By Steve Newton
I did the last of my five interviews with Gord Downie back in October of 1996, when the Tragically Hip was at its peak of popularity. At that point the latest Hip CD, Trouble at the Henhouse, had sold about 100,000 copies in the U.S., which, while a respectable number, still paled drastically next to the 500,000 it had moved in Canada during the previous five months.
When I called the Tragically Hip’s manager, Jake Gold, to inquire about any strategy the band might have with respect to business in the States, he declined comment with “I don’t do interviews.” One well-informed person who didn’t mind ruminating on the Hip’s curious situation was Vancouver rocker Craig Northey, a good friend of the Hip whose group, the Odds, opened for them the previous year on the Day for Night tour.
“I think what Gord Downie has said before is that if they had kept making their first record over and over again, until it finally hit home, then it mighta worked for them,” said Northey. “But they kept evolving without thinking about it, and Canadians followed it, and now they’re all along for the ride, and it’s a huge bus they’re on.
“Americans might even feel somewhat excluded,” Northey added, “like they might not understand how it got to that point, and maybe that’s great. Maybe we can all rest comfortably now, knowing that there’s things that are culturally relative, that we don’t have to struggle so hard to have a Canadian identity if that’s going on.”
Don’t forget to watch the Hip’s big show in Kingston tonight, live on the CBC, starting at 5:30 pm Pacific time.