Demystifying The Hip’s “Fifty Mission Cap”

This arrived from Stephen:

“Fifty Mission Cap” by The Hip just played during a break in action of the Chicago/L.A hockey game.  My brother messaged me about it and asked “what’s that song about anyway?” The reference to Bill Barilko is self explanatory but the interesting part is when the narrator of the song starts telling us about his fifty mission cap.  

Many people have figured out that he is referring to uniform caps worn by airmen flying bombing missions during WW2.  The leather cap was stiff when it was first issued but took on a unique look after about 50 bombing missions.  A worked in cap was a sign of experience and status.  

This worn look became something that junior airmen started to do intentionally. They “worked it in to look like that.”

So here’s something I came across tonight.  I often wondered why he kept his hockey card “tucked up under.”  We’ll now I know–and so do you.  This is from the Hip Museum:

“But here’s the little detail that might be important to part of the song… It was cool to have the sides of your hat all smashed. But it was very uncool to have the front droop down or collapse. As a result, many of these guys put in a piece of cardboard or a playing card on the inside in the front to keep it all going upward.

“So this hockey card (doing a bit of time travel I guess) is worked into the front of the 50 mission cap as a stiffener.”  

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ 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.

One thought on “Demystifying The Hip’s “Fifty Mission Cap”

  • June 10, 2013 at 5:00 pm
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    Just FYI, I believe the designation of "50 Missions" was even more specific. It evolved from the practice of US daytime bombing raids where anyone who survived 50 missions was removed from active service and sent to a "safe" posting. Initially the casualty rate was so high it was considered a miracle to achieve this status. So much so, it was later changed to only 25 missions. Hence, the term "50 Mission Cap" evolved to be a symbol for survival in the face of almost certain death. As mentioned, airmen started modifying their caps to look that way, presumably in the hope they too would survive long enough to achieve that status and get a safe posting.

    http://www.398th.org/Research/398th_FAQ.html

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