A clicking shutter of a 16 mm camera rolls by the ocular opening, the passing scenery rolls by the passenger car as it chugs through the green rolling hills and valleys. The familiar fervent building of the hand held hickory drumstick anointment of the cymbals gently christens its Turkish emblazoned gold belly. The common twang of the Baker Stratocaster rolls against the percussive escalating tempo; Downie interjects with a simple yet radiant vocal like a train conductor stating the inevitable – “we’ve lost control of the locomotive”. On a downhill grade, the motion is clear –
They shot a movie once in my hometown
Everybody was in it from miles around
Out at the speedway, some kinda Elvis thing
Well I ain't no movie star but I can get behind anything
Yea, I can get behind anything
Get it out, get it all out, yeah stretch that thing
Make it last, make it all last at least until the supper bell rings
Well the taxi driver like his rhythm never likes the stops
Throes of passion, throes of passion when something just threw him off
Well, sometimes the faster it gets, the less you need to know
But you gotta remember, the smarter it gets the further it's gonna go
When you blow at high dough, when you blow at high dough
Baby I feel fine I'm pretty sure, it's genuine
It makes no sense, no it makes no sense but I'll take it free any time
Whoever fits her usually gets her it was the strangest thing
How'd she move so fast, move so fast into that wedding ring?
It’s a fair assessment that after reading those lyrics and feeling the pulse of “Blow at High Dough” the surface dermis has long since erupted into a barrage of sparks, tingles, goosebumps and waves of primal musical energy. This is the manifest of consonant vocalized energy that alone is nothing – it is energy void of feeling and surreal containment and lacking a presence. With the installment and inclusion the Tragically Hip, these lyrics have evolved deeper into our favorite playlists, bloomed into our day to day rituals and driven themselves further and seeded within our subconscious where we are destined to have them within us forever. The Tragically Hip have evolved tremendously in their musical career beyond any reasonable expectations.
They shot a movie once, in my hometown.
Can you read those words without singing them in your mind? Without hearing Gord Downie’s vibrato or the tension-building guitar? Without anticipating the raucous break to come?
Music is woven into our memories in a beautiful, indelible way. It helps form the fabric of our lives and then it allows us to instantly, viscerally recall chapters of our lives long since closed. The songs become instant picture postcards; melodic souvenirs. This is what the Tragically Hip have done time after time for myself. I can close my eyes, hear any lyric, any change up, any musical arrangement and instantly be taken back to it all. So when Prince or David Bowie dies – or we learn, my God, that Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer – we are affected in a very deep, genuine way. It is a kick to the gut – in large part because of what music does to our brain. Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, wrote that we feel a connection to certain musicians because of a chemical process that goes back tens of thousands of years.
“In our hunter-gatherer or forager days, we had to band together in order to protect ourselves from predators or enemy tribes and one of the evolutionary forces behind that was singing together around a campfire. And people who sing together experience a release of the chemical oxytocin; and oxytocin causes feelings of trust to be increased and causes you to feel more socially bonded to the people you’re around,” said Levitin, who is the James McGill Professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at McGill University.
“So if you really like music and you’re listening to it, because of this chemical release you’re going to feel trustful toward and bonded with the artist.”
But the way we connect to music may be changing. Music has never been more accessible – and that may be affecting how we experience it.
This might make me sound ancient, but bear with me: When I bought my first CD player, I could only afford three compact discs. They were expensive – and they were AC/DC (Back In Black), Beastie Boys (Paul’s Boutique), Midnight Oil (Blue Sky Mine). So I played the heck out of those three, then four, then five albums.
In 1989, one of these musical investments was Up to Here. It was on very high rotation and was both background music and a preoccupation of mine; I obsessed over Downie’s lyrics and their meaning. So even now, hearing any song on that album transports me right back to my home in Red Deer, AB. For me it was less about hearing Blow at High Dough or New Orleans is Sinking, these are great songs; but it was more about She Didn’t Know, When the Weight Comes Down or Opiated that supply that magic and I am instantly transfixed before my booming speakers, immersing myself in the moment and learning to feel true musical freedom and the bonds within.
Today, my life would sound different. I would be able to stream as many songs as I wanted for far less money. Would I feel the same sort of connection to any of that music in my hypothetical future? Maybe not.
As with any of the Hip musical ravings there is some semblance of attempted order and we find ourselves asking “what does this song mean?” – to the true fan, what does it really matter? The Tragically Hip have embraced what we have long since lost on our musical landscape and fulfilled a hungered mass populous with the beauty of the soul on lit ablaze and on fire from musical artistic impression and creation. With Downie, Baker, Sinclair, Langlois and Fay we see men in their natural most setting doing their craft as they were delivered unto us – not holding back and pushing harder with each forward setting sun.
Well, it's 7 a.m. and she awoke by the radio
Yeah, she rolled on over said, "Where did my man go?"
She's been a gunslinger's wife all her life
Now she fights when she's able
For the sake of the kids
When the knife's at their necks in the cradle
"I'll believe in you or I'll be leaving you tonight
I will believe in you or I'll be leaving you tonight"
Well she's got all the kids and she's got all their uses
But she loves them the same for neglect and abuses
Well, she got a warm spot where they fought
And they made up last evenin'
He said, "Don't read too much into the fact that I'm leaving"
The question has long since been asked where do we go when we leave? Leave who? Leave when? – Leaving is a part of living. With each Hip song the band has taught us a basic life lesson; as with all beginnings so too must we find an “end”. The end is and will forever be unexpected and premature whatever the circumstance but it is always the mark of new “beginning”. As with the last words of the above mentioned quote I’m reminded by Downie that we need not find ourselves finding value or comfort in reading into the obvious - "Don't read too much into the fact that I'm leaving".
How do I explain this, how do I put this into words
It's one thing or another but it's neither this nor that
Actually it's a collection of things she said, "That's it, that's it, get out"
Her mother said, "Kill him, slow at your leisure"
Ah but desperate times call for desperate measures
So she went to the closet and she pulled the old gun down
"I'll put a bullet through his heart if he ain't home by sundown"
Yeah, 5:55 he comes walking in the front door smiling
He said, "Don't read too much into what I ain't denying"
When I consider Gord Downie and what the Tragically Hip have delivered to me within Up to Here it resonates with the previous self title EP. Aside from the sure to be deliverable and desirable radio hits, the album is again quenching our thirst for that naturalized, organic Canadiana element that has forged a relationship firstly with the band and secondly with the fans nationwide. Downie’s eloquence in balanced vocal harmonies are what make the Hip hip. When we hear these songs as said before we relate and we are given memory that won’t fade even with the intervention of time and the decay of the mortal coil.
We were sitting around the table, heard the telephone ring
Father said he'd tell 'em if he saw anything
Heard the tap on the window in the middle of the night
Held back the curtains for my older brother Mike
See my sister got raped so a man got killed
Local boy went to prison, man's buried on the hill
Folks went back to normal when they closed the case
They still stare at their shoes when they pass our place
Been into the Reno and drives an El Camino, can you dig that style?
Hip canteen you always make the scene, you're a crazy child
It's a sad thing bourbons all around
To stop that feeling when you're living in a small town
You're long and lean, things don't get you down
You're a top ten kingpin in the borders of your hometown
Where does it all start and where have we found ourselves to date? Where did it begin for us and what cosmic event gave way to the insurgence of talent in space and time that left in its wake the tangible resulting Tragically Hip? Why were we the chosen ones to be blessed with such talent? – this is a question that will perhaps be the most asked as we remember the last 30 years of talent with our Pacific and Atlantic borders.
For me, the Tragically Hip have always held true to their course and this commitment to their craft has continually resonated within me. My first recollections of the Hip were on a cassette tape in 1987 on their self titled EP which belonged to my brother Mike. Eager to follow in my brother’s footsteps musically and learn the ways of his selections I remember playing the tape for the first time. It sounded unlike any music I had ever heard – “it made me feel at home - it made me want to dance - it made me feel proud – it made me feel proud to be Canadian”.
Over the years, I have had the distinct privilege of being a part of 30 Tragically Hip shows, from the first Another Roadside Attraction in High River, AB. The subsequent spin off events, the countless Rexall Place shows in Edmonton, AB. The CD Release at the then New City Likwid Lounge in Edmonton, AB on Jasper Ave. The Hip have always been there for me; unknowingly they were a bridge in strong musical relationship with my brother. Admittedly, my brother and I have drifted in recent years. I’m not sure why, but one thing came back to me on May 24, 2016 with Gord Downie’s public diagnosis, it was my brother that reached out to me – I answered and we talked about it “feeling equally shaken and broken inside”. We knew where we had to turn to find the help we needed and it was inward to the music that brought us together.
I never felt as close to complete strangers as I did at a Hip show, I’ve always been richer for having seen them – each time – every time. The Hip have grown beyond a simple band in my eyes, they have enjoyed a meteoric rise from humble beginnings, and in doing so have firmly shown us what it means to be proud of your roots and your heritage so much so that you are willing to dance without apology and sing off key or in plain view of others – they let us know it’s acceptable to be different and flow against the current and in doing so we will gravitate to those doing the same.
With all the Hip have been for me, I feel the need to give something back in recognition. The following is a lengthy review and blog of what simmers within my heart and soul and what has been borne and forged from a youth and adulthood with the Tragically Hip at my side. It is my opportunity to thank a band in the best way I know how, to write – to celebrate with photographic document and pay tribute a legendary front man with the elegance of Robertson Davies, the eloquence of Pierre Burton, the finesse of Gordie Howe, the Brute force of the Boston Bruins and the poise of any rivaled elder statesman. From long standing anthems of the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of David Milgaard, to the voyageur chronicles of Tom Thomsen, the invasion of the pristine Clayoquot Sound, and the tragedies of Attawapiskat – Downie is what we all long to find in our years on earth – a role model, historian, singer, songwriter, musician, documentarian and most importantly a patriotic Canadian.
The Hip formed in 1984 at Kingston Collegiate in Kingston, Ontario, where Gord Downie, Gord Sinclair and Rob Baker were students. Guitarist Paul Langlois joined in 1986; saxophonist Davis Manning left that same year. They took their name from a skit in the Michael Nesmith movie Elephant Parts.
In the mid 80s they performed in small music venues in Ontario until being discovered by then-MCA President Bruce Dickinson at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. They were then signed to a long-term record deal with MCA, and recorded the self-titled EP The Tragically Hip. The album produced two singles, "Small Town Bring-Down" and "Highway Girl".
From the first chords of “Small Town Bring-Down”, one would be hard pressed to argue the earthiness that accompanies this early classic Hip tune. This is the very foundation of the enormity to come with the exuberance of youth and unabashed, unapologetic errors surging beneath the surface of a band destined for greatness. “Small Town” speaks to us through early days in Kingston, ON – we can feel the sweltering, steamy, dark bars of the southern Ontario circuit. A small stage and the home town boys on the stage – “that’s the Tragically Hip! – they’re hometown boys!” – we hear the locals say as the folks from outside the city limits quietly murmur “the Tragically who?”. But we all start here – it’s about a deeper belief in what you’re doing as a performer is a calling; it’s the reasoning why we ply the tools of our trade against the fertile soil in hopes that someday, somewhere, some way – we might see a seed grow and burst forth from the overburden and overwhelming odds and reach tall into the light and bask in the afterglow. This is where it began. . .for them – for us and for history.
Through many roads and crisscrossing paths and venues between a stop here and a roadside breakdown and attraction there the Hip forged their craft along the road – that much has forever been clear. It is this unwavering approach to performance art which was first birthed in the early days of “Last American Exit” – this track cuts to the visceral core and bleeds the honest truth for all to see; exposed in a tangled foray are the mistakes, missteps, beautiful youthful choreographed dances, sleepless nights, empty stomachs, fortuitous blessings and cracked blacktop pavement leading them onward into the night.
With a familiar opening “twang” we hear Gord Downie launch into his earnest and explicit genuinely heartfelt departure; speaking to us as the performer, not the family man. Gord is speaking here of his need to “try” – to do what resolves to success for him. To feel the joy and satisfaction of what brings him peace, where he finds his rest and solstice.
You know the reasons I can't conceal
You know I'm leaving, you obviously you know how I feel
It's not as easy as calling out your name when I'm down
It's not a matter for wrong or right
It ain't much better that drinking and looking to fight
You know I'm tired of crawling 'hind my name among the crowd
I'm on the last American exit to the Northland
I'm on the last American exit to my homeland
I'm on the last American exit to my last chance
They keep calling out my name, I shout it down
This has always been the case with many musical acts, to find the grounding element we often seek and find it within their earliest untarnished and unpolished works – we find it here “solidly rooted and cemented with conviction and testimony”.
Know my savior, he knows you shakers
Know my pity, I'll see you later
I'd like to stay but I know it doesn't matter somehow
The Tragically Hip and Gord Downie made their first journey into the dark, tenuous waters of successful brooding and manifested foreshadowing with the track “Killing Time”. It’s here the Downie, reveals a gentle soul, with a gritty underbelly – a seething and unsettled personae that we rarely are privileged to bear witness except in the rare future tracks such as “Long Time Running” and “Bobcaygeon”. His throaty growl and Rob Baker’s guitar guide his unmistakable prowling vocal snare against the click of Fay’s cymbals and the drop of Gord Sinclair’s bass guitar. With a newborn shuffled step and a fledging relationship with the microphone stand, Downie is finding his space and defining his limitations albeit few and far between most.
I need your confidence need to know you're mine
When it gets right down to the killing time
I know your heart is bad but it's all
I've ever had we can live our lives on this righteous crime
I got kicked when I was down
And a sailor took my girl to town
Then she licked my wounds with the sea dog's salt I drank a
Half a bottle of jack swore I'd never take you back by the bottle's
End I was on that phone
What you call compromise I don't understand what you call compromise I don't understand
What is it that compels the gravitation of our front lobe to the ripping opening guitar chords of tracks such as “Highway Girl”. Why is the raw magnetism so strong and basic in tempo that we are drawn; primitively to the swaying guitar of Rob Baker. With Downie’s confluence of vocal talent, the plaintive lover’s tale unfurls beneath our brow, extending past our fingertips and enveloping our ears, hearts and minds – capturing at its deepest center our soul and endearing us to the Hip for years to come. These are the unsuspecting sleeper tracks that dwell deep in the rooted permanence of the Hip’s relationship with their fans – it was early on that we were immune, to the relevance of the acoustic experiment but with the passing of time and earnest determination of the artist we have grown attached deeper than any worded analogy. At the time Highway Girl was a track built in earnest, with precision arrangements, choreographed to an agreed upon “feel good” cosmetic. Beyond countless shows, thousands of road weary miles and journeys in between the Hip have left us in the enviable position of “beyond satisfaction” and yearning collectively for more – forever.
With the passage of time, the appreciation of talent, the recognition of time served this album has made its mark as the launching point for one of the most poignant and storied historical musical careers ever embarked upon within the Canadian landscape. With icons their focus for much of their career that include: Tom Thompson, David Milgaard, Farley Mowat, Foster Hewitt, Pierre Burton, Bill Barilko, Margaret Atwood and Robertson Davies. With icons the focus of their study and musical mastery the Hip have transcended from artist into icon themselves. From early beginnings in the Horseshoe Tavern to the sellout coliseum shows today; the Hip have identified with Canadians the Canadiana culture within us all and awakened it for generations to come.
What have we lost you may ask yourself? What do you we have to lose? – the answer quite simply is -nothing. More importantly the question should be asked what have we gained? What have the Hip brought us as a nation and a people. The answer quite simply again is – everything. The Hip have brought us music and within that music – we have regained a disconnected cultured identity. We have strengthened our cultural compass and identified with the True North Strong & Free. Bonds between us have grown stronger because we ourselves are no longer shy to sing out loud, dance in a way not seen before, outstretch our arms and close our eyes and feel the music – to feel our inner child “release” and let go within a cherished few minutes of a song. Each song has a been a blessing, each moment a triumph – we are richer for having seen them.
Well I'm going down to see my highway girl
Yeh she just back from around the world
I'm gonna get me a gun, I'm gonna stand on guard
In a little white booth in her front yard
Throwing rocks at her window what could she do
If you throw enough rocks one might break through
Well she looked out her window when the police came
Yeh to see a big tin man dancing in the rain
Ah my little highway girl
Ah my little highway girl, yeah
Don't you think babe you push a bit too fast
I said, Slowing down gonna make it last
Yeh, she said “a memory's never gonna set you free
Ah go out and see that world and bring it home to me. . .”
Never truer words were spoken. A memory will not set us free, we must go out and see the world and bring it home to me.
Today there are seldom seen any more revered idols that capture the true essence or borderline gentlemanly charm and humility measured against clinical maniacal musical fanaticism better than that of Lemmy Kilmister. Lemmy has stood since day one as a departure from the norm, the outlaw personae and resonant echoed light silhouetting his ragged frame emblazoned with his signature Rickenbacker hand carved custom bass. Rickenbacker paid tribute to metal icon with the introduction of the 4004LK, a signature bass limited to 60 pieces that was first spotted in 1995. The bass is half instrument, half art, as each piece’s walnut body features a hand-carved relief of oak leaves and white checked binding. Since they were all done by hand, each bass’s relief a little different from the rest, giving each a unique identity. The bass behind Lemmy is but a mere possession in a rare glimpse into the storied and wild escapades of one of rock and roll’s (not heavy metal) leading men.
When we think over the years of Lemmy and his achievements it’s easy to conjure images of a man wealthy beyond our dreams, writing songs when he feels like the fans are owed a follow up album, walls in a large palatial home adorned with awards and custom instruments, supermodels readily dispensed as necessary. This is of course the tale of a man other than Lemmy. Lemmy is and always has been a man focused and driven to succeed; within his focus and drive reside a strong respect for his fans, a well rounded and serviced intellect of military and social history and above it all the humility and dignity of an elder statesman. This is the man we’ve grown to love and cherish as our brother throughout the world. A man who put himself second and most notably his fans first and until his final 20 days of his European tour pounded out the throttle heavy lyrics to “Overkill” in Berlin, Germany. As has been the signature of Lemmy in the final throes of each Motorhead show finale / encore rises the song “Overkill”, in a grim sense of odd foreshadowing he never backed down and hit it head on even hearing the straining in his core like an engine running white hot and ready to crack – but Lemmy was for all intensive purposes in all given circumstances invincible.
Lemmy brought an unmistakable edge to rock n’ roll, with his group of bandits in Motorhead numbering among the following Larry Wallis, Lucas Fox, Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, “Fast” Eddie Clarke, Brian “Robbo” Robertson, Michael “Würzel” Burston, Pete Gill, Phil “Wizzö” Campbell and Mikkey Dee. These men changed the face of rock n’ roll forever and with Lemmy at the helm as General, the brought an artillery / booze fueled, amphetamine boosted fast, loose, flowing and soul gripping and grinding rhythm that finally found it’s final ascension to immortality December 28, 2015.
Motörhead released 23 studio albums, 10 live recordings, 12 compilation albums, and five EPs over a career spanning 40 years. Usually a power trio, they had particular success in the early 1980’s with several successful singles in the UK Top 40 chart. The albums Overkill, Bomber, Ace of Spades, and particularly No Sleep ’til Hammersmith cemented Motörhead’s reputation as a top-tier rock band. The band are ranked number 26 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. As of 2012, they have sold more than 15 million albums worldwide.
A rare glimpse into the man came in 2010 with the rockumentary Lemmy “49% motherf**ker. 51% son of a bitch“, this lead us past the doors of suspect and shone a light on the gentle kind man beneath the black, the sound, the Rickenbacker, the gravelly voice and the twin moles. In this we see Lemmy as he is – was and ever shall be remembered; in his apartment a block off Sunset Strip, amidst a lifetime of memories, musical achievement awards, toys, fan base art, Jack Daniels, english fried potatoes, war memorabilia and a rather large daunting collection of Damascus steel bayonet blades and knives. We saw a glimpse into the road life that we feel we know all too well as fans, expecting a chorus line of beautiful women waiting for their moment to meet the man himself; in the interview he is asked “where are the groupies?” – his response ? a calmly put: “do you see any?”. We see the day to day grind of what a man has achieved in a worldwide army of fans united in respect and most importantly music. Continent to Continent, City to City, Mile after Mile – he and the affectionately referred to “roadcrew” are the family he knows most closely beside his son Paul. A brief touching moment within the documentary with the two generations of Kilmister occupying opposite ends of the couch, Lemmy reminiscing on years gone by and the chance meeting of Paul. Among all the towering piles of paper and road artifacts in the Motorhead archive / residence the interviewer asks: “What’s your most cherished posession?” – simply put – “My son”. If ever there is a man who is all business on stage and all heart in the moment it was Lemmy – never kinder words could be written.
Lemmy was many things to many people and since his passing, the memories and cards of condolence flood from all corners of the world. It’s in times like these I think of what this man has left us in his wake. He has left us his music that is for certain, the music that has introduced us to each other and forged friendships, the music that he encouraged us to follow as we sought to know who influenced our favorite artists. He has left us his spirit in many ways – Lemmy was the last of the “renegades” – as Joan Jett referred to, we far to often “go along to get along” – Lemmy wasn’t like that, he did what he did on his terms, you either liked it or you didn’t. There aren’t many people among the artistic community that depart this mortal coil with a legacy intact and entrenched firmly on earth, Lemmy achieved this through his direct and honest approach with nothing added. The legacy I believe is one of metamorphosis that gives us reason to grow and yet always stay firm to our roots as did Lemmy, never be wavered by the masses, do what makes you happy and make others happy doing it.
The world will be a vacant place as we move forward knowing that the “Chief” is on the other side, I guess the best reassurance we have is doing what he loved in the wake of this event. To honor this wonderful man he would not want tears to be shed or grief to be a wide and painful streak through many a fan. I believe what he would want is for the music to be first and foremost loud and the drinks to be poured and the memories to be shared and remember what great times we had with that man and his music. Lemmy was once asked “Do you have any regrets?” – simply put his answer was “None!”. Remember those words my friends. . .simple as they are; we will see you again Lemmy.
Thank you for the spirit, the music, the body and the memories. . .
There is no easy way to say this… our mighty, noble friend Lemmy passed away today after a short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer. He had learnt of the disease on December 26th, and was at home, sitting in front of his favorite video game from The Rainbow which had recently made its way down the street, with his family.
We cannot begin to express our shock and sadness, there aren’t words.
We will say more in the coming days, but for now, please… play Motörhead loud, play Hawkwind loud, play Lemmy’s music LOUD. Have a drink or few.
Celebrate the LIFE this lovely, wonderful man celebrated so vibrantly himself.
HE WOULD WANT EXACTLY THAT.
Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister
Born to lose, lived to win