GORD DOWNIE & LEFF LEMIRE – Secret Path (2016 Simon and Schuster)
Residential schools are Canada’s shame.
History cannot be buried forever. Eventually, atrocities are brought to light. This terrible secret is no longer hiding in the dark. It has shown the world that even the great nation of Canada has skeletons. Tens of thousands of them. Children, taken away from their families, and forced to assimilate. Forced to lose their language, culture, and way of life. All in the misguided and shameful effort to “civilize the savage” and “bring the heathens to God”. Thus, “saving” them.
Thousands of these children never came home from the residential school system. How many? With bodies being unearthed daily, we may never know the true tally. If Gord Downie were alive today, what would he have to say about these discoveries?
Downie and Jeff Lemire tried to tell us. In 2016 they released Secret Path, a gorgeous and painful graphic novel to accompany the Downie album of the same name. The book comes with a download code so you can listen along, and read the full lyrics. It is the story of Chanie Wenjack, Anishinaabe by birth, raised in northern Ontario. The residential school forced him to change his name to “Charlie”. This is not ancient history. This only happened in 1966. The Beatles were the biggest band in the world. Our parents were living normal lives. Meanwhile, Wenjack and thousands like him were abused and tormented at residential schools all over the country, not even afforded the dignity of their own names.
At age 12, Wenjack ran away. Home was 370 miles. He never made it. Secret Path is his story.
The book has no text other than the album’s lyrics. Listening along is the best way to appreciate the rich images. You must take time to study the lines and shading, for each page is rich with beauty and detail.
It was October of ’66 and the story begins with Chanie already on his way home. Alone, following the train tracks, Wenjack is illustrated in stark black, blue and white. The trees are bare, and ravens circle free overhead. Chanie’s story is told in the form of flashbacks. His thoughts go back to happier times, fishing with his father. These memories are in full, beautiful watercolour. Lemire captures the love in his drawings.
“My dad is not a wild man. He doesn’t even drink.”
Chanie’s memories then go back to his first day at school. Like a prisoner, he was issued a new haircut and new clothes. His sorrow leaks through the pages. He then thinks back to the morning of October 16. Unable to tolerate any more abuse, Wenjack and two friends made a run for it.
“Now?” “Not yet.”
“Now?” “Now yes.”
They stayed briefly with the family of the other two boys, but Chanie wanted to return to his own home. On his own, and only with a railway map, a windbreaker, and a jar with seven matches inside, Chanie followed the rail. Only seven matches.
“And I kept them dry. And as long as there were six, I’d be fine.”
“As long as there were five.”
“As long as there were four…”
His thoughts return once again to the school. Sexual abuse is alluded to. Chanie continues to run on his secret path, but he also tries to escape from his memories. They are never far behind. Only happy dreams of his father bring warmth, and they are gloriously painted in fall colours. As he weakens, hallucinations manifest, both good and bad. He wishes for revenge, and to see his father one more time. The raven circles overhead.
“I’ll just close my eyes. I’ll just catch my breath.”
While there is no way to really know the thoughts and feelings of Chanie Wenjack during his final walk, Secret Path is not a work of fiction. It happened. And now we know that Chanie is one of thousands. Chanie Wenjack did not die on that train track from exposure to the elements. He died of genocide.
If this book does not make you feel, then consult a doctor because something is wrong with your heart.
Father’s Day 2020 was one of the strangest yet, but we celebrated my dad outdoors with steaks and social distancing.
The day started quietly with an espresso at dawn, but I couldn’t wait to get cooking. Jen bought steaks and corn. I love cooking and I especially love barbecuing. Cooking for my mom and dad is one of the best hobbies I have.
The morning was spent relaxing by myself on the patio, reading Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel Secret Path, the story of Chanie Wenjack. I spoke about this book a bit on Saturday’s live stream. To say reading this book was an intense undertaking is to sell the experience short. I had to stop twice to catch my breath. This powerful, true story is made so clear, so intense and spiritual thanks to the words of Gord and the images of Jeff. A book/album review is absolutely forthcoming. (Even though the book comes with a download of the Gord Downie album, I still bought the CD individually as well.)
It was a hot afternoon but at least my parents have a back deck with some shade. I lit the gas and let the flames do their work. I incorporated some new techniques that I picked up watching YouTube videos over the winter. I let the steaks get up to room temperature, then patted them dry and seasoned with just salt, pepper and garlic powder. Nothing fancy and no marinate was necessary. I overcooked mine a bit for my liking. Everybody else likes them a bit more done than me. I forgot how hot my dad’s barbecue can get. But they were still juicy and flavourful, I just prefer them a little more red.
We chatted current events, the cottage, and Uncle Don Don. My mom saved for me what was left of his CD collection (I gave my sister first dibs and she took Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats.) Mom asked me to sort through the music, but I decided to take them home to do that here. The CD covers have the telltale yellowing of a smoker’s home and I didn’t want to handle them and have to prepare dinner too.
There are a few CDs here that I’ll have to keep. I’m missing several Tragically Hip. I don’t have that Lee Aaron (her debut). I could probably use some Johnny Winter, George Thorogood, Garbage, and Jane’s Addiction. A few of these are duplicates; I have all the Deep Purple and Alice Cooper albums. But those are two bands that Uncle Don influenced me to get into. “Child In Time”, he said. That was the song he praised. He has two versions of “Child In Time” in this cardboard box.
Looks like I’m going to be owning Jackyl, Haywire and Collective Soul too. Cool. I’ll go through the box in detail in the coming days.
My dad enjoyed his Father’s Day meal, and we had a nice visit. The first one in many months. It wasn’t hard to stay sanitised and distant, but it was different. Just something we have to live with for a while. Hopefully not too much longer. I’m starting to get tired of the same old scenery from my little patio at home. I want to get back to the lake. Because of various health concerns and vulnerabilities, we’ve all agreed that we can’t all be at the same cottage at the same time, so we’ll have to take turns. I’ll have to wait a little while longer to cook my dad a nice barbecue chicken dinner (skin on, of course). It’ll happen though — eventually.
I hope all the fathers had as nice a Father’s Day as my dad did.
Saturday’s show was not without its difficulties but it ended with another tremendous list. The main event this week was a Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list for superhero movies. The special guest for this epic segment was for the first time, the one and only Holen MaGroin! We had lists submitted by Harrison the Mad Metal Man, John T. Snow, Rob Daniels, and of course Holen and myself.
I was excited because I knew, especially with guys like Rob and Holen, we were going to get interesting and diverse lists. I expected Harrison to go mental, and I somewhat got that. John Snow also came in with some out-of-the-box suggestions. The lists were magnificent and it is fair to say that the overall winner was Batman, but in so many configurations that you will have to watch for yourself. Honorary mentions to Christopher Reeve and Robert Downey Jr. Enjoy the lists! Start the stream at 1:24:20 if you only want to see the lists.
In another feature I tried to hook up with both Deke from Arena Rock and KMA‘s Aaron in his live stream debut! Although I had difficulty hearing Deke, this brief segment can be found at 0:59:50 of the stream.
I also unboxed my latest musical arrival, Gordon Downie‘s Secret Path, both the CD and the graphic novel. Because they were shipped separately, the unboxings can be found at 0:47:45 and 1:11:55.
BONUS: Not part of the live stream, but I did get some video of a chimpmunk playing hide & seek with me. For Ladano’s Wild Kingdom, hit up 0:19:08 of the stream!
I hope you enjoyed this week’s fun, and hopefully next time I won’t have as many technical issues!
“Later” records by bands are often overlooked in favour of a handful of classics, usually released early in a band’s first decade. Here is one that should not be ignored: We Are the Same, The Tragically Hip’s mellow 2009 offering. Sure, the Hip had plenty of late career highlights. But something about We Are the Same just connects. It’s like plugging your soul into the great wide Canadian open, autumn-coloured maple leaves tossing in a cold breeze. The rustling is accented by a softly wafting smell of coffee.
We Are the Same sounds (for a largely acoustic album anyway) absolutely massive. Thank you, Bob Rock. Perhaps there’s even a concept to this Gord Downie-driven album: it opens with a song called “Morning Moon” and ends with “Country Day”. From the beginning, the chords of the Canadian prairies jangle on acoustic guitars. Familiar hints of Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot fill the room, while Downie sings of a golden Labour Day.
You’ll hear lush string and piano accompaniment all over We Are the Same (piano by Barenaked Ladies‘ Kevin Hearn). Take second track “Honey, Please” which is as pop as the Hip were ever likely to get. Johnny Fay’s snare drum splashes are the only recall from the old days. Then, one of the most luxurious tracks. It’s also one of the best: album highlight “The Last Recluse”. It delivers strange melodies wrapped in lonely imagery. “Who are you? The last Canada goose”.
Geoff over at 1001albumsin10years says “I have argued it is the best side 1 in the catalogue.” I wouldn’t dare disagree.
“Coffee Girl” with its loop-like drums and trumpet solo is one of the more unusual, but also most successful compositions. Downie had a miraculous way with words.
Your favourite mixed tape, You popped it into the deck, Don’t care if it’s out of date, Old Cat Power and classic Beck.
The first big rock chords come crashing down on “Now the Struggle Has a Name”, also adorned with regal strings. As great as it is, it’s just preamble to a Hip epic: “The Depression Suite”, a multi-parted masterpiece. It sparkles and growls, brilliantly and eloquently through a maze of quintessential Gord travelogue lyrics.
Peaking with a track like “The Depression Suite” only means the second half of the album has much to live up to. An Aerosmith-like “The Exact Feeling” (can’t you just hear “Jaded”?) is the first song that feels like a drop. But then “Queen of the Furrows” is a gentle acoustic song with delightful picking. Until an explosive chorus kicks in, drawing your attention again. Cool noisy guitar solo to boot!
The final four tracks are consistent, with “Frozen in My Tracks” being the strangest and heaviest, and “Love is a First” the strongest. Its’ beat poetry and sharp bassline are the main hooks, but the chorus is a blast. Yet it’s still clearly a case of the final few songs living in the shadow of the first.
An album this brilliant needs to be enjoyed over time, but do be sure to add it to your collection. [See below for our recommended edition.]
…Since you’re going to need this album one way or another, our recommended version if you can find it, is the “Kollector’s Krate”. Kool Krate’s were an inconvenient way to store discs, but here’s one with a Tragically Hip logo on it. Stuffed inside: a We Are the Same T-shirt, and a rare live bonus CD. Whether Live From the Vault Vol. 4 is worth over $300 or not, that’s between you and Discogs. (And that’s just the CD, without the Krate or T-shirt!)
Canada’s Death From Above (formerly: Death From Above 1979) have some pretty awesome tunage. This bass/drum duo of Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger have been creating edgy rock and roll (off and on) since 2001. Their music is great. “Trainwreck 1979” is an incredible steamroller rock song. But Death From Above have a history that might contain some unsavoury characters, such as Vice media co-founder Gavin McInnes.
Have you ever heard of the Proud Boys? It’s OK if you haven’t.
The Proud Boys are a “western chauvinist” group founded by McInnes. As westerners, they “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world” (a fallacy in itself as any historian can tell you). Only men are permitted. Women can become a “Proud Boy’s Girl”. They even have a uniform (black polo shirts with yellow trim) and coded words that identify them with each other, but not with the general public. They claim it’s just a fraternity, and that anyone who identifies as “alt-right” will be banned permanently from the group. McInnes also claimed that Jesse F. Keeler of Death From Above was a member, which Keeler denies.
After my first encounter with a Proud Boy, a quick glance at his Facebook photos revealed a swastika and other Nazi paraphernalia, misogyny and a boatload of bigotry. That was my very first encounter. I don’t accept their claim that all “alt-right” folks are unwelcome. I believe that they prefer their alt-right members to keep any Nazi and white supremacist symbolism in the closet. I strongly doubt that the Proud Boys have zero white supremacists in their numbers. That’s how it looks to me, and I’m not interested in debating with Proud Boys.
Proud Boys really hate being “mischaracterized” as a white nationalist movement, but they have become a safe space for such folks. There certainly have been plenty of violent Proud Boy bad apples in the news, whom the organization distances itself from. But for whatever reason, the Proud Boys attract these assholes like flies are attracted to shit.
Part of the Proud Boy initiation is getting in a fight with an “Antifa” member. Antifa, a controversial leftist group, stands for “anti-fascist”. So in order to be a Proud Boy, you have to commit the crime of assault. That’s not to say Antifa have never initiated violence themselves; they have. But to be a Proud Boy, you actually have to beat somebody up? They call it all “freedom of expression” and “family values”. I’m sure you’ve heard those phrases before from the far-right, just as you will also hear the word “patriot”. They refer to their group as “fun, respectful and fair”. Until you mention such words as “Islam”, “transgender”, “immigrant” or “liberal”. These dirty words are sure to earn the opposite of a fun, respectful or fair response. If you want to “trigger” a sensitive Proud Boy, try one of those words. (Assault must be one of their “fun” activities.)
There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your heritage or your country. I love Canada, even though our history has its dark corners. We have not treated our native population well, and that is an understatement times 1000. On his solo album The Secret Path, Gord Downie (RIP) of the Tragically Hip tried to educate Canadians on our shameful history with residential schools. Yes, there are many things in our history to take pride in, such our military role as peace keepers (thank you Lester B. Pearson). Take pride in being Canadian, but don’t distort history to do so. Distorting history will only lead to repeated mistakes. Pride is one thing; hate is something else altogether. In my view, the Proud Boys are a safe haven for some very angry individuals.
Some of Death From Above’s lyrics have been characterised as misogynistic:
“So tired of sluts coming up to us in the clubs with their cocaine, We’re looking for wives.” (“Dead Womb”)
One of the Proud Boys’ values is “venerate the housewife”. Death From Above’s Sebastian Grainger says “It wasn’t meant to be a hateful song…I just liked saying outrageous things.”
Death From Above’s Jesse Keeler has appeared The Gavin McInnes Podcast, viewed by some as a Proud Boy recruitment tool. Keeler has acknowledged a past friendship with McInnes but says he’s never been a Proud Boy. As the Canadian son of an Indian immigrant, he doesn’t identify with white nationalism. He says that as he got to know McInnes better, he realised that he had some extreme views that he didn’t agree with.
McInnes’ views are pretty simple. Here’s one: “We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, English-speaking way of life.”
Canada has two official languages by the way: English and French. They are equal under law. But the original Canadians spoke neither; they had myriad tongues including the Algonquian and Iroquoian languages.
This western chauvinist attitude of McInnes and his group goes against everything I studied earning my History BA. It also clashes with the values that rock and roll music have taught me.
The Beatles proved that music can transcend all barriers. They went to India and came back with the White Album. Led Zeppelin went to North Africa and wrote “Kashmir”. Could there be anything more boring than a plain western, English-speaking way of life? The music in such a place would certainly be a lot duller. Like trying to create art in a vacuum, out of nothing. Another exception to the Proud Boy way of thinking is the long list of incredible women of rock and roll. They didn’t just settle for being “housewives”. Where would music be today without Janis Joplin, Aretha Frankin, Chrissy Hynde and Debbie Harry? A hell of a lot less interesting. I can’t even imagine a world without them.
The best art benefits from a diverse palette. The more colours you have to choose from, the more vibrant and alive your art can be. White western people didn’t invent rock and roll. They stole it. Rock and roll has a long history, and if you go back far enough you can trace it all the way to Africa. It came to America on slave ships, mixed and matched with music from Europe, and became R&B. R&B used to be called “race music”. Rock and roll evolved from this stew of cultures and influences. Elvis Presley did not invent rock and roll. Elvis Presley didn’t even write songs.
The Proud Boy value system is one of insular uniformity. Rock and roll is about everything but conforming to a clean and neat Western life. It is about rebelling, and exploring all the way to the edge. From the very beginning of rock to today, music has only benefited from cultural diversity. Everything on the radio today is a product of cross-pollination. If rock and roll did not embrace music from different cultures worldwide, it would be a stifled, sad thing. There would be no Beatles, no Stones, no Queen, or any of the bands influenced by them. From Prince to the Prophets of Rage, most of rock and roll would simply not exist.
Want to be proud of your heritage? That’s great, but don’t pretend. The west is responsible for great innovation, built on the shoulders of previous old-world giants. (Ptolemy, anyone?) The west is also responsible for the worst atrocities in history. No amount of revisionism can change the past. Ignorance cannot erase it. And here’s the key point that everybody seems to miss. You can condemn the bad stuff, like residential schools, as it deserves to be condemned. But then you can be proud of the good, such as the bravery of our troops from World War II to the present. You can do both, it’s allowed!
I like to think of Frank Zappa.
“Hey, you know something people? I’m not black, but there’s a whole lotsa times I wish I could say I’m not white.” — “Trouble Every Day”, 1966
No matter where you fall politically, if you don’t see that our “western culture” (including our music) has roots all over the entire world, then you have a lot of history to learn. In genetics, the larger and more diverse the population, the better the chances of survival. A small or homogeneous population without diversity will go extinct. I think the same is true of culture. Embrace the good and reject the bad. That’s why the Proud Boys need to be rejected, and I’m glad Death From Above have done that.
Please keep comments civil. Any personal attacks will be deleted and burned with a tiki torch.
It has been a very emotional summer for fans of The Tragically Hip, but it all ends tonight.
A few months ago, nobody ever thought this would be the last summer of the Tragically Hip. Gord Downie’s brain cancer diagnosis came as a surprise to all. We can only imagine what Gord and his family are going through, but fans have been mourning in their own ways. Mostly, they’ve been trying to go and see Gord one last time. As StubHub jacked up ticket prices to ridiculous highs, fans scrambled to win contests or find any way to see the Hip live.
The good news is, everyone can see the Hip live, anywhere.
Locally, there is a lot going on. You can join the gang from DaveRocks at local pup Bobby O’Brien’s for a Hip celebration. They will be showing the last Hip concert on a big screen. Lots of bars are doing the same thing — check your local listings. Some families are having backyard and pool parties with the neighbours, with big outdoor screens. All over Canada, fans will be celebrating separately, but together.
Not in Canada? No problem. There are viewing parties in major US cities such as New York and L.A. They will even be watching the Hip in Rio de Janeiro as the Olympics close. And it will be streamed worldwide. The CBC has all the details.
How are you planning to enjoy the Hip show? Here at LeBrain HQ, we are going to make some food, order in some gourmet chicken wings, and watch the Hip in 5.1 surround sound. It will be a turbulent experience. We don’t know much about Gord’s cancer except that it’s not treatable. We don’t know how he feels. All we know for certain is that we have been told this is the last tour, and that more than likely means this is the last show, forever. The band has not done any press, nor said much to address the many questions. It is like a giant elephant in the room. But tonight, I want to put all that out of my mind and just enjoy the music. I don’t want to think too much about what it all means. There will be plenty of journalists doing that. Tonight is for the fans, so let’s enjoy it, for us.
THE TRAGICALLY HIP – Man Machine Poem (2016 Universal)
The title Man Machine Poem reveals something about the new Tragically Hip. The first song is entitled “Man”, and the last one “Machine”. This album is an epic poem — the “Man Machine” poem. It has a flow like a singular body of work, even though it is made up of individual songs. Like most Hip albums of late, it is a brooding work thick with power in its quiet grooves.
Sounding a bit like like classic Radiohead, “Man” opens the CD on a suitably weird note. Droning piano, strange echoey vocals…and I’m hypnotised immediately. Granted, the subconscious mind keeps trying to find meaning in the music. Now we all know the terrible news. That in mind, we’re not going to treat this album like a funeral. Brain cancer be damned, Gord Downie is doing that final tour, you know the one? The one that nobody has been able to buy tickets for except on StubHub for many times their original value. In other words, it’s a heavy atmosphere and you keep searching for hints and clues that are not there. “Man” is a brilliant track, showing that the Hip were continuing to push their own limits.
Just about every track on Man Machine Poem is brilliant. The first single “In A World Possessed by the Human Mind” sounds like something Bono wishes he had written. The fuse smoulders, but the song blasts open brightly on the chorus. Each song has its own character, but hard to define. “What Blue” is simply lovely, a summery track that is hard to forget. “In Sarnia” sounds more like “in the country”, but friends from back that way say that’s not too far from the mark. Passion turned up to 10, Gord lets it all out. The song is slow and quiet; all but Gord.
The days of “Little Bones” and “New Orleans is Sinking” are long behind now. The Hip don’t write albums like that anymore, but what they do create still has innate power. Listen to the acoustics and the slides blending with the electric guitars and steady beat of Johnny Fay. The Hip run like a well oiled…gotta say it…Man Machine. The older, wiser, and less loud Tragically Hip still rock, cranking it up when necessary. “Here, in the Dark” is a fine example of placing the explosive charges in the exact right spots. So is the growling “Hot Mic.” The energy is palpable. Even on a song called “Tired as Fuck”, there is energy in the air.
Man Machine Poem has an epic feel to it, from the strange start to the drawn out dramatic ending. It’s temping to say something like “best Hip album in years!” but they’ve never stopped making great albums.
GETTING MORE TALE #491: My First Tragically Hip Experience, by Scotty G
As fans know, Gordon Downie of the Tragically Hip was recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. It is devastating news. Downie, living his life as an artist, has decided to go out as an artist and do a farewell tour in support of the new album Man Machine Poem. As writers, we have been trying to come up with a way to honour the man without dwelling on the negative. With that in mind, in a multi-site event, we have several posts for you today to honour the man and the legend, Mr. Gord Downie. Mikeladano.com’s contribution is this guest shot by the King of Rock Knowledge, and fellow ‘Fester, Scott. He is what I like to refer to as a “Jedi Master of rock”, the kind of man that can pass down stories and legends to the next generation. Scotty had the chance to see The Hip back in the early, early days and…well see for yourself! Please welcome Mr. Scotty G!
My first Hip experience was around 1988 or so, just prior to the release of Up To Here (1989). Somewhere after the Spoons and Rough Trade, and possibly prior to Sass Jordan, (I cant remember) at a Canada Day concert at Molson Park in Barrie, the Tragically Hip hit the stage.
Obviously young and lacking a whole lot of support, they carried their amps on stage themselves, placed them on chairs and started to play. I was kind of familiar with “Last American Exit” from the video, but that was it. They hit the stage and I was BLOWN AWAY. Mid-set, after really rocking one out, Gord called out to the crowd and asked if anyone had a dime? Literally, the crowd pelted the stage with change. Gord grabbed the coin of choice and proceeded to tighten a screw in his mic stand. He thanked the crowd for the help, and they blasted into another tune.
Months later, with this show still in the forefront of my mind, Up To Here was released and with it came more opportunities to see the Hip in many small venues. One in particular, the Highlands in Cambridge*, always offered up good opportunities to meet bands and in this case a couple of us were welcomed into the dressing room where Gord very politely obliged our fan talk. Joint after joint flew from Johnny Fay’s expert rolling fingers. Although it’s a long time ago, I have a good memory of it. I have to add that I am still amazed that he gave us the time of day, and seemed cool with having two 17 or 18-year-olds sitting in the dressing room asking silly questions while the band got stoned….
I got to see the Hip many times after that, and look back on those early performances with fondness. I never saw them live after the Road Apples tour, but will always recall the welcome that Gord and the band gave two young fans after a great show in Cambridge. He is a cool shit….
* I saw the London Quireboys at Highlands in Cambridge in December 1990