By Dave Shumka
Dear Tragically Hip,
I owe you an apology, but you’re not gonna like it. After 20 years of hating your music, I’m starting to come around, and it feels like I’m betraying myself.
In 1992, I was 11. This was around the time I became a music fan and started making decisions about what I liked instead of just listening to whatever was on. It was also the year you released your third album, Fully Completely, which solidified your spot as Canada’s biggest band for the next decade. And man, I hated it.
And let me be clear, I didn’t actively hate it. I didn’t spend my days stewing about “Courage” and nights violently kicking in my sleep, dreaming about “Wheat Kings.” I mean I was a hater, which wasn’t a term at the time, but looking back on it now, I was a pioneer in hating. Like Lewis and Clark, if they thought “At the Hundredth Meridian” was obnoxious.
I didn’t buy Fully Completely, but it’s the kind of album, like Dark Side of the Moon or Abbey Road, that you don’t have to buy in order to hear in its entirety. I heard the gross shimmering wah wah guitar sound on the radio. I saw the dumb knitted Boston Bruins sweater on MuchMusic. I heard the album tracks pumping out of Jeeps waiting at ferry terminals and PA systems at ultimate Frisbee tournaments.
I’m sure this isn’t news to you because I’m sure I’m not alone, but at the time I felt like I was. Your fans were everywhere, in every segment of the population — male and female, urban and rural, bright and not-so-bright — and they often made me feel unpatriotic for hating the Hip. It was like I was a sore loser in the referendum on Canada’s national band, or I had forgotten to cast my ballot, and had no right to complain.
What did they hear that I didn’t? Had they been brainwashed? Or were they just too lazy to explore musical options beyond what was constantly on the radio?
I eventually accepted that you were the biggest mainstream rock band in the country. That might be what pushed me away from mainstream music and drew me to alt-rock and indie bands. Unfortunately, you were also the biggest band on alternative radio.
It just wasn’t fair. It’s like the Seinfeld episode where Elaine tries to stick it to Putumayo by shopping at Cinco de Mayo, only to find out it’s owned by the same person.
And then, a couple years ago, something changed. It may be because I don’t watch MuchMusic or listen to the radio as much, or because you’re not as popular as you were in the ’90s, or because I’ve grown up, but I need you to know this, Tragically Hip: I don’t hate you anymore. And maybe I never did. I was just frustrated because I was bombarded by your music for a decade.
I actually think you’re pretty fascinating. What a strange combination of people — this weird artsy, theatrical, poet singer shimmying in front of a smoky Ontario bar band playing blues riffs. You certainly have your charms, but how weird that millions of Canadians recognize those charms.
In a world where music has to be cool to be popular, you were never cool. You didn’t dress well, you weren’t sexy, you weren’t cute and sarcastic in interviews, there was zero menace or mystique. It’s like you beat the system.
And here’s something I never thought I’d say: I actually like some of your music. The lyrics are pretty great across the board, especially the storytelling, and for me, the acoustic stuff outshines the bar band jams.
When I was a kid, I hated brussels sprouts, but I like them now. I’m not sure whether my tastes matured or whether, over time, enough of my taste buds died that I don’t notice how bad they taste. I feel the same about you. I was so firmly opposed to your band, that the fact I can admit I don’t hate you anymore is either a sign that I’m growing or I’m getting soft. I’ll never feel 100 per cent one way or the other, but I do owe you that apology.
You don’t suck. I’m sorry I said you did.
Follow Dave Shumka on Twitter: @daveshumka