Saturday, August 20, 2016

Tragically Un-hip And Other Stories

I hesitate to write this, because I will instantly brand myself as heretical, blasphemous, un-Canadian, but...


I don't like the Tragically Hip.

I can't deny they're iconic, an absolute fixture of Canadiana, one of the most remarkable Canadian success stories ever. Nor would I suggest that what has happened to their lead singer, Gordon Downie -- terminal brain cancer -- is anything other than, well, tragic.

There have been posters circulating on Facebook for the past week to the effect that "Canada Will Be Shut Down On Saturday At 8:30 PM, Sorry For The Inconvenience"--and so help me, I thought that had something to do with the Olympics (which is another thing that I have been paying dramatically less attention to than is my wont).  Not to make a big deal of this, but...I can't stand Gord Downie's voice. It sounds to me like a chainsaw.

Please don't hate me. I have similar visceral reactions to other celebrated singers: Willie Nelson will always be the robot with a head cold to me, and while I'm not afraid to state for the record that I actually like a number of Nickelback songs (while conceding that in the eyes of many this will simply affirm that I have no musical taste whatsoever)--I will always and forever wonder when Chad Kroeger is actually going to take that dump he seems to need to take so badly.

Forgive me for this, too. It might seem too much like stealing thunder. But I'd like to draw attention to another Canadian group whose lead singer was silenced much too early. This group never attained anywhere near the commercial success of the Hip; in fact, to many Canadians they're probably a one-hit wonder.

The group was called Spirit of the West, and if you know them at all, you know them for their hit Home For A Rest. But they've actually been active one year longer than their more Hip cousins, albeit with a seven year hiatus, and they were and are highly respected among other Canadian musicians, including Gord Downie, with whom they toured.

Their frontman, John Mann, is battling early-onset Alzheimer's. Mental health permitting, Spirit of the West may perform one-off concerts here and there, but their touring days are done, more's the pity.

I can't say I was a fanatic about this group. I've never been fanatical about ANY musical act to the point that, say, many Tragically Hip fans seem to be. Rare is the group, no matter what genre or how much I enjoy them, for whom I can devote more than an album's attention at a time: I crave musical variety.

But SotW is one of relatively few groups I have seen perform live, which should tell you something.  When I heard what has befallen Mann...I teared up a bit. It may lack the gravity of terminal brain cancer, but early-onset Alzheimer's, or any Alzheimer's at all, is not something I would wish on anyone.

On a night when the final act of a legend plays out, I urge you to set aside a few minutes, afterwards, and give this music its due. I'll link three favourite songs of mine.

(Puttin' Up Wiith) The Joneses -- this is a song about stigma, in this case stigma against the mentally challenged, and it stings. The bridge, in particular, hits me hard every time I hear it:

Mr. Jones and Mrs Jones,
we're elated to inform you,
Though you've failed to meet the standards,
We've a place where we'll reform you.
It's a ways outside of town
But the distance has its uses:
Close enough to make the effort --
Far enough to make excuses...

Political -- this one is about an unhealthy relationship, one in which you're not free to be yourself, and oh, boy, will it ever RESONATE if you've ever found yourself in a relationship like that:

You'd let me out to run across your world
 I ran into a wall you told me I built it 
Then you'd reel me in, ream me out, pick me up
Push me out again
And then repeat it

 The Crawl -- and here's video from their last show. One of the all-time best drinking songs. No subtext here, just a good old-fashioned pub crawl and a hoot and a half.

Please find it in your hearts on this night of nights, to mourn another Canadian musical act that extinguished far, far too soon.


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