Decades before superstar artists like Justin Bieber or Drake defined what music from Canada was, that mantle was firmly placed on the Tragically Hip, also known simply as the Hip. The Hip is a rock and roll band, featuring guitar heavy riffs, croaky vocals, and poetic lyrics. Despite never having any lasting crossover success in the States or further abroad, the Hip have been a massively popular band to Canadians.
Like so many other rock and roll groups, the Hip began in the 1980s when Gord Downie recruited four high school friends to begin making tunes. Hailing from Kingston, Ontario, a small city about 250 kilometres east of Toronto, the band starting touring bars and other small venues in their area. The Hip generated fans and buzz quickly, and by 1987 they had a record deal with MCA and dropped their self-titled debut album. What followed was 30 years of consistent releases and tours, resulting in nine No. 1 albums, and over 8 million records sold. The Tragically Hip are the kind of band that really spoke to people. Their music was devoid of the types of frivolities of typical pop music. The lyrics, driven by Downie’s undeniable star power, often went after injustice big and small. Their music is always with meaning — nothing is for nothing’s sake. Downie has been called the ‘unofficial poet laureate’ of Canada for his massive contributions to the arts.
In May of this year, Downie announced that the brain cancer he has been battling and underwent surgery for was terminal. The news devastated fans, fearing that they wouldn’t get the chance to say goodbye properly to the group that has been the voice of a generation of Canadians. To the massive relief of Canadian’s all over the country, after consulting with his oncologist, Downie stated that he would join his bandmates for their summer tour.
The final night of that tour happened on August 20th in their hometown of Kingston. The Rogers K-Rock Centre sold out almost immediately and so 5,700 fans, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, revelled in what will likely be the band’s last performance. People held watching parties all over Canada and abroad, including one for Olympians in Rio. The Toronto Police released the following tweet:
— Toronto Police (@TorontoPolice) August 20, 2016
The night was truly a celebration of Canada’s most beloved bands. The Hip played for three hours, regaling the crowd with favourite after favourite. The celebrations were of course underpinned by a sadness, but the night will surely live on as one of the most momentous and unifying in recent memory.