An American Tries to Figure Out the Tragically Hip

If you’re Canadian, you understand why the passing of Gord Downie was such a big deal. But if you’re on the outside looking in, you’re probably a little confused how the death of a rock singer could plunge an entire nation into a prolonged period of mourning.

UPROXX was wondering the same thing and sought to find some answers.

On October 17, Gord Downie died from brain cancer, sparking widespread mourning in his native country of Canada. The Tragically Hip frontman’s death prompted an emotional tribute from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who attended the Hip’s final concert in August 2016, and even moved one member of Canadian parliament to insist that Downie be granted a state funeral. Across the country for days afterward, there were candlelit vigils in his honor. For Canadians, this wasn’t just the death of a beloved rock star. It was the end of a universally respected national institution.

For Americans, this might all seem a little hard to understand. The Tragically Hip had only a small cult audience in this country, briefly attaining a high profile in 1995 in the wake of a performance on Saturday Night Live, which booked the Hip at the insistence of the Hip’s friend, Dan Aykroyd.

Why did a band that was so huge in Canada, with a singer-songwriter who is essentially that country’s equivalent of Bruce Springsteen, have such a minimal impact in the US? And what have us Americans missed out on?

Read on.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “An American Tries to Figure Out the Tragically Hip

  • November 14, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    The Hip and Gord Downie were an Ontario band. They achieved some success in Canada and limited success in the US, but they were loved as a local band in Toronto (Hamilton). When Downie was diagnosed with brain cancer, the bands’ last tour was overtaken by the hype machine. (Coincidentally, Toronto is hype machine central in Canada. The Blue Jays and the Maple Leafs are often referred as Canada’s team.) I’m not saying the Hip weren’t a good band, but please refrain from calling them a Bruce Springsteen equivalent. That’s laughable and incorrect. All due respect to Mr. Downie. The band added something to the fabric of Canadian culture, but in my opinion, they weren’t that good.

  • December 13, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    The Tragically Hip enjoyed success across ALL of Canada, not just Ontario. Please watch the documentary “Long Time Running” for proof, and note that 12 million (1 in 3 Canadians) tuned in to watch their final concert (the 2nd most watched moment in Canadian broadcast history!)
    The Tragically Hip are NOT a local Toronto (or Hamilton) band. They are from KINGSTON.
    The New York Times wrote that if you COMBINED Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Michael Stipe, you would only be APPROACHING the genius of Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip.
    So yes, The Tragically Hip are an incredible band (one of Canada’s best-ever). I suspect many more Americans (and others) will now do themselves a favour and discover them and their unique music.


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