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Book Review: "The Never Ending Present: the Story of Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip"
Good music journalism is as hard to find as The Tragically Hip on American radio.
Unless you’re a music nerd or live in the northern part of one of the states that borders Canada, you’ve probably never heard of The Tragically Hip. Besides comedians and kindness, The Tragically Hip are one of the best things to come from the great white north.
If you like straight ahead, blues based rock and roll with good lyrics, The Tragically Hip will be right up your alley. Their first full-length album, 1989's Up To Here, is what can now officially, and deservedly, be called a classic. For over 30 years, The Hip (affectionate nickname) came to define not only the best of smart, no frills rock-n-roll but also the best of Canadian rock.
Michael Barclay’s exhaustive The Never-Ending Present ... is not just a book about music or a band, it’s a book about love: love of music, love of friendship, love of truth, love of country, love of hockey (it is Canada), love of making art and lastly, the love of life.
The narrative of The Tragically Hip is similar to other classic bands like The Rolling Stones or U2: high school friends form band, have a dynamic lead singer, play clubs, get signed and find success. Unlike those other bands, The Hip never found the same level of success outside of their native Canada. While they have a rather rabid following around the world they remained a distinct, and wildly successful, Canadian band.
The title may hint at a detailed focus on Downie, but rest assured this book is about The Tragically Hip, the band. Conspicuously absent are any salacious stories about excess or groupies and we’re left with a book that critically examines the work and life of a notoriously private (and notably very kind) rock and roll band.
Of course, that’s not the end of the story.
In May of 2016, the band revealed that Gord Downie had been diagnosed with glioblastoma - terminal brain cancer. In June, the band released one of their better-received albums, Man Machine Poem. In July and August, the band embarked on what would be their final Canadian tour. The band got to say good-bye to the fans … and the country.
The Tragically Hip played their final show on August 16, 2016 in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario. The show was broadcast on the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) and watched by an estimated 11.7 million people (roughly 1/3 of Canadians). So watched, in fact, that night the Toronto Police Department tweeted “Dear World, please be advised that Canada will be closed tonight at 8:30pm ET".
On October 17, 2017, Gord Downie succumbed to his illness.
The Tragically Hip lost a friend and a singer.
His family lost a son and a brother.
His children lost a loving father.
Canada lost a unique voice.
The world lost an important artist.
This book documents that.
Is it worth reading? Yep … and the band is worth listening to. Start with Up To Here.
Gord Downie, the Tragically Hip's frontman, in Kingston, Ontario.