First of all, let me just say, “Wow!” And, “Thank you.” But mostly, “Wow!” That was one hell of a show you guys put on just over two weeks ago. Even now it feels like the entire country continues to bask in a post-coital glow from that final concert, and those are just the folks that watched it on CBC. I can only imagine the thigh quivers and orgasm-induced delirium those who saw it live have been enjoying. Outside of international hockey golds, our nation far too rarely experiences such momentous, unifying events and yours certainly put a unique twist on our ice-laden norm. So again, “Wow! And thank you!”
The night of Saturday, August 20th, 2016 will undoubtedly go down in Canuck history books as perhaps the greatest musical night in our nation’s history. So many famous (or infamous) concerts have happened in the United States or Europe it was refreshing to have one fully and completely Canadian. Like millions of other Canadians, I sat down to watch you guys play your final gig that night, admittedly a little late as we were returning from a camping trip through the land of the wheat kings, including the Paris of the prairies. And like millions of other Canadians I was overcome with a startling realization; I’m old.
As I sat before my television, increasingly mesmerized, each new song flooded my mind with memories from Another Roadside Attraction. I attended that outdoor concert in 1995, which my rusty but functional math tells me was twenty-one years ago. I’ve almost doubled in age since then. Christ, that seems impossible. And to think I used to worry that “38 Years Old” was destined to be my future and here I am six years beyond with two kids thanks to most definitely kissing a girl.
That was the year of the great Calgary co-op term experiment. Myself and several of my University of Waterloo Earth Science classmates were employed by various oil companies from January through August and we were taking full advantage of what for many of us was our first time living in the West. That summer, with Stampede hangovers still fresh, we carousers honed in on Another Roadside Attraction, your fabulous summer concert series that was making a stop south of the city in High River. We camped (a poor term since it somewhat implies the occurrence of sleep) in an empty, recently harvested hay field. A couple buddies purchased a large, ugly, used sectional sofa and hauled it to the field in a pickup truck for us to sit in while we imbibed copiously, noshed sparingly, and awaited eagerly your headlining performance. Another Roadside Attraction may have been an all-day event but we were there for only one act, you guys, and an ugly sofa was a far more comfortable, not to mention (cough) hip, way to bide the time than your average lawnchair.
I was a huge fan back then and had been for several years. I remember the first time I saw the video for “Blow at High Dough” either on MuchMusic or Toronto Rocks or Good Rockin’ Tonite (if that triumvirate doesn’t declare my aged hoser credentials, nothing will). I fucking loved that song immediately and forever after. Within days I had bought Up To Here and your first EP on cassette (old!) probably at Sam the Record Man (old!) listened to them religiously on my Walkman (old!). I fell further in love with “Smalltown Bringdown” and “Last American Exit” and “Trickle Down” and “Boots or Hearts” and, of course, “New Orleans is Sinking”.
Over the next decade I diligently bought your CDs as they were released. Few bands anywhere can boast three consecutive albums as fabulous as Up To Here, Road Apples, and Fully Completely. With the latter two came even more classic cuts to cherish; “Little Bones”, “Bring It All Back”, “Fiddler’s Green”, “Locked in the Trunk of a Car”, “Fifty Mission Cap”, “We’ll Go Too”. Then came Day For Night, a darkish turn but still terrific with moody gems like “Grace, Too”, “So Hard Done By”, and “Scared” capping off what had become a torrid five year love affair between me and your music.
Then … well, things changed for us. The stronger the flame the faster the candle burns I guess. We all grow and evolve and sometimes we move on. I stayed with you through Trouble at the Henhouse, Phantom Power, and finally Music @ Work. There were moments in there, moments like the ones that so enraptured me from ’89 through ’95; “Gift Shop” and “Something On” and “Fireworks” and “My Music at Work”. But mostly it just wasn’t the same anymore and my need to stay current waned until it eventually evapourated and … and suddenly its fifteen years later and I’m being punished as my kids force me to listen to Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and an endless stream of mindless pop.
I don’t bring up this falling out between us as slight or condemnation. If anything I’m a little embarrassed by it, even ashamed by it, but I have a huge favour to ask of you guys and I figured it would be best to be open and honest right up front because it’s a really huge favour and I’m being a little dickish in even asking it after having ignored you for much of the new millennium. I’m not unlike a death row inmate suddenly Jesus in hopes of forgiveness. I wouldn’t blame you for ignoring my rather presumptuous demand but I equally hope that my past loyalties warrant some consideration. Anyway, here goes.
I want you, The Tragically Hip, to promise you will never, ever perform together again.
Yeah. I wasn’t kidding about big and audacious, but I have my reasons and I think they are ironclad legit. What happened that Saturday night in Kingston and broadcast live on CBC was perfection. It was beautiful and surreal and awesome and eternal. I want that to be mine and everyone else’s final Tragically Hip memory forever.
You have the opportunity to do something that literally no other great band has been able to do. You didn’t break up at the peak of your fame in bitter, selfish acrimony. You didn’t carry on far too long slipping into embarrassing mediocrity and irrelevance. Rather, you ended a fantastic, fabled career with a legendary performance that stands as singular an exclamation point any artist has ever put on a career.
Do not ruin this chance at immortality. I beg you. Do not hang on in perpetuity like The Rolling Stones and become a parody of yourself. Do not insult your fans and sully the memory of Gord by taking on a new lead singer (or three) like Van Halen has done. Never do whatever the hell Angus Young is currently doing with AC/DC. Don’t reunite for cynical cash grabs like The Eagles. Do not embark on endless farewell tours only to return several years later like The Who. Don’t even reluctantly reform for the very rarest of special performances, no matter how worthy the cause might be, like Led Zeppelin has done. And for the love of God, do not reform with children of deceased band members taking on rolls of former band members, or worse, their dead parent (once again I’m looking at you Van Halen, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin).
Just end it. End it here, end it now, and end it for all eternity. Let that CBC show be the defining, cumulative event in the pantheon of Tragically Hip lore. You have nothing left to prove. You will never surpass that extraordinary performance. No band has ever done this and no band will ever again. Hell, even The Beatles can’t compete with the uniqueness of what happened here in Canada, as arguably the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in our history and its countrywide fan base knowingly bade farewell to each other on national television. That will never be equaled.
Let August 20, 2016 be the date the mythos was born and The Tragically Hip became timeless.