By Steve Newton
I turned 60 today, and sometimes when you reach a milestone I guess maybe you look back on things in your life or career that struck you as special or interesting or memorable in some way.
While sipping on the peach vodka my wife bought me for the occasion, I got the idea that I would post this audio excerpt from the last of the five interviews I did with Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie, back in October of 1996.
At the time the Hip was touring behind its fifth full-length album, Trouble at the Henhouse, and were by far the biggest band in Canada. But for some unexplainable reason its music had not caught on down in the States, where it could barely make a dent on the charts. Maybe it was because the group was too “Canadian” as far as its subject matter was concerned. Maybe Downie’s poetic lyrics were too “out there” for the radio programmers. Maybe the Yanks just couldn’t stand the band’s name.
Whatever the reason was for America’s shunning of our beloved, regular-guy rock heroes, it became an issue in the music press at the time. I was assigned to write a 3,000 word cover story for the Georgia Straight weekly in Vancouver, and my editor at the time, Charles Campbell–the guy who took that great Johnny Winter photo on my Facebook page–told me that he wanted the focus of the piece to be on that mysterious chasm between the Tragically Hip’s commercial success here and Stateside. (By ’96 I’d written enough freelance articles to know that the first goal of journalism is to please the editor–especially if you want to continue getting work and putting food on the table and keeping yourself in a steady supply of Molson Pilsner.)
But during the interview, when Downie got wind of the fact that I was focusing on the not-big-in-America angle, he took exception. He explained that he’d been dealing with the topic a lot, and was getting sick of journalists making it the focal point. “I knew this was gonna come up,” he said, “and you’re not the first. So I don’t mean to sound all cunty to you, but…”
What followed was a pretty profound rant from Downie about how he views his art and the Tragically Hip’s ultimate goals and aspirations.
Have a listen:
Donate to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research by clicking sunnybrook.ca/gord.