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