This appeared over the weekend on the BBC website:
When the Tragically Hip announced May 24 that their lead singer Gord Downie was suffering from terminal brain cancer, Canadians expressed an unusual amount of grief, says Jordan Michael Smith.
Few rock bands are publicly mourned by the prime minister and other high-level politicians, comedians, and actors, alongside the country’s most prominent musicians.
But the Hip, as they are known, are not ordinary musicians to Canadians. Rather, more than any other artist, they have reflected the sense of what it’s like to love and live in a small, beautiful, overlooked country.
To understand why the Hip resonates, it’s essential to understand Canada’s place in the world. From Confederation in 1867 to the end of World War II in 1945, the country lived in the shadow of Great Britain.
After the United States became the dominant world power, Canada became dwarfed by America.
“Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant,” Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau told Americans in 1969.
“No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”
American power is overwhelming, and Canada struggles to maintain a distinct identity in the face of a colossus.
No part of the world escapes American culture – its music, movies, television, and fashion is embraced by all parts of the globe.
Canada has fewer resources than most countries to preserve a separate national culture, being relatively young, small in population, and isolated geographically.
Laws exist mandating that broadcasters feature Canadian-created content, but most culture consumed in Canada is American nonetheless.
Even worse, many of the most talented and popular artists and intellectuals migrate to the US, unable to resist its mammoth market and influence.
Most of the Canadian-born entertainers and thinkers best-known to the world – from Justin Bieber to Ryan Reynolds to Frank Gehry – live in America.
Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Celine Dion all moved south of the border – the Canadian border – to achieve fame. Even Alice Munro, who won the 2013 Nobel Prize for her short stories about small town Ontario, attracted attention through the New Yorker magazine.