Wheat Kings & Pretty Things

Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you got til it’s gone

We went to see Strictly Hip last night,  Buffalo’s own Tragically Hip cover band. While listening to the band on the shore of Lake Erie and staring across the water to Canada, I started to think about the band and their connection to our city.

First of all,  surely we must be the only American city with a Hip cover band that works every week of the year, right? We deserve an honorary maple leaf for that alone!

There are certain things that we Buffalonians take very seriously. Hockey and the Tragically Hip are right near the top of that list and of course,  are forever intertwined.  This is a must read by the wonderful Ron MacLean which tackles the topic as only he can.  It’s no coincedence that HNIC stopped being must see TV for me when they dropped RM as host.


The band has played so many memorable local gigs over the years. My favorite was their two night stand at the Town Ballroom in 2007.  I had been a fan for many years before then but seeing the band in such an intimate setting and at the full force of their powers, while they were touring in support of such a strong album, raised my fandom to a whole different level.  I finally “got it”concerning this band.  I was so much in their thrall after those shows that I ran out and bought tickets to see them in Clifton Park, NY a few weeks later.  I called up an old college friend who lives in that area, told him I bought a ticket for him to see a great band and by the way, I’m crashing at your house for a night.  I’ll never forget that show, in this big crowded bar in a strip mall, as the Sabres/Islanders playoff game is on the TV.  I’m watching my Sabres win a playoff game while The Tragically Freaking Hip are rocking out in that same room!  I felt like an honorary Canadian that night.

It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves one star at a time

So I’m at the bar down the street that the lovely Missus and I walked to last night to see the cover band.  The sun had set.  The band broke into Bobcaygeon, and I’m staring across the lake, trying to wrap my head around why this news, as awful as it is, has hit us so hard.  I mean, we don’t know the man or the band personally.   We feel like we do though, in some way.  I mean, they’ve shared so many real, vivid, emotional moments with us.  And we feel like we’re being robbed of something important.  If you have never seen Gord Downie perform in person, you might think that I’m just being overly dramatic.  I’m really not.  His performance energy is singular in the rock world.  He channels the music on stage like some sort of modern day Shaman.  Coupled with his ridiculously poetic and heartfelt lyrics, there is no replacing him.  Ron MacLean called him Canada’s Shakespeare.  That too, is not hyperbole.

It occurred to me last night that maybe I’ve taken this band for granted somewhat, over the last twenty-five years.  All they’ve done is put out one excellent album after another since 1989 and played one spine tingling show after another.  And maybe, because they are relatively young and roughly the same age as us, there was no reason to think they would not be with us for a long, long time.  It’s a wake up call though for all of us to, as Warren Zevon famously said, “enjoy every sandwich”.

There’s something else about this story that’s been bugging me and I haven’t been able to put it into words.  And then I read the Buffalo News today and stumbled across this quote in the column by Jeff Miers:

“This is a healthy thing, I believe,” says Jennifer Koch, executive director of the Community Music School of Buffalo. “When we’re grieving for the loss of someone whose music has meant so much to us, we’re also grieving for the person we used to be when we first fell in love with their music. Take Prince, for example. When he died, people who fell in love with his music when they were young, in the 1980s, are saying goodbye both to him and to that part of their lives.”

So there it is.  It’s a long weekend and I’m going to enjoy it with my family and friends.  I’m going to try to score tickets to the Hip show in Hamilton, Ontario.  I’m going to “enjoy every sandwich”(some would say I’ve enjoyed too many sandwiches!).  And then, we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Wheat kings and pretty things
Let’s just see what tomorrow brings
Wheat kings and pretty things
Oh that’s what tomorrow brings



One thought on “Wheat Kings & Pretty Things

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