New Orleans Is Sinking references


While the lyric provided a nice little metaphor for the demise of all things honest, genuine, raw and spin-doctor free, Hurricane Katrina reminded all of us of the real dangers facing the city of New Orleans. Located in a delta at the base of the Mississippi River, New Orleans had been slowly losing ground to rising tides and coastal erosion. The city is, literally, sinking. New Orleans has always been extremely vulnerable to flooding as indicated by this story by Daniel Schorn.

Gord Downie told a nationwide radio audience in 2005 that the core message of the song is positive. It praises the spirit of a city that cannot be beaten and will certainly rise again.

"...Colonel Tom, what's wrong? What's goin' on?

"Colonel" (a reference to his military service and management style) Tom Parker was most famous as Elvis Presley's business manager. Parker was known to have influenced Elvis greatly, and some blame the colonel for corrupting the young, impressionable singer while beginning the merchandising and retail of rock and roll.

Parker lived the American Dream, overcoming homelessness in his youth before becoming one of the biggest names in U.S. show business. His big break came after signing Canadian country music legend Hank Snow. The colonel booked Presley as Snow's opening act, and the rest, as they say: musta been real frustrating for ol' Hank.

Colonel Tom's wife maintains a tribute to her late husband here.

"...Can't tie yourself up for this deal."

The North American Free Trade Agreement. (I make this assumption based on the popular interpretation of the lyrics, and because Gord took to shouting "NAFTA!" during this verse on the 2004 arena tour.)

Brian Mulroney was the Canadian embodiment of the neo-liberal, Thatcher-Reagan, Conservative agenda that swept the Western world in the 1980's. While the Hip toured and recorded Up To Here, Prime Minister Mulroney was selling free trade and what would become NAFTA (then just a Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States) to the Canadian electorate. Opposition to the deal centred around cultural and economic protectionism and a re-emerging Canadian nationalism. Many felt, and some still believe, that the deal had fundamental flaws and inequalities. The deal became the single dominant issue of the 1988 Canadian election. Mulroney won, the deal went through, and Canada was treated to one of its most infamous and entertaining political TV moments. Mulroney delivered a real, live, knock-out punch to Liberal Leader John Turner during their televised debate. "Be serious!" Mulroney scolded, and Turner often looked anything but. Even though a majority of Canadians (including, presumably, Gord Downie) voted against Mulroney and the deal, the PM's thrashing of Turner in the debate is often credited with splitting the opposition vote (NDP/Liberal) and paving the way for a Conservative majority government and the ratification of the FTA.

Turner vs. Mulroney

"...He said "Hey North, you're South, shut yer big mouth!
You've gotta do what you feel is real."

This is likely in reference to an overbearing Uncle Sam figure giving his diplomatic opinion to Our Lady of the Snows, perhaps regarding the FTA. Yet, some believe that Ollie North, a man very much in the news at the time of UTH's conception, may be the inspiration for this lyric. If you accept that line of thinking, the "deal" may be Iran-Contra. North was a central figure in the USA's plot to secretly sell weapons to Iran and then use the money to fund pro-US, anti-government, Nicaraguan rebels.

Hip Head Geoffrey Young believes it could be a simple reference to the southern American slang the boys would have heard while in Memphis recording. He writes, "north" is how southerners refer to northerners. "shut your big mouth" - south attitude toward northern know-it-all ness. Often, southerners don't speak so much, they are more observant and calculated. IMHO this is due to traditional corruption and violence levels. you keep your shit closer there.

"you gotta do what you feel is real" is a very common southern comment to northerners. They see us as overly mediated. Southerners don't like mediated, they don't trust it. They like direct."

Play Song

From "The Northern Game" by Bob Elliott