'Big In The States' Exhibit
  'Big In The States' Exhibit
Museum Entrance

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The National Gallery of Canada is a massive cathedral of glass and steel overlooking the Ottawa River. From the inside looking out, the southwest facade of the building perfectly frames Parliament Hill and the opening to the Rideau Canal. The view itself is a postcard worthy work of art. In 2002, turning away from that most Canadian of scenes would bring you face to face with the entrance to a special exhibit featuring works by Tom Thomson. Upon entering, the first display visible to gallery goers was not The Jack Pine nor The West Wind. Written on the walls of the gallery were the lyrics of a rock band. Fittingly, they were written by Canada’s Band, The Tragically Hip.

By the time I saw “Tom Thomson came paddling past/I’m pretty sure it was him” on that wall, I had become well versed in the myth and mystery of The Tragically Hip. The band spoke to my generation and about our country in a way nothing else in our popular culture ever had. Gord Sinclair, Johnny Fay, Rob Baker, Gord Downie and Paul Langlois were a part of our firmament. Instead of songs on the radio about Presidents or the Mississippi, we heard them reference Prime Ministers and Lake Ontario. This was a unique siren song for young Canadians.

Yet, growing up Hip, one question was nearly as constant as their songs on the radio: “why aren’t they bigger in the States?” I never thought it mattered. The Hip were great. I always bought two albums and gave one to a friend. Did it matter what anyone thought in Tuscaloosa? Music, like anything in life, can be meritorious regardless of what the masses may think. Gun control, universal health care and The Tragically Hip are wonderful things that are all woefully received in The United States. And so what? Should we appreciate them less? There is an odd Canadian obsession with seeking approval from our southern brother, the strange reluctance to embrace our own unless they have first been embraced Stateside.

When I was pitching a book to publishers about The Hip in 2005, the most common response I received was “this won’t work because it will only sell in Canada.” What the neighbours thought far too often informed our own sense of worth. It is a part of our collective inferiority complex The Tragically Hip have helped erode. My generation, the Trudeau babies, circa Pierre, grew up understanding that while Canada was not a cultural Empire, ours was a rich cultural community worth celebrating. Heritage Minutes, Can-Con rules and redesigned school curricula helped, but the The Tragically Hip were and remain active examples of that mid-90’s t-shirt slogan: “Canada Kicks Ass.” This band made Canada cool. And the cool kids always know about the best bands first.

So, Uncle Sam, it’s not too late. Catch the live feed as it comes across the 49th and experience why The Tragically Hip are the best band in the land. Any land.