CANOE — JAM! Music: The Tragically Hip have diverse fan base

CANOE — JAM! Music – Artists – Tragically Hip, The: Tragically Hip have diverse fan base
By YURI WUENSCH — Edmonton Sun
When Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie was in Edmonton last October on a national press tour for the band’s 11th full-length album, World Container, we got talking about the band’s sometimes maligned and misunderstood fan base.
Local “Hip Heads” will be pouring into Rexall Place tomorrow night to catch the object of their affection – and the Sadies. Tickets for the show ($39.50-$75.50) are available through Ticketmaster online or by calling 451-8000.
Not all Hip Heads, however, are alike, he told me, a fact supported by the diverse ways the band has touched people. Such tales are being shared on the band’s website through the Hip Story Project, where fans are invited to submit their tales related to the band.
“I don’t read them every day,” Downie said, “but I always find them touching, funny or sad – or all of the above. The project shows that – as much as they’re button-holed for their interests in a particular band’s music – that isn’t who they are.
“That’s always been the thing that’s sort of been raced over by people who take a view of the group, what it means and what it means to people. I’ve watched them painted with one brush and it never seems to quite cover the whole canvas.”
Who knew that disciples of the Canadian Music Hall of Famers were so stigmatized? But is there some kind of rock ‘n’ roll litmus test akin to racial profiling that would allow one to pick a Hipster out of a crowd?
Guitarist Rob Baker, on the road in Prince George, B.C., gave me the lowdown on what the ugliest and most egregious stereotype of a Tragically Hip fan might boil down to.
“There’s a certain depiction of our fans as being a very homogeneous group: thick-necked, rugby-shirt wearing, ball cap-wearing. They’re an element of the audience out there,” he concedes, adding that they seem that much rowdier when the band plays abroad.
“I think it has to do with nationalism. In some audiences, the most vocal are kind of the yobs. They’ve been preparing for the gig all day. They’ve had too many drinks and they’re pumping their fists. They’ve got the (Canadian) flag on their faces. They go crazy.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, the audience is made up of all these people, Canadians chanting nationalist slogans.’ But that’s just lazy journalism or something.”
Noted. But there’s no denying the Hip’s seeming status as the quintessential Canadian band. The passion and devotion the Hip Heads faithfully heap on the group almost gleams more brightly than the Hip’s astounding collection of 14 Junos.
So, people “love” the Hip, though they probably don’t always “get” the Hip. Even Baker, at 44, and playing with Downie for more than 20 years, says there are certain Downie lyrics he’s never truly understood and will probably go to his grave never understanding.
Not that he’s ever really been inclined to ask for clarification, either.
“Gord writes to please himself. He’s very literate, so he loves that kind of density,” Baker explains.
“We don’t sit around and talk about what he’s written. I think he writes them that way so people can put their own stamp on it.”
Some of those people even hit the road, following the Hip around for multiple tour stops, the kind of pilgrimages that Dead Heads used to make to honour the Grateful Dead.
“Hip Heads are, generally speaking, cleaner and less stoned,” Baker laughs.
“There was one couple from Arizona who followed us around. I think in one year they saw about 55 shows and they’ve seen more than a hundred over the years.”
Didn’t they have jobs?
“You wonder. She was teaching skiing in Vail, Colorado. And, as far as I know, he was dealing dope. But he’s dead now.
“I don’t know the ins and outs, but we got the word about two months ago that he got shot in Phoenix.” (Here’s a video from a show where they dedicated Long Time Running to this fan…)
Because of dealing drugs?
“No, I think he kind of blew his mind on drugs and joined a religious cult.”
Speaking of fanatical obsessions …