I told you that I reserved the right to go back and talk some more about The Hip! Maybe it’s the end of summer thing but I just don’t have it in me to dive into politics too much right now. I’m sure that after Labor Day, I’ll have plenty more to say about the election and various other topics, including that ridiculous campus carry law in Texas and my absolute glee about the North Carolina governor going down in flames.
For now though, how about The Hip? Some friends and I were going back and forth by email this week, talking about two things. First, why didn’t the band break big in The States. And secondly, why did they break soooo big here in Buffalo?
Much has been written already about the first topic. The band have been asked that question many times and seemed to take offense with it. There must be many reasons but it seems to me that chief among them is that the band just didn’t care. They’ve had enormous success in Canada over the past thirty years. Maybe they felt that they would have had to sacrifice some of that success if they focused on the U.S. and other markets? Also, as great as the band is, let’s face it, they are a bit idiosyncratic, aren’t they? And if you only heard them on the radio and had never seen them live, you probably wouldn’t get what all the fuss was about. More than anything, The Hip are a live band. The records are mostly fantastic but the live show? That’s an entirely different beast. So maybe you only saw The Hip that one time they were on American television? Of course, I’m talking about their SNL appearance in 1995. The band took a lot of criticism for their song choices that night, playing Grace, Too and Nautical Disaster. Both are great songs and much loved by all of their fans. They are perhaps not the catchiest of Hip songs though. I get the criticism but come on, that’s the album they had out at the time. They were touring in support of Day For Night. That’s what they do. Look at the tour this summer. Even if it was their final tour, they played a set of new songs every single night. They will never be a nostalgia band, playing the casino circuit, even if Gord lives to be a hundred. By the way, check out this video and tell me that Gord didn’t look like Sheldon Cooper a bit back then?
Not nearly as much has been written about why the band broke so big in Buffalo. In fact, I don’t recall reading any articles solely on the topic. So why did it happen? I think it starts with the fact that Buffalo is a serious music town. Blame the weather, I don’t know, but we love our live music. And we especially love our Canadian bands, who have a long history of breaking here and in other border towns long before the rest of the country catches on. It’s happened many times in the past with artists like Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, Triumph, and The Barenaked Ladies, just to name a few. Hell, I remember growing up in Rochester and catching on to Triumph long before most other cities did. Why? Well, proximity probably has a lot to do with it. The fact is that The Hip, just as many other Canadian bands, have played this area non-stop over the years. Each show at a bigger and bigger venue. They took the time to cultivate their fan base here. Also, because of the proximity, many Hip shows here in Buffalo are full of fans flooding in from Southern Ontario.
We all know about the Canadiancentric (made up word) lyrics. Due to our proximity to Toronto, we share media with Ontario. Most of us grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada. Much of Ontario grew up watching Irv Weinsten on channel 7 news here in Buffalo. Many of us have adopted certain aspects of Canadian culture. I honestly don’t think there is a better hockey town in the U.S. and we were hockey crazy long before most other U.S. markets. Songs about the ’72 Soviet series or Bill Barilko? That’s right in our wheelhouse.
Finally, one of my friends pointed out, and this one is huge, that our love of The Hip and adopting them as our band, has much to do with our inferiority complex as a city. Let’s face it, it has not been a pleasure cruise, as Freddy Mercury would say, living here all these years. It’s a thousand times better here now but that was a long, dark, cold, winter we went through to get here. Other, bigger cities don’t care about any one band this way. They’ve got bigger fish to fry. Us? We’re the city of crushing sports losses and blizzards that make national news. But for my generation, we’ve always had The Hip to help make us feel just a little more special than we really are. Maybe it’s just a matter of Trickle Down?