, and they yell out
- The Burning Hell references this in their song "Tired of Playing Music"
"Play some Tragically Hip!"... sigh
- Intercourse with You: Probably most blatant in "Lake Fever".Gord: I know you don't want to hear it, but in 1832 there was a cholera epidemic up and down the lake. Many people died where you stand tonight. And now here's a song about two young people who don't give a shit.
- Large Ham: Gord exemplified ham in live performances and in music videos like "Poets" and "My Music at Work".
- For an example of how Hammy Downie could get, in the "My Music At Work" video, he managed to make hanging up a phone seem dramatic and impressive.
- The Man They Couldn't Hang: Referenced in the lyrics of The Tragically Hip's song "Bobcaygeon":That night in Toronto with its checkerboard floors
Riding on horseback and keeping order restored
'Till the men they couldn't hang
Stepped to the mike and sang
And their voices rang with that Aryan twang
- It may also be a reference to the band called The Men They Couldn't Hang.
- Given the multiple interpretations available to songs, as well as Gord's own comments during live performances, "The men they couldn't hang" can also refer to time when racial and secularist tensions in Toronto exploded due to Nazis (yes, they were in Canada too) inciting violence that took almost a day to quell in the 1930s.
- Misplaced Wildlife: Parodied in "Gus The Polar Bear from Central Park".
- Mundane Made Awesome: "Lonely End of the Rink" is a heart-rendingly anguished song about... being a hockey goalie.
- My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: For all the obvious affection for Canada in their songs, the Hip have never shied away from criticizing the country for where it's dropped the ball culturally and ethically. "Wheat Kings" is one of this trope's best-known examples in their catalogue.
- This article suggests that that tendency helped cement the Hip's place in Canadian culture.
- Non-Appearing Title: Most notably in "Nautical Disaster".
- One-Woman Song: "Cordelia"
- Performance Video:
- "It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken" plays with this concept. The video follows the band as they drive to a private residence, meet a family of wealthy snobs who give them lavish accommodations, dress in all-white suits and perform the final verse of the song for a group of socialites who look utterly bored with them.
- "Silver Jet" has a teenager (played by Downie's own daughter) sneaking out of her family's house to see one of the band's performances.
- Protest Song:
- "Vaccination Scar", which rails against Bush-era jingoism.
- "Gus The Polar Bear From Central Park" is about the government using fear as a political tool.
- "Scared" is the same as Gus, but is obviously much more explicit.
- And all of them are open to interpretation, as multiple meanings can (and have) been found.
- Punk in the Trunk: "Locked in the Trunk of a Car".
- Precision F-Strike: "Fireworks"You said you didn't give a fuck about hockey
Well, I'd never seen someone say that before.
Baby, when'd you get so zen?
- Also in "We Want To Be It":
When I used to know you when
You thought that all my dreams sucked
I was just happy you gave a fuck.
- Rock-Star Song: "Family Band" and "Escape is at Hand For the Travelin' Man".
- Shout-Out: "Courage" references a passage from Hugh MacLennan's book "Two Solitudes" near verbatim in one of its verses.
- In addition, many of the songs contain references to Canadian history and various places, times and people. "Locked in the Trunk of a Car" references a Quebec politician getting kidnapped and later killed by terrorists, for example, while "Fireworks" talks about the Cold War and Paul Henderson's "miracle goal" against the Soviets during a Soviet-Canada hockey game series in 1972.
- Shout-Out to Shakespeare:
- Small Town Boredom: Discussed in the similarly-named song "Small Town Bringdown".
- Sophisticated as Hell: As a band that references Hugh MacLennan and William Shockley, they also are not afraid to drop some F-bombs. They also have a song titled "Butts Wiggling".
- Sympathetic Murderer: The brother Mike in "38 Years Old":See, my sister got raped
So a man got killed
A local boy went to prison
The man was buried on the hill
- Tempting Fate: Invoked in Cordelia:
- Those Wacky Nazis: Referenced in "Scared", "Bobcaygeon", "Silver Jet", "World Container" and many other songs. It seems like Gord Downie had a bit of an obsession with them.
- Title Drop: In live performances, Gord was known to change the opening lyrics of "Grace, Too" from "He said 'I'm fabulously rich'" to "I'm tragically hip"
- Titled After the Song: The band took its name from a line in Elvis Costello's song, "Town Cryer", from the Imperial Bedroom album.
- Trans-Pacific Equivalent: To Midnight Oil; both bands are long-running Alternative Rock groups fronted by Bald of Awesome singers, who happen to be wildly influential superstars in their home country but are virtual unknowns everywhere else, in part because of the heavy Creator Provincialism in their lyrics.