Apparently the only thing we Canadians love more than the Tragically Hip is Olympic gold medal hockey. At least as far as broadcast ratings are concerned.
Considered that way, media coverage (articles, comments, photo uploads, viewership) is kind of an odd way to measure love and devotion, but seems that’s what’s become coin of the realm.
I already went down memory lane where Gord and the boys are concerned. But, as I am wont to do, I found the coverage of and response to the Man Machine Poem tour fascinating.
It’s hard to observe something when you’re in the middle of it. And it would be difficult to be more core-fan demographic for the Hip than I am. But sometimes the medium truly is the message.
About a third of the population of the country took in at least some of the CBC broadcast. As noted above, that’s the second biggest broadcast audience recorded in Canada.
I’d love to see a platform breakdown on that. Back in 1983, for example, when M.A.S.H. had its record-breaking finale audience (not just in Canada), everyone watched on TV.
But the Hip show in Kingston was broadcast on cable, mobile app, YouTube, SiriusXM and other formats. One single event viewing opportunity is a quaint notion these days. And yet… that’s pretty much what we did.
That said, despite all the hype and options, two-thirds of the country were doing other things. Sure, I’m sure some folks were working, sleeping, etc., but there were at least a couple folks who couldn’t have cared less.
And some who were all bent out of shape about the media control exercised at the final show. Ultimately a tempest in a teapot for most, and actually a pretty common policy. But hey, no one likes being left out at the big dance.
Feels a bit awkward, though. While nonetheless omnipresent, Business rearing its head about that? Like, are we really going to argue over who gets to photograph Gord hugging Justin Trudeau? Amazing how some still seem to forget that the internets are not, nor ever have been, a democracy.
On the flip side, you know what the coverage showed us that was missing? People of colour. I didn’t see every show, but based on Hamilton’s and the Kingston broadcast, while there was a wide range of concert T-shirt eras represented, the swaying bodies they adorned were, by a very wide margin, white.
There’s some irony there, given that so much of the coverage of the tour and Canadians’ reaction to it was hyperbolically patriotic. The most Canadian band in the world! (Made up of five white guys performing to a largely white audience…) O, our beloved notions of Canada and its cultural mosaicism. This is our life. Well, some of us…
We were in Quebec when the concert aired, and in the CBC’s list of nationwide viewing locations, there was precisely one in that province, in Montreal. So, correction to white anglos, then? (To be fair, from what I heard there were thousands at the Montreal gathering.)
Media outlets here and abroad tried so hard to capture that idea of Canadianness, to connect the band to the very definition of the country. And how that somehow prevented the Hip from making it big south of the border. Some, however, were having none of it.
Speaking of our Canadianness and south of the border, kudos to the CBC. It’s hard to imagine that show having been broadcast on any major American network.
Three solid hours; no commercials (lost millions in ad revenue); pre-empting the Olympics; no commentary; and “Late breaking F bomb on the CBC” (@petermansbridge). The most public of public broadcasting. Even Sid’s goal was more commercial.
Gord continued his own lyrical tradition at the Kingston show, too, weaving a tapestry of this country’s majesty writ both large and small, while still calling us out on our injustices and ugly moments.
Among mentions of Bobby Orr and where the Great Plains begin, he straight-up called out the Prime Minister (in attendance) and all of us for knowing about and ignoring the neglect and abuse of indigenous people, especially in the north.
Perhaps the greatest act of love (for a country) is being completely willing to call it publicly on its failures. That broadcast made Gord Downie the most powerful person in the country, by far. For a while, anyway. The internets have never been known for their attention span.
Love was visibly demonstrated among the band, too. Men openly showing physical affection. And in the audience, middle-aged men in hockey jerseys and Fully Completely T-shirts openly shedding tears and propping each other up. Hey, every good example helps.
Pity that one of them has to be dying for that to be socially acceptable.
Media enabled us to share in tributes, too, including Eddie Vedder’s in Chicago, and the Hip’s old compatriots Blue Rodeo in Toronto. We can even hear a song never recorded (Montreal) or glimpse into a friendship.
More importantly, we can also contribute to the future, from the comfort of our seats and screens. After all, other mere mortals get brain cancer, too.
Given how notoriously private Gord Downie is it’s interesting that any of this happened at all. (Or is that the true message?) We see and hear from him when he wants us to. Enjoy the fishing trip, gents. May it be nothing like Bill Barilko’s.
Ultimately, it was in Bobcaygeon, across Canada, and the world, where by the grace of media, Gord and the boys revealed us to ourselves. One article, photo spread, and well-tread song at a time.
Hey man, thanks.