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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wheat Kings (and pretty things)

Oh, the Tragically Hip. I love them so much.

Picture from

This was not always the case. As a tot, I remember despising Gord and co. with all I could muster. There was just something about their earnestness, their all-out, unapologetic Canadian-ness that I couldn't stand. The singer's voice was funny, and that guy with the long hair... just... why was his hair so long?? I couldn't comprehend it.

My feelings towards the Hip started to shift around high school. Maybe because the coolest boy in my band class showed up to school one day in a Fully Completely t-shirt. Who knows. I decided they couldn't be that bad.

Now I can say with pride that they're one of my favourite bands. It's hard to choose favourites when it comes to Hip songs, but Wheat Kings, Fireworks, and Music@Work are most likely my top three. And what the first two of those have in common is the very reason I think the Tragically Hip are so great.

Picture from
Wheat Kings is a heartbreaking number that at first listen appears to be little more than a gentle ballad. If you're familiar with your Canadian history, however, it's clear that it's the story of David Milgaard, one of the most shameful cases in the history of Canadian justice. Milgaard was wrongfully accused of the 1969 murder of Gail Miller. He spent 23 years in prison before his eventual release.

Picture from Wikipedia.

Fireworks weaves together the story of Paul Henderson's nation-uniting goal against the Soviets in the 1972 Summit Series with the collective feeling of Cold War paranoia. Sound like heavy subject matter for a rock song? You'd think so, but it's actually one of the most poignant love songs in the CanRock canon, if I may be so bold.

Take a listen and see what you think:

"You held my hand and we walked home the long way/You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr." Brilliant!

Rabid Hip fans often scratch their heads and wonder why this great band just can't crack it south of the border. They pack arenas in Winnipeg, but play to a handful of folks in a dive bar in New York. With music this good, it just doesn't make sense.

But, I mean, it sort of does. I'd wager a good third of Hip songs are about hockey. Another third are about esoteric events from Canadian history. Would Americans really enjoy that sort of thing? Maybe not. But us Canucks certainly do.

Picture from the Abbotsford Times.


  1. When i was a young lad, I loved these guys. Bought all the albums, bought Coke Machine Glow (book and cd), went to the shows-- the whole bit! For some reason I never listen to them anymore. I liked that single that sounded like an 80s track: "I've been meaning to call you..."

    Wheat Kings was always a favourite of mine. A guy I know proposed while the Hip played Fiddler's Green at a show a while back. Day for Night is probably my favourite album but it's hard to choose.

  2. Day for Night is a great album - I especially like "Grace, Too."

    I haven't really heard much of their newer stuff, but I went to their show this past summer and was really impressed with a lot of the songs I didn't recognize.

    Thanks for reading, Mark! Hope you're having a good break.