High School was all about freedoms, but there was also a fair share of routine. One of the routines was rushing home after school to watch the ever-popular Video Hits which came on at 4:00. Initially greeted each day by Dan Gallagher, the show moved to Samantha Taylor who ushered me through my teen years.
Adding to the excitement of Video Hits was the fact that all your friends and classmates were doing the same thing. Shortly after the show, we would all run to our landlines and call around ranking the best of the videos. We’d slag the bands and genres we didn’t really like and critique the quality of the videos. For me, Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran was the benchmark from which all other videos were to be judged. Needless to say, we all started Beta and VHS collections of the recorded show, which we then watched over and over again.
Returning to school the next day, we all vied for attention as we staked our claims to having for being a bigger fan of a particular band or artist and proclaiming newly aired videos as hits or duds. “Discovering” a new band was a pretty big deal and committing to a new band could put you on the firing line of scrutiny and trust me when I say a horde of high school boys could be brutal toward their friends for stepping out of line. It would usually go something like this: “Hey, that new Pet Shop Boys video was pretty cool.”
What you really wanted to hear was a simply “Yeah”, but what you usually got was “Oh man, you’re such an idiot”, or “Of course you love the Pet Shop Boys you freakin' preppy”. You really needed to be sure you were on board with a new band before you were willing to subject yourself to these kinds of risks.
One other thing that Video Hits offered was a commitment to Canadian content. I think that commitment was critical to the success of fringe acts like Glass Tiger or Platinum Blonde who, in my retrospective opinion, were able to carve our sales and a fan base based solely on their video plays. One day a grainy, poorly filmed, instantly Canadian video rolled out. I can still recall the exact experience because it was the same each and every time an experimental Canadian video aired – “Man, this is gonna be great to shred this with the boys tomorrow in the cafeteria”. The video rolled and the first line you heard was “Ladies and Gentlemen, our very own Tragically Hip”… Tragically Hip? What?
I can’t remember if there was a phone conversation that day after Video Hits, but I do remember the Tragically Hip coming up right away in the cafeteria the next day. My friends Dave and Rob immediately proclaimed Small Town Bringdown as a success, only to be met with laughter and ridicule from the rest. My comment? “The Tragically Hip are tragically s&%t!” a line which I proceeded to use for the next couple years while Dave and Rob became immediate fans of the band. They tried to push their EP into the cassette players only to have them immediately ejected and maybe even tossed in the backseat or across the room. They stayed true, and as true as they were, I was even more insistent about their demise uttering, at will, my now immediate refrain, “The Tragically Hip are tragically s&%t!”
Then came a day not unlike any other day, whether it was on Video Hits or Much Music, the long-awaited new release from The Tragically Hip was about to drop. I licked my proverbial chops ready to slam the latest offering to my two Hip-loving friends. I can only say that what came next was perhaps my first lesson in humility. The first few chords of Blow at High Dough literally kicked my butt and before the video had ended I went from the biggest hater to a legitimate fan. There was no denying that Dave and Rob had staked claim to something big. They were right, I was wrong, and I was all in.
To say Up To Here was amazing would be an understatement. It was the gateway to a decades long love affair and quite literally and simply, the soundtrack of my life, corresponding with the most critical ages of my maturity into adulthood: Up to Here (18), Road Apples (20), Fully Completely (21), Day for Night (23), Trouble at the Henhouse (25), Phantom Power (28), etc.
Since the announcement of Gord Downie’s terminal cancer diagnosis the entire country embraced, re-embraced, or embraced the band harder. We all realize and accept that The Tragically Hip have affected all of our lives in some way, but the best part is how each of us have managed to create and hold on to many special moments that belong to no one else other than ourselves.
I never met Gord or the band, but in listening to the many stories of the life of Gord Downie over the last several days I feel like I knew him. In my mind I would run into him randomly somewhere, be immediately awestruck by his celebrity and struggle for words only to have him kindly introduce himself and go about asking questions about who I am and what my story is. This is the simply Canadian essence of Gord Downie and those who knew him best have confirmed it. As a related aside, I knew this genuine warmth and humble nature because I was fortunate to have had an amazing friend, Brett Kilroe, who would also treat everyone with intense kindness and who had that unique ability to make you feel like you were the only one in the room, and the only one he cared about. Sadly, Brett passed last year due to a long battle with cancer, but I think that Brett lived his life like Gord, and this was tragically mirrored in their passing.
Gord Downie’s passing last week causes aches for many small reasons which collectively make a larger void. Ultimately, I feel that I want to thank Gord Downie for all these small things. Gord Downie, thank you for:
Last weekend I got into the car with my 16 year-old son to head to a hockey tournament in Banff. I let him drive so I could DJ the drive into the mountains. I couldn’t think of any better way to celebrate Gord Downie’s life than this. The first song was Small Town Bringdown and my son turned to me almost immediately and says “I don’t really like this, can we listen to my music?”
I just turned to him and said “give it some time, it’ll grow on you.”
Please feel free to comment and share your story. It's been so amazing to hear all the great ways in which Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip has intersected all of our lives.
I am an elementary school principal, passionate about engagement, innovation, and learning from the unique skills and interests of students and fellow educators.