Bobcaygeon: Or How I Learned the Song Was Named After It

It’s amazing how death causes one to reflect upon the things that matter most. The things we take for granted, once stolen, become the things that you suddenly can’t live without.  I’m sad to say that The Tragically Hip are one of those things for me. It took me a long time to realize how big an impact The Hip had on without me realizing. First, a couple of apologies:

  1. This blog post is gonna get personal and dig into some feelings and personal experiences. But then again, this post wouldn’t be worth writing without personal insight, so, sorry, not sorry.
  2. Lest I be accused of being a “poser,” or bandwagon jumping, I’m not a Tragically Hip fan. I’m not going to pretend to be one. This is a reflective piece on moments when they meant something to me and how I took them for granted. Something I regret, since I only now recognize the genius in their music.

I wanted to share a few isolated experiences that made me appreciate The Hip and rock music in general:

Finding National Pride Through Song

When I was a student living in the United States, I had this fun but pig-headed roommate. I can’t remember exactly how the conversation started, but we got on the subject of Canadian bands. I started telling him about The Hip and put a song on for him, I think it was “Bobcaygeon.” My roomie hated it from the moment Gord Downie sang, blurting that he had an awful voice. I think my Canadian pride kicked in and I started defending the greatness of the song. He just wouldn’t have any of it. My thought was, “I guess he doesn’t get it since he’s not Canadian!” This was one of my key moments when I saw that Canadians and Americans were different and found national pride that I didn’t know I had.

Late Night Listening

When I was growing up I used to go to sleep with the radio on quietly. Following the example of my older brothers, I listened to 102.1 The Edge in Toronto. The Edge tended to play more throwback songs in the late night, so it was in these moments when I became acquainted with songs like “Grace, Too,” and “Fifty Mission Cap.” I don’t have recollection of my parents singing me to sleep (though they probably did) but Gord Downie sang to me every night and I never even realized or appreciated it.

Singing Me Geography

For me, whar separates good bands from great ones are the ability to rock out with distorted guitars, loud drums, and shredding solos while being equally good at capturing tenderness and reflecting on sweet moments through ballads. My favourite song by The Hip is “Bobcaygeon”, one of those tender ballads. When I started to enjoy the song as a teenager, I didn’t care to know what a “Bobcaygeon.” When I was 18 I was on a trip to Peterborough with some friends and we got lost on some back roads and found ourselves passing through Bobcaygeon, Ontario. It finally clicked that the song I listened to was named after a place. There’s Gordie teaching me Geography and me, the stubborn student, not listening until years later.

The Lesson

I’m not prepared to say that The Hip are the greatest Canadian band of all time. It’s a worthless discussion as musical enjoyment is extremely subjective and personal music tastes change dramatically over time. I dislike most of the music I enjoyed as a teenager. Besides, how can we legitimately rate one’s artistic expression and compare it to someone else’s? The beauty of any musical piece lies in the listening ear. 

What I am prepared to say is that The Hip always seemed to “be there” whether I appreciated them or not. They didn’t stop making music when I wasn’t listening. Like a good parent, they stood by, kept doing their thing, and waited for me to come around. The sad thing is that it took Gord Downie’s impending death for me to sit down and reflect on the greatness of this band. It’s funny that while I didn’t appreciate The Hip when they were big, I’m certainly going to miss them when they’re gone. I’ve learned that I ought to cherish good bands while they’re at their best rather than realize how great they were in hindsight.

I’m going to miss you Gord. Thanks for the memories.

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