“I want no part in propagating or galvanizing or burnishing some of the stupid mythology in this country. That we’re this clean, pristine place, that we know what’s best for the world […] so these things I write about I try to think are the real Canada” (pg. 11)
Personal Interest: The Tragically Hip are one of the most adored and cherished bands for Canadians. They have evoked such a strong emotional connection between their music and their fans because of the plethora of references to Canadian culture throughout all of their songs. Sometimes the connections were quite clever and unique, like the expression “drop a caribou on you”, referring to the tail side of a Canadian 25-cent piece, which was the cost of a payphone call at the time. Sometimes they were an attempt to address the current political events at the time, like name-checking Sault Ste. Marie’s city council decision to ban bilingual signs. Sometimes they were thoughts and questions about Canadian mythology, like the disappearance of painter Tom Thomson in 1917. I find this quote from Gord Downie very interesting because it seems to go directly against the values that most people would expect from the lead singer of The Tragically Hip as. Much of The Hips external identity was built around nationalism, and much of their support came from patriotic Canadians who were excited to finally be recognized in pop culture. I believe that this shows that Gord Downie wrote his music from his experiences as a Canadian to raise awareness for true Canadian culture. Many people took his lyrics at face-value and used them to fuel their Canadian pride and identity, but those who took a closer look at the different interpretations of his lyrics would find more pressing issues or values within Canada.
Canadian Identity: This quote shows that Canadian identity is portrayed as living in a clean and pristine place that does everything right and knows what’s best for the world. It also shows that many Canadians want to be identified as more than a nice, clean-cut country, and bring awareness to the issues and imperfections within our country, while also allowing for true Canadian cultures and values to be shared with the world. Gord Downie didn’t elevate Canadian geography and mythology in an idealistic or sugar-coated way, he expressed thoughtful yet unseen social and political issues within Canada through motifs and metaphors in his lyrics. He wanted Canada to be seen as more than a two-dimensional ‘theme park’ of a country. On the other hand, I understand that many Canadians feel connected and comforted by the surface-level, stereotypical Canadian meaning behind Gord Downie’s words. I believe that this shows a strong desire for Canadians to feel connected and be able to identify uniformly with pop-culture references.
“Rock’n’rollers are supposed to dip their cigarette butts in the plates and throw them against the wall, but they are just very, very fine young men. […] no matter who you were with, Gord was always the guy doing the dishes. […] Gord might be the epitome of hard work.” (pg. 14)
Personal Interest: I found this quote particularly interesting because it paints Gord Downie and the rest of the band in a very unique way. Celebrities within the music industry, especially rock and roll, are expected to be loud, disrespectful, arrogant and arrogant. At the time that this quote was recorded, the Tragically Hip was growing in popularity at an incredible rate and quickly becoming one of the most well-known bands in Canada. Yet, they did not let their quick rise to fame get to their heads. They all remained humble and polite, which I find very interesting.
Canadian Identity: This quote further perpetuates the timeless stereotype within Canadian identity that all Canadians are extremely polite. I think it also shows that in the past, Canadians never became popular as musicians unless they assimilated to the American lifestyle and culture because stereotypical Canadian culture completely opposes that of ‘rock culture’. All of the members of the Tragically Hip grew up in small towns in Ontario. This means that their values and morals are quintessential examples of the true Canadian identity of the time. This quote shows us that their truly Canadian personalities completely juxtaposed the expected personality of a rockstar. This shows that Canadian identity was strongly rooted in our polite and quietly hard-working nature.
“The most explicitly Canadian song on Fully Completely, “Wheat Kings” is […] about the release of a man wrongfully convicted of murder.”
Personal Interest: I believe that ‘Wheat Kings’ portrays an incredibly interesting story. It’s about David Milgaard, a Canadian man who served 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Milgaard was convicted of raping and murdering a woman named Gail Miller when he was 16 and sentenced to life in prison. It was a travesty of justice, as the case against him was built on flimsy evidence. Milgaard’s family believed he was innocent and fought for him while he was in jail. His aunt contacted the Tragically Hip and when she told them about the case, the band helped them get signatures for a petition to help reopen the case and raise funds for his defense. Milgaard’s case was overturned and he was released on April 16, 1992, prompting the band to write “Wheat Kings.” The title is a reference to the farmers in Saskatchewan, where the crime took place. They were known as “wheat kings” after developing a popular strain of wheat that fueled the area economy. I believe that what makes Gord Downies lyrics special is that they very open to interpretation. His real artistry was his ability to take his experiences, diarize them, and put it in a lyrical form that resonates on a universal level. This pure talent allowed him to turn this awful political issue into a rock song sung by thousands of Canadians.
Canadian Identity: This quote represents the hidden parts of Canadian identity at the time this song was written. “Wheat Kings” represents the passivity of the populace in the face of injustice. Additionally, I think this quote as a shows Canadian Identity as being quite naïve or ignorant. Many Canadians have claimed this song as being one that represents Canada and listen to it proudly. It seems ironic that so many people have given this song such extreme patriotic value when it is about one of the most infamous wrongdoings of the Canadian government. I believe that Canadian society’s ability to turn this song about a man wrongfully convicted of murder and rape into a Canadian anthem opens Canadian identity up to lots of criticism and scrutiny.
“Of course, as the girl in “Fireworks” illustrates with such beautiful profanity, a love of hockey is a fallible construct on which to frame a monolithic Canadian identity – much like the Tragically Hip’s music itself.”
Personal Interest: This quote quipped my interest because it explicitly states many of the ideas about Canadian identity that I have been inferring through my reading of this book. Regardless of what the song in its entirety speaks to, Canadian listeners wanted to be a part of the community that understood and had witnessed the hockey references. Most listeners never considered the potential meaning of the rest of the song: the idea of getting rid of your own patriotism for love, of realizing “what you can accomplish / When you don’t let the nation get in your way”. Furthermore, this song is interesting to me because it seems completely unpatriotic, but nevertheless The Tragically Hip is still considered the most Canadian band of all time.
Canadian Identity: I believe that this quote signifies that Canadian identity has been narrowly defined into a few ideas. Both ‘hockey’ and ‘The Tragically Hip’ are key examples of these stereotypes. This isn’t necessarily a negative concept, as they both provide interest in local geography and history and culture that can, in fact, bring a country into existence in the eyes of the rest of the world, especially a country rendered basically invisible when most of its cultural icons are absorbed into the United States. That being said, identifying a whole nation based on a few key pop culture references can lead to creating a very narrow and inaccurate depiction of what it means to be Canadian. Many people get sold on the romantic notion of being united as Canadians. It is easier to identity Canadian identity when all Canadians care about something as a nation, such as hockey, that is unique and special. However, if we strictly use these stereotypes to create our perception of a whole country we create an identity that is shallow and inaccurate.
“Are you Canadian? Only Canadians can move up. No Americans.”
Personal Interest: This quote is taken from someone at a Tragically Hip concert in the United States. I think this is incredibly interesting because it shows the smug nature of proud Canadians. Cultural nationalists like to brag that there’s something inherently Canadian about the Tragically Hip that Americans will never understand. Most bands and musicians that start up in Canada move to the United States once they grow more popular, and many Canadians are upset by this. As a result, Canadian fans want to believe that The Tragically Hip are “too Canadian” to make it in the States only to validate our own self-worth. The Hip are often written about as if they only ever had fans in Canada. For a lot of people, that gives the band extra value in a country that doesn’t have a lot of that, a country where a lot of people are always scrambling to be elsewhere.
Canadian Identity: This quote shows that Canadians in the past and present have an incredible need to prove themselves to the United States as well as the rest of the world. Canada is often overpowered by American media, and as a result it is difficult to maintain a distinct Canadian identity. Furthermore, Canada has fewer resources than most countries to preserve a separate national culture as it is relatively young, small in population, and isolated geographically. Not only that, but most of the talented and popular artists in Canada migrate to the USA so that they can increase their influence and popularity. This has led to a lot of insecurity within Canadian identity. As a result, when Canada finally has popular celebrities to stand behind, people tend to become boastful or overprotective. This is interesting because it seems to directly oppose the traditional Canadian stereotype of being meek and over polite.
Theme: If one remains true to one’s beliefs and values, it will eventually create opportunities for success.
Gord Downie will forever be remembered as a kind and talented man who represented his country proudly within an industry that largely ignored Canadian cultures and values. He did not allow himself to fall into the trap of a typical ‘rockstar’ lifestyle. Instead, he stayed true to his values and beliefs by remaining a polite, down-to-earth gentleman. Furthermore, rather than moving to the United States to chase further fame and fortune. Rather, he lived the majority of his life where he grew up in Kingston, Ontario. Gord never allowed his patriotic fandom to alter the style of his songs and continued to write about important political and social issues within Canada. I can connect to Downie in many different ways because we are both people who have a strong core set of values that we feel strongly about maintaining. Throughout lifer there are many instances in which it is incredibly difficult to stand by one’s morals, especially when it seems that changing our values may lead to more success. However, Downie has shown me that staying true to my own identity will allow me to have much more success in the future.