The highest highs often emerge from the lowest lows. In the past week, the Tragically Hip embarked on what promises to be a hugely successful, sold-out tour, playing across the country to adoring fans. But the tour will be their last—it was planned in response to frontman Gord Downie’s recent diagnosis of terminal brain cancer.
The tour is certain to be an emotional experience for fans and the band alike, but considering that the Tragically Hip have devoted their career to relentless cross-Canada tours, and garnered a reputation for intense, high-energy shows, it seems only right that they have turned their heartbreaking circumstance into an opportunity to get out onto the road one more time. In response, fans have shown an outpouring of encouragement and love, buying up tickets in mere minutes and sending messages of support to Downie, who it seems is determined not to let his diagnosis prevent the Hip from giving fans the concerts of a lifetime.
Of course, this tour won’t be the only memorable moment in the Tragically Hip’s long and storied career. In thirty-plus years, you’re bound to create a few memories. Here are a few of our favourite moments from what many would call the most Canadian band ever.
The Tragically Hip are Ontarians through and through. The band is based out of Kingston, Ontario, and they’re clearly familiar with the lesser-known parts of the province, as evidenced by the title song from their album Bobcaygeon. The album was released in 2000, and in 2011, the band actually went on to headline a concert in the tiny town, which is in the Kawarthas cottage country. Clearly, the town left an impression on the band. Memorable line: “It was in Bobcaygeon / I saw the constellations / Reveal themselves / One star at a time.”
The Hip on SNL
While the Tragically Hip have always been far more successful in Canada than south of the border, they did manage to snag a coveted spot playing on SNL in 1995. Fellow Canadian (and no stranger to cottage country himself) Dan Aykroyd was the host of that episode, and introduced the band wearing an outrageously tacky “Canada” shirt. The band won the crowd with their trademark off-kilter rock and Downie’s mesmerising, bobbing dance moves.
Not many songwriters could pull off opening a song with the lyric “Writing a song about Lake Memphremagog,” but the Tragically Hip not only made it work, but worked in references to two literary giants (Shakespeare and Voltaire), hockey, and the problem of what to do when wildlife and civilization clash.
The Tragically Hip postage stamp
You know you’ve made a valuable contribution to your country when you get your very own postage stamp. In 2013, the Tragically Hip joined other Canadians like Rush, Joni Mitchell, and Gordon Lightfoot, in the elite circle of musicians who have been honoured by Canada Post. These stamps are classic collectors’ items, and one of the coolest examples of two Canadian institutions joining forces.
Gord Downie’s improvised lyrics
A good band has its songs well rehearsed and is able to execute them flawlessly. A great band is able to toss the script, go off the rails, and not lose the magic. The Tragically Hip were known for their ability to throw their original song structures to the wind and vamp. In this audio clip from a 1991 B-Side, during a performance of “New Orleans is Sinking,” the band breaks into an chugging riff as Downie tells an extended story about being the cleaner of a killer whale tank. It’s bizarre, hilarious, and brilliant—just what fans have come to expect from a Tragically Hip live show.
Another Roadside Attraction
The Tragically Hip didn’t just suck up all their Canadian acclaim—they helped spread it around. The band started Another Roadside Attraction, a huge touring festival, in 1993 and invited along not just international stars like Sheryl Crow, Blues Traveler, and Ziggy Marley, but also tons of lesser-known Canadian acts, such as the Rheostatics, Eric’s Trip, and Spirit of the West. On top of it all, the Hip collaborated with four other bands during the first festival to release “Land,” a single written to protest the clearcutting of rainforests in B.C. It’s their commitment to collaboration, to promoting great music, and to protecting their country that makes them a true gem.