2017/10/23

An American in Paris (of the Prairies)

Doug Elliot's back, Rob Baker, Pat Steward, Craig Northey, Murray Atkinson
In 1992, Sweetie and I were still living near Boston. I had just spent three weeks of a summer that mostly didn't happen (Mt. Pinatubo erupted that year) in Jonquière participating in a French immersion program (and drinking too many "grosses Bleues").

Shortly after my return home, I received a cassette tape from a fellow student who was from Winnipeg. On one side was Social Distortion's second album. On the other side was side 2 of Up to Here by the Tragically Hip and a few songs from Sarah McLachlan's debut album.

I don't know why she chose to send side 2 of the Hip record, but that means the first Hip song I heard was "Boots or Hearts." That was a strange introduction. But then "Everytime You Go," "When the Weight Comes Down," "Trickle Down," and "Another Midnight" (especially), and "Opiated" followed, and this was a sound I liked. The melodic understatement and ringing guitars of R.E.M., and a bit of the also melodic earnestness of Dire Straits, but also that they sounded like no one else. I liked the lyrics as well. But Gord's voice, not so much. His singing from that period sounds harsh to me, like he was pushing too hard, and I don't the constant vibrato on line endings.

I did not know what this collection was. I thought it might have been an EP. I knew nothing about "Blow at High Dough" or the rest of side 1. It would take some time to learn the rest of the story.

Cut to August 1994 and my immigration to Canada. Day for Night was released in September of that year. Fully Completely had come out two years before. I'm not sure, but I think I bought Day for Night first, and I have always thought that was a sublime album. I'm sure I got the previous album soon after. I finally heard all of Up to Here. I still have a cassette of Road Apples. Somewhere in there I bought the first EP.

The only time I saw the Hip live was at the Moore Theater in Seattle in 1996, right after Donovan Bailey won the 100 metre sprint at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Since by that time the band were playing large venues in Canada, we thought it was a treat to get to see them in a theatre. Apparently so did many other Canadians, who made up most of the audience. At one point before the show, the place spontaneously burst into "O Canada!" and I think there was even some flag waving. And then the Hip gave us a (surprisingly) loud, sweaty rock show, marred only by the fact that everyone stood up (not great for me, much worse for my shorty).

That was the year of Trouble at the Henhouse, another strong album in a somewhat different direction. But tastes change. By Phantom Power, I wasn't listening to the Hip as much. I bought that album, as well as Music @ Work, but neither is among my favourites, and those were the last Hip albums I bought.

Since then I've occasionally heard Tragically Hip songs on the radio, both new and old. I will sometimes listen to the albums I have. And I never stopped appreciating them. They were important to Canadian music. Clearly they were important to a lot of people right until the end, and though less so, still to me as well.

A few years ago, at a special Odds show in a tiny pub to which I was fortunate enough to be invited, it was a thrill to meet and chat with Tragically Hip lead guitarist Rob Baker and then to see him play a couple of songs with the Odds as their side project, Stripper's Union. I thought I had more than one picture of that show!

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