The biography of “Canada’s band”
In the summer of 2016, more than a third of Canadians tuned in to watch what was likely the Tragically Hip’s final performance, broadcast from their hometown of Kingston, Ontario. Why? Because these five men were always more than just a band. They sold millions of records and defined a generation of Canadian rock music. But they were also a tabula rasa onto which fans could project their own ideas: of performance, of poetry, of history, of Canada itself.
In the first print biography of the Tragically Hip, Michael Barclay talks to dozens of the band’s peers and friends about not just the Hip’s music but about the opening bands, the American albatross, the band’s role in Canadian culture, and Gord Downie’s role in reconciliation with Indigenous people. When Downie announced he had terminal cancer and decided to take the Hip on the road one more time, the tour became another Terry Fox moment; this time, Canadians got to witness an embattled hero reach the finish line.
This is a book not just for fans of the band: it’s for anyone interested in how culture can spark national conversations.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The Tragically Hip are one thing nearly all Canadians can agree on. Michael Barclay’s beautiful tribute to the band’s three-decade career offers an essential, moving portrait—and an insightful, wide-angle view of the country’s relationship with music. Frontman Gord Downie always resisted attention; even in the months leading up to his death, he was more interested in using his platform for social change than for a self-aggrandizing farewell. And while The Hip themselves have dodged some attention, Barclay’s interviews with the members’ many friends and collaborators are testament to their importance to so many people.
Music journalist Barclay (coauthor of Have Not Been the Same) provides an in-depth chronicle of Canadian rock band the Tragically Hip. Half of the book traces the Hip's arc from its beginnings as a university band in 1984 through to front man Gord Downie's death of cancer in 2017. Barclay intersperses those chapters with thematic essays attempting to illustrate the Hip's drawing power and to describe what the band meant to Canadians, 12 million of whom watched a broadcast of their final concert. "Not since the Guess Who had a commercial rock band so clearly identified themselves as Canadian artists," he writes. Tracking challenges such as their break with their longtime manager, Jake Gold, with the precision and objectivity of good journalism, Barclay cites articles, news coverage, books, personal correspondence, and interviews. (All quotes from band members were drawn from past interviews because none of them agreed to new ones.) The book is the product of prolific research and yet is easy and enjoyable to read. Far from writing a fawning hagiography, Barclay combines his admiration of the band with his knowledge of the music industry to make a clever, touching, and very informative book that may well be the definitive work on an important piece of Canadian pop culture.