Courage – Saying Goodbye to a National Treasure

Tonight, I sit with a heavy heart.  Tonight I said goodbye to an old friend.  Tonight the curtain came down one final time.  Tonight I said goodbye to The Tragically Hip.

I’ve always been a music lover.  One of my earliest memories is sitting on my little stool, old twirling baton wedged between couch cushions, singing along to Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” aka….to 4 year old me…”let me sleep on it”.  I was raised in a house full of music, true neither of my parents played an instrument, but I was constantly listening to, not just kids music like Raffi, and Sharon, Lois and Bram, but to such musical talents as Gordon Lightfoot, Burton Cummings, The Eagles, Billy Joel, Doug and the Slugs, John Denver, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Kenny Rogers and all at a fairly Early age.  It wasn’t long before I developed my own loves and I can still remember trying to learn to moonwalk while wearing one shiny glove.

Thing is, I lived in a very small town…in the 80s.  I didn’t venture far except for the odd road trip to Toronto to visit family or a half day car ride to other towns like Ottawa or Kitchener for summer vacation fun.  Because of that, coupled with being enrolled in a very small Catholic school and also having a pretty big case of shyness, I was a pretty sheltered kid.  I lived in my bubble and didn’t venture too far out of it.  The most rebellious music we heard back then was when Bon Jovi first surfaced and with the dawn of Guns N Roses..oh…look out…we were a bunch of certified 12 year old Bad asses.  I’d call my music horizons limited at that say the least.

Then the glorious day came, circa 1990, when I graduated from Grade 8 at a school of about 70 kids (Grades JK-8 inclusive) to the local highschool which, at that time, boasted over 900 kids.  Little did I know that, musically, my life was about to change dramatically.  During my highschool days I started hearing these odd words I’d never heard before.  Words like “Nirvana” and “Pearl Jam” and “Stone Temple Pilots” and “Radiohead” and  “Soundgarden” and “Smashing Pumpkins” and, late to the show, “U2” and “Nine Inch Nails” and “The Red Hot Chili Peppers”.  My mind was spinning.  All this great music where have you been all my life.

During this time I was also, of course, introduced the music of The Tragically Hip. I don’t remember who, I don’t remember when exactly, but I do remember how I felt the first time I listened to them.  I remember feeling like this was a group of guys who know me and grew up seeing the same things I saw.  Swam in lakes, fished in canals and rivers, rode bikes and got skinned knees and built forts and caught fireflies.  It’s a  bit cliche, I know, but that’s how I grew up.  I also remember listening and being immediately thrust back to my childhood and remembering all that stuff that made it fun.  Immediately I was hooked, both on the music and on the feeling it gave me.

51lg2boujt-lIt was 1990..grade 9…a time where I was so nervous every time I had to board the bus for school that I’d have, let’s just say an upset stomach so as not to get too graphic.  I was a shy,  overweight kid who was teased quite a bit those days so you could say that my self confidence wasn’t exactly soaring.  It was also the time I first heard the Hip’s album “Up to Here”. The first track Blow at High Dough smacked me in the face with it’s mellow guitar intro…followed by a harsh high note and the first words “They shot a movie once…In my home town” and I immediately remembered the time where they used a historical sight in my little home town to shoot some crappy werewolf B-movie.  Nobody saw it, it never really saw the light of day as far as I know.  But it was huge news at home, and anyone and everyone was talking about it so that song immediately spoke to me. New Orleans is Sinking, 38 Years Old, Boots or Hearts, all songs I remember well and still play almost weekly if not daily. I was an instant fan, and even though I’d never call myself a superfan (lord knows every once in a while I’ll hear a song and think “I don’t remember that at all”) all I knew back then was that I wanted another album sooner than later. in my travels I did go back and find their previoius EP …the only song that I really liked off of it was Highway Girl. But that sufficed…for now

220px-road_applesThen in 1991, last half of 9th grade came “Road Apples” and more tracks that immediately cemented my love for the band.  Little Bones, Twist My Arm, Three Pistols, Fiddlers Green.  All classics.  While in high school there would be two more Hip albums released…My favourite “Fully Completely” in 1992 and “Day for Night” in 1994.  Each album a little different than the last, but all with one thing in common.  The ability to take me back in time to simpler days living in Cottage country.  Then off to college in the big city I went, more albums followed and, like all the others, each one succeeded in making me feel like I was home.  By this time the shyness had abated and although I was still the overweight kid I had found a little more of myself, by that time these albums had written themselves into my DNA.  They were now part of me.

Fast forward eight albums and 20 years into the future.  Anticipation of a new album and, shortly after the news that the band’s frontman, Gord Downie, had been diagnosed and treated for incurable Brain cancer.220px-man_machine_poem  The tour that would accompany this album would likely be his last.  The country reeled and I was deeply saddened which prompted me to pull out some of my Hip music again.  Not that it had really gone away but I felt more compelled to listen to it with a more attentive ear than I had given it since adulthood, marriage, kids, life etc.  Life can move pretty fast and it’s easy to forget some of life’s small joys.  Either way, I was looking forward to that trip back to my childhood, so I strapped in to listen.  But when I did the strangest thing happened…while I was taken back there to a degree, I found myself transported, more so, back to high school and the music rekindled many memories there.  I had since moved away and made a life in Guelph, Ontario, got a job, married, had kids all those things that many do as an adult. As always the music took me back.  Back to a time of tests, anxiety and discovery that was high school.  It made me nostalgic, I mean it always did make me long for summer days on the lake, summer nights by a bonfire, but this time it was a little different.  Even though it was hard at times, those years were some of my happiest.

Along with the usual feelings I got from the music, the other thing I felt was a sense of urgency.  I’d only ever seen the Hip live one time previously in 2013 so I knew I had to go one more time.  Luckily my lovely wife shares the love of the band and was right on things when tickets went on sale.  Despite the rush and fever and scalpers and online ticket buying bots and every other thing she was able to get floor seats for us, and we were lucky enough to see them in Hamilton on August 16, 2016 at the FirstOntario Centre.  What an amazing night.  One I’ll always remember with both a smile and a tear.

Then there was last night’s final good bye.  The Swan Song.  The (presumably) last live tragically hip show ever.  Live streamed and broadcast across the country from the band’s home town of Kingston Ontario, you could feel the excitement in the air.  I have not felt something like this outside of a major world championship or Hockey final.  It felt as though the whole country was sitting down and watching as Gord finished the final song “Ahead by a Century” and took his final bows. I shed a tear, as I’m sure many Canadians did.  But now that I’ve had time to reflect it wasn’t so much goodbye for me, it was more of a farewell.  It will never be goodbye for me I don’t think, I will always play and share their music with whoever will listen.  But to Gord and the band I say “farewell”.  Fare well in everything  you do with your time on this planet, fare well with your family, fare well with your friends, fare well with your health.  And when the inevitable happens I hope we all Fare well dealing with the void you will leave us with. For me you will always be Canada’s band, our best kept secret, our poet, our storytellers.

I truly hope that this isn’t it.  That there will still be more music, more stories, more chapters in this band’s history.  But if it isn’t, I hope we can all show Courage as the lights fade on one of the greatest things my country has given me.

“I come from downtown, born ready for you
Armed with will and determination, and grace, too”




Already Gone

history_of_the_eaglesOver the last few days I had the pleasure of watching a great Documentary about one of my all time favourite bands, the Eagles.  History of the Eagles:The Story of an American Band (available on Netflix) was amazing.  It told the story of the bands beginnings, right from when Glenn Frey and Don Henley were growing up.  It spoke of their childhood, early songs, early music inspirations and first bands and first friends.  It goes on to show the bands beginnings from playing in early bands together, meeting new members, becoming backing band members to Linda Ronstadt, to breaking off and forming the Eagles.  Drugs, song writing, tribulation, paying dues, travel in vans and station wagons, networking, and even living with other well known talent (Bob Segar, Jackson Browne).  Ups, downs, drugs, band fights, members leaving, members joining, trashed hotel rooms, drugs, commercial success, money, girls, sex, flying bottles, drugs, name calling, guitar smashing….this had it all.

But while watching it, I kind of got a bit sad.  I got sad because, after thinking about it a bit, I realized that there aren’t really any great band stories like this any more.  These days its all about Vine and YouTube and Facebook and getting famous that way (I’m looking at you Justin Bieber).  There is no paying your dues, no banging out a song in your garage, no failed first bands, no terrible songs.  It has, in my opinion, left a giant hole in music today.  When I go to listen to Google Music, there’s a reason why I tend to gravitate to the feeds from the 80’s and  90’s (sometimes early 2000’s).  Music just doesn’t have the power or emotion or,  dare I say, soul behind it that it had in those decades.  And in it’s wake we have “artists” that are basically spoiled, rich, entitled, brats.  Behaving badly for the entire world to see.  I’m not saying that history’s rock stars haven’t behaved badly, but you would never see Ozzy being carried on a security team members back on the Great Wall of China because he was “tired”..just sayin.  You rarely heard the word “Diva” or anything else like that and the.  These kids have no idea what it’s like to struggle to make it, they just had everything handed to them on a silver platter by some agent and music company executive who was just looking to up their profit margin.

It’s not just in Rock and Pop music either.  I have almost stopped listening to Country music (which I love) because when you turn on country radio now all you get is Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line.  Synthesized drums, rapping, auto-tuned.  Basically pop music with a southern accent.  And gone are the days where you could be an regular, dare I say ugly, singer and still make it.  Now you have to be “pretty” and “bankable”.  So long to the days where Conway Twitty, Pam Tillis, or Lyle Lovett could be big names and make good music based on talent alone.

I think Dave Grohl said it best.

“When I think about kids watching a TV show like American Idol or The Voice, then they think, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight fucking hours with 800 people at a convention center and… then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it’s not fuckin ’good enough.’ Can you imagine? It’s destroying the next generation of musicians! Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy and old fucking drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll fucking start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some shitty old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy-ass shit, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again! You don’t need a fucking computer or the internet or The Voice or American Idol.” – Dave Grohl

Amen to this, Mr Grohl…..AMEN



Parker’s First Concert or “Kids are F’ing Weird”

So this past weekend I decided to surprise my youngest daughter to a live concert.  I’m a very musical person, I’ve sang my whole life, play guitar, played some tenor sax in Highschool Jazz Band, constantly have music on at home, all types (except Rap and Dance..yuck) Naturally my kids have picked up some of my musical love over the past few years.  In particular we’re talking about Parker in this story.  She watches Treehouse a lot when we do have TV on so she’s become quite enamored with the group Splash N’ Boots who seem to be on there a lot.  In case you don’t know who they are here’s the description from their website

Splash’N Boots was started as a class project at Queens University, in Kingston Ontario…After their first show (which had an audience of two people one of which was Boots’ Dad) they decided to take Splash’N Boots fulltime! Since then they have released 9 albums and 3 DVDs, have traveled across the world performing live shows, and live in their Big Yellow Boot on Treehouse TV!

I have to admit, they are fun to watch…Splash (the dude) is quite the musician and he’s also very funny.  And Boots?  Well she’s just a ball of energy…seriously I don’t know how she does it but it’s something to witness, I feel like I need a nap after watching her.  Also, if I can take off my “Dad Hat” for a minute and don my “Dude hat” for a minute, no disrespect, she’s kind of easy on the eyes too. (Sorry Splash, she’s just cuter than you)

Splash’N Boots

Anyway to continue the story.  Parker was very excited to go, had an outfit picked out (Yellow and Blue of course) and she kept bugging me asking if it was time to leave “Can we go dad” “Can we go now” “is it time yet” and on and on.  Finally the time came, we put on our shoes and coats, loaded into the car and went down to the show.  I was a bit excited too, both to see Parker’s reaction to seeing her favourite Treehouse duo live and in person, and because I love live music of any kind.

We arrive at the theatre that’s packed with kids, parents, grandparents.  Seriously I haven’t seen that many kids in one place outside of the girls’ school.  We check our coats, grab a booster seat and head inside.  First the obligatory photo with the blow up sign in the lobby. IMG_1880Aww look at her little face.  She’s so excited.  Rightfully so I’d have to say, I loved going to shows with my parents when I was a kid.  We then go inside the theatre to find our seats and wait for the show to start.  She starts again with the “Where’s Splash’N Boots Dad” “when’s it start” etc thing again, obviously excited.  To eat up some time we took a couple of selfies with my phone.  IMG_1881Aren’t we cute.  Please excuse the creepy mustache, I don’t usually have that on my face.  Usually I’m more of a nicely trimmed beard guy.  It’s there because I’m trying to raise money for Movember…to which you can donate to me HERE  (hint hint).

The show finally starts.  They enter from the rear of the theatre and come up the aisles singing and dancing away.  Parker was thrilled to be given a very enthusiastic High 5 from Boots as she passed.  Her little face lit right up and she was all smiles.  And then things kind of changed…in a 180 degrees kind of way.  I don’t know why, whether it was the volume or the noise of the crowd, the darkened room, the lights, if she was hungry, or tired or what, but her attitude changed completely..”Dad is it done” “Dad can we go now”  I explained we would leave when the show was over.  She got whiny and clingy.  Occasionally participating in the songs but for the most part after every single song finished she would ask if the show was done.  Poor kid, she was so looking forward to this and now she was acting like I was forcing her to watch documentaries.  I just kept telling myself “she’s only 3, she’s only 3” but I was kind of annoyed.  Like come on kid, Dad paid good money for these tickets and you don’t appear to be having any fun at all.  Grr.

The show was great too, they sang and danced, got the audience involved, Splash was Hilarious, and even threw in some Audience participation for the grown ups “If I had a million dollars” was a big hit.  Still through it all Parker continued with the whining and crying and kept asking to leave.  I should probably add that she wasn’t the only one who was crying, but there weren’t many.  I don’t get how a kid can go from excited to wanting to go in a nanosecond.  Kids are F*&@ing weird.  Can 3 year olds be Bi-polar?

The one bright side was after the show they did a little meet and greet where you could get a picture taken with them.  That Parker was up for.

IMG_1890“dad she held my hand” “dad she was so cool”…What?!? seriously?  Just spent almost the entire show asking if it was done, if we can go, is it over yet?

I will never understand women, and 3 year old women are even worse.