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Reflections on The Hip

Last Saturday I spent over 6 hours walking on the Bruce Trail making progress on my end-to-end goal.

Murphy's Pinnacle, Photo Credit: Bonni Titgemeyer

Murphy’s Pinnacle, Photo Credit: Bonni Titgemeyer

It was a hot, sunny and humid day on the trail. We’re getting into an area where the terrain is more taxing and hot days don’t help.  The trip included climbing to two lookouts, Murphy’s Pinnacle in the Boyne Provincial Park and Mulmur Lookout located about 4 miles away on private land.

Lookouts are a godsend on a long hike that is largely in the woods because they give you an opportunity to see progress, and give you a sense of satisfaction to know that you made it to the top of a big hill.

So I started this blog about reflecting on The Hip with talking about my trail walking because the two are interrelated.  After the hike we were planning to drive to Brampton to watch the concert on the Jumbotron in the Square, but by the time we finished, I was too tired and sweaty to think about being out any longer.  Instead, I went home, took a bath, ordered a pizza and turned on the tube. That was a smart move on my part since once the concert started, I pretty much devolved into a tear-laden puddle of pride, sadness and reverence.

I am unabashedly a Hip fan.  Little Bones was the #1 song the summer of the year I moved to Canada, and the expression “two fifty for a high ball and a buck and a half for a beer” has meaning to me.  After all, I had just moved from Iowa, where you could get a pint of beer for a dime, that’s right, ten cents, so $1.50 for a beer was expensive and a reminder that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.  Or Iowa for that matter.  And they helped me learn about Canadiana.  They don’t call Gord Downie Canada’s unofficial poet laureate for nothing.

My husband and I don’t talk much on our hikes.  Mostly I like to let my mind get lost in the beauty of the natural surroundings.  But Saturday I purposely attempted to sing as many Hip lyrics as I could remember; hoping to connect my emotions with the experience. I was amazed at how many songs did fit the circumstances but Ahead by a Century fit best.

The concert didn’t disappoint. What I took away though was something unexpected though. The Hip isn’t Gord; it is a group of guys, real Canadians, who play well together. Watching them is like watching a hockey game, players looking for cues to make the right moves to win together.  At several points in the concert, Gord slipped; give him a break, the dude has brain cancer.  What was remarkable is how the rest of the band helped to mask it, by replaying a riff so he could catch it a second time, or filling in words he might’ve missed. And they held nothing back.

In human resources, we like to say that we contribute to building teamwork in the workplace.  The truth is that many great teams start that way, naturally.

Shooting from The Tragically Hip

Photo Credit: Dave O, Flickr

Photo Credit: Dave O, Flickr

Ask any person who has resided in Canada for at least ten years and chances are that this Saturday you’ll find them somewhere in contact with a Tragically Hip event:

     **Schlepping out to Kingston to see their final performance

     **At a party at home, watching the CBC

     **Standing in front of one of dozens of Jumbotrons in communities all over Canada

The Tragically Hip is Canada.

And Canada loves The Hip.

And the rest of the world has absolutely no idea what the fuss is about.

To explain, The Hip is on a farewell tour. Their lead singer, Gord Downie, has terminal brain cancer.  We’ve collectively decided to have his wake while he is still alive, and raise money for cancer research.  The party, which has been going on most of August, has eclipsed the Olympics in terms of interest here. The final concert is in their hometown on August 20th and the CBC is broadcasting it.

That’s right, some rock band from Kingston, Ontario that has had virtually no airplay on U.S. regular or satellite radio is having their farewell concert broadcast live nationwide in Canada, on regular television.

One of my nephews, a literal walking library of music and lyrics, has never liked The Hip.  It’s OK, he lives in the United States and doesn’t understand the music.  I find it funny though that every time I see him, he has to make some comment about whether I’m still listening to the Hip or not. He says that when he thinks of me, he thinks of them.

He once told me that Gord Downie sounds like he’s got a goat in his throat, which is true, but beside the point.

Ok, so this is an HR blog, why The Hip?

I find it to be the coolest thing that we have something that we all love together. The Hip is our music.  It tells the story of Canada, of a place that can be in the middle of everything and far away at the same time, of a place that is beautiful and natural, and commercialized.  It is a place of its own history, with what would be otherwise forgotten stories like a hockey player who dies in a plane crash or a major prison break. Or, a place where it is so calm and quiet that you can get lost in your thoughts.  It is the culture of the north, being performed by the generation after Gordon Lightfoot.

One thing The Hip are known for is mishmash; evolving a new song from an existing one, from experimentation, often done live.  In their honour, I spent a little time and created my own Hip story, using lyrics from fifteen Tragically Hip songs.    I encourage you to try this with your favourite Hip lyrics and see what you come up with.  Feel free to post it in comments.


Watch the band through a bunch of dancers
Quickly, follow the unknown
With something more familiar
Quickly, something familiar

It gets so sticky down here
Better butter your cue-finger up
It’s the start of another new year
Better call the newspaper up

Twelve men broke loose in seventy three
From Millhaven Maximum Security

Looking for a place to happen
Making stops along the way

Late breaking story on the CBC
A nation whispers, “We always knew that he’d go free”

You just hit me where I live
I guess it looked quite primitive

I had this dream where I relished the fray and the screaming filled my head all day.

Then I found a place it’s dark and it’s rotted
It’s a cool, sweet kinda place
Where the coppers won’t spot it
And I destroyed the map, I even thought I forgot it,
However, everyday I’m dumping the body

Bill Barilko disappeared that summer
He was on a fishing trip
The last goal he ever scored
Won the Leafs the cup
They didn’t win another till 1962
The year he was discovered

I come from downtown, born ready for you
Armed with will and determination, and grace, too

Sometimes I feel so good I gotta scream
She said Gordie baby I know exactly what you mean

And that’s when the hornet stung me, and I had a feverish dream, of revenge and death

If I die of vanity, promise me, promise me,
They bury me some place I don’t want to be,
You’ll dig me up and transport me, unceremoniously,
Away from the swollen city-breeze, garbage bag trees,
Whispers of disease and the acts of enormity
And lower me slowly, sadly and properly
Get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy

It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves one star at a time

And the rest of the world
Becomes a gift shop


The Olympic-Sized Opportunity

Photo Credit: Fdecomite, Flickr

Photo Credit: Fdecomite, Flickr

By now, many of you have heard of Yusra Mardini, the Syrian refugee who competed in the Olympics as part of the refugee team.

There’s a lot of hype about her backstory.  And indeed, in what seems like an often heartless world, we need good stories of grit, determination and compassion, and her story got a lot of news play.

I want to point out something though.  While Yusra is a decent swimmer, she wasn’t Olympic caliber.  In fact, chances are that if you live in North America, you probably know someone personally who could beat her in a 100 meter butterfly race.  Her qualifying time was nearly 10 seconds below the Olympic standard, a life time at a short distance.  And, unless you caught a glimpse of the end of her race in a news highlight, you probably didn’t see her swim on television.  In fact, I spent a half an hour trying to find it in a format that I could access in Canada (thank you CBC).  Here it is:

I can’t imagine walking halfway across Europe on foot last Fall in an extremely hostile environment and being able to compete at an Olympic level, and so I’m fully prepared to give her a whole lot of credit for trying, and for the Olympics for recognizing the importance of letting her compete.  I will say that I cried like a baby nearly the entire time she was in the race saying, “You go girl”! I’m also left with hope that now that she’s in a more settled situation, she will be able to gain strength and practice and perhaps do a lot better in the next Olympics.  I’m not an expert, but I think she has good technique.

Her acceptance into the Olympics has everything to do with pointing out how awful the human race is to make people flee their circumstances, while offering them very little as restitution.  It is nice and all to let her travel to Rio to compete but I have to imagine by now that the media attention is distracting and exhausting, and perhaps dangerous.

At the very least, for all that she went through, I hope she gets some paid gigs out of this, and that she will be set for life.

I write about Mardini’s story to remind my blog readers, mostly of the HR ilk, to encourage your organizations, your friends, your fellow community, to help those in need.  Here in Canada we have many immigrants, they come with hope, but they need opportunity.  Sometimes providing someone even with the most minimal of opportunity; a job, sets forth an action that helps another, and another and another.  If I can leave you with one thought today it is this. . .look for the Mardini’s in your life and give them a chance.