“The Hip Show I Didn’t See”

[The final(?) show by the Tragically Hip has moved many a fan to do some reminiscing and soul-searching. Here’s an example from reader Victor Bigio. The video below is the ovation for Gord at the end of the last Toronto show (August 14) as seen from row 4. – AC]

37-1:  The Hip Show I Didn’t See

With the devastating news about Gord Downie’s illness hitting so many Canadians like a gut punch, the outpouring of emotion has been remarkable.  So many Canadians have taken to social media to reflect on what the Tragically Hip has meant to them, usually referring to some show they have seen that invokes lifelong memories.

Originally, I too fell into line, thinking how lucky I am to be on of a few people that has been able to see this band play live 36 times…but in trying to find the words to describe one of those shows, it occurred to me that the show that meant the most to me was the 37th show – the show I never saw.

Growing up in Halifax, and staying to go to Dalhousie University in 1988, I found myself smack dab in the middle in the middle of The Hip trying to make themselves as a band, giving me the opportunity to see them at the university’s McInnes Room several times, along with shows in Fredricton, Moncton, and such Halifax hotspots as the Misty Moon.  I moved to Toronto in 1992 and my love for The Hip did not waver; we saw them play in front of crowds as large as 50,000 at Another Roadside Attraction and as small as secret shows at the Horseshoe that we had to listen to radio (I know, the horror…) in order to find out show details.

Ultimately, I found myself with a particular group of friends who were as dedicated as I was to the stylings of Gord, Bobby, Paul, Gord and Johnny.  We would end up at a lot of shows together, and it led us to buying tickets to our first show outside the country:  June 30, 2000 at the Somerville Theater in Boston.

We had purchased the tickets far enough in advance that we had a full plan in place – places to stay, who would drive etc. For a lifelong Hip fan who was going to be able to puff out my chest in Canadian pride for the first time for this band in the US, it’s safe to say I was pretty excited.  It was the perfect time to see a band that we loved so much, a band that we had seen ring in the new millennium on Jan 1, 2000 in Toronto, the band that made us all daydream about the Paris of the Prairies…

And then came the call.

In 1990, my father suffered a stroke, and never fully recovered, physically or mentally.  I moved to Toronto two years after the stroke, and while I spent many of the following years living the dream in the big city, I didn’t quite understand the toll the condition had taken on my father.  I knew from visits in the years following that his condition was not improving, but he was always mentally there…always ready to have a laugh with one of my friends or to have a conversation curious as to what I was doing with my life (those sometimes were less jokey).

While I wasn’t in Halifax as much as I probably should have been, it was pretty clear when I received a call from my mother in early June of 2000 that things had taken a turn for the worst.  Guessing that it probably wasn’t as bad as it was being portrayed, I continued my plans to see the Hip in Boston, the planned to come to Halifax to see everyone afterwards.

Nearing the end of June, I again received a call from my mother alerting me that my father’s condition had worsened, and that I should consider changing my plans and coming to Halifax.  My brothers Maurice and David had already flown in to visit, and my youngest brother Jason was living there, so I was the only one that hadn’t been there.

I let my friends know I could no longer join them; part of me was sad to miss this “life-changing” moment as a Hip fan, as selfish as that sounds, but ultimately I tried to get a flight home from Toronto on on of the busiest weekend of the year.  Thankfully, due to a lot of string-pulling from my mother and my cousin Rob, I was able to get on a sold out flight…the morning of June 30th.  As my friends were getting ready to celebrate some Canadian legends in Boston, I found myself in the jumpseat in the cockpit of a flight from Toronto to Halifax.

I arrived in Halifax in time to spend time with my father while he was still able to have clear conversations with me; all the while I spent my spare moments listening to the Hip, trying to celebrate Canada Day with my brother as best we could given the situation, and wondering (in an age without social media) what kind of Hip show I had missed in Boston that weekend.

Fernand Maurice Bigio passed away early in the morning of July 3, 2000.  I consider myself very lucky to have been able to speak with him before he passed – so many people don’t get that chance.  Without my mother and my cousin, that might not have happened.  And as for the Hip show in Boston…well, it found its place in my life.

So, with the horrifying news about Gord Downie upon us, and wondering what it must be like for his children to prepare for their last conversations with him, I find myself not thinking about the 36 times I have had the pleasure of his company for the evening…but the gift I was given by not seeing The Hip on that night in 2000 in Boston.

Tonight, after two amazing evenings this week, I get a chance say goodbye to a man and a band whose music has been woven into the fabric of my life over the last 3 decades…and I consider myself very lucky to get a chance to scream those lyrics back at them one final time.

Thanks, TTH.  You’ll always be a part of us.

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.

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