Remembrance Day 2016 by Aaron Adair

Grandpa's WWII ID tag.

Grandpa's WWII ID tag.

I just reread Grandpa Cliff's memoirs from his 100th birthday. On Remembrance Day, this passage stood out to me:

"I rejoice every time I think how lucky my family members are to have been born in Canada. For young people who will study hard, work hard, and respect the law, there always seems to be a chance for a brilliant future. Whereas other countries have claimed to be the best in the world, it is not difficult to realize that we live in the best country in the world." Cliff Milne, 2013

(Sort of) Ranking The Tragically Hip's Records by Aaron Adair

After going through each of The Hip’s studio albums chronologically, I found that it’s impossible to rank each record from 1-13. The evolution of the band and the personality of each recording are so strong from record to record.

In this entry, I’ve condensed my previous five-part series and reordered an attempt at ranking.

I’ll post a reflection on the legacy of the band and a look at essential songs in the coming days.

Thanks for reading!

5 Dancing Gords Out Of 5: My Top 5

Fully Completely (1992)

This record is a masterpiece. It is the single greatest achievement in The Tragically Hip’s discography. Hands down. No argument. With all of the Canadiana infused into the lyrics, you just want to pour maple syrup over this album and devour every note.

Fully Completely is a rare blend of excellence in production, musicality, lyrics, and song selection. The Hip have always been a great rock band, but just listen to how hard and heavy they perform “Lionized” and “The Wherewithal.” The latter could be on a metal record, but the minimalist approach to the arrangements and production, along with Gord Downie’s voice, make it blend perfectly with the rest of the record. 

Gord Downie’s evolution as a lyricist and singer takes a huge step forward on this record. On their previous two albums, Downie sings in a prose-like fashion, as if he’s narrating individual short stories. But, the lyrics and phrasing on Fully Completely have space; there seems to be a turn toward the figurative compared to the stronger literal narrative that appears in his previous work. This album is also where Downie begins to approach songs like a poet and an actor (“Locked in the Trunk of a Car”, “Looking for a Place to Happen”). He sang with passion and emotion on previous recordings, but nothing like “LET ME OUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT!”.

Road Apples (1991)

As a sophomore record, there is a version of The Hip here that matured significantly as songwriters. Just listen to the arrangement of “Cordelia” versus the arrangement of any of the tracks on Up to Here. The melodies and stories are still strong, but the literal is becoming more figurative, and the straight ahead three or four chord rhythm guitar is dissipating in favour of harmony and complimentary riffs.

This album is where the band starts to cement their legacy as Canadian icons on tracks like “Three Pistols” and “Fiddler’s Green.”

We Are the Same (2009)

Through the chronological sequence of The Hip’s catalogue, this album is an amazing sonic anomaly. It gives the band Beatles, even Radiohead-like credence because it is a departure from anything else in their catalogue, and it works. 

This album seems to be the most perfect one to sit and strum along to since Road Apples. I can picture the boys in the band sitting around a campfire, trading songs off this album with Sarah Harmer and Jim Cuddy. Is it only me? Sorry, just my version of a little Canadian rock fantasy camp.

Did George Martin get a hold of the band and Bob Rock for this one? Accordion, string arrangements, pedal steel, flugelhorn, piano (etc.) on a Hip record? There are also layered and polished harmonies. Any Hip fan loves the way Paul Langlois and Gord Sinclair let loose on background vocals on past records, but—again—the new approach on this record works. An early 90’s Hip enthusiast might spit at the thought of all of this, but:

•    This album cements the band’s legacy as excellent songwriters. There’s a beauty, honesty, diversity, and accessibility on this record that is admirable.
•    Most profoundly, Gord Downie has always been a great rock singer, but on this album he is a great singer, period. Gord doesn’t miss a note while ranging from quiet and honest, to full-bodied and powerful. His voice is crystal clear and forward in the mix, lyrics are less figurative, and each word is clearly emphasized. If you’re a singalong Hip fan, this is the most singalongable album since 1991. Did I just say “singalongable”??? Good.

The somewhat surprising balance between country and rock on this record just screams rural Saskatchewan (or Ontario for that matter). Given the guys-next-door in Anytown, Canada aura of this band, the uniqueness of this record makes sense. 

Up to Here (1989)

This record defines every recording that follows by establishing The Hip’s minimalistic sound and straight ahead brand of rock n roll. There are legendary singles, and B-sides that could have been singles for any other band at the time. 

I remember looking at the artwork for Up to Here when I was a kid; the picture made the band seem like the guys who live next door in any Canadian town, rehearsing in the basement on a Saturday night—quietly at first, but with more intensity after Hockey Night in Canada. The music matched that image. 

The legend of this record speaks for itself, so—

Phantom Power (1998)

Fully Completely, easily their greatest achievement, was full of Canadian shout-outs, but these references were minimal on their next two records. Phantom Power is the lyrical and musical equivalent of the entire band lining up at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge and giving any potential US record execs a full-bodied middle finger.

How many listeners outside of Canada would relate to a story for a girl from Thompson, Manitoba? Why would someone pinpoint a defining moment of a relationship as when his girl was “loosening [his] grip on Bobby Orr”? And where or what the heck is a “Bobcaygeon”, and why would anyone ever sing about it?

This record, as the title alludes to, has a kick to it. That full tilt in your face rock n roll production that was muted on the previous two records comes out in force on Phantom Power. Many of the songs are memorable, sing along anthems once again, and each seems to evoke a separate lasting image.

Transition Records With Powerhouse Singles

Day For Night (1994)

As many bands do, The Hip could have gone into the studio after the monumental success of Fully Completely, used the same producer, and followed a similar format to recapture its essence and success. But no. Day for Night is almost the complete opposite of that approach (perhaps what the title hints at?).

Compared to Fully Completely (which one can’t help but do), the production of this record is far more raw, the lyrics more dark. 

There are standout tracks that have stood the test of time:
•    “Grace, Too”: Come on! When the full band comes in and lets loose together on the riff, you can’t help but nod your head and rock out with them. Damn! That’s a heavy riff!
•    “Nautical Disaster”: I’m assuming this was the biggest hit from this record. What’s crazy about that after listening now? There’s no chorus in this song. Got a problem with that? Head back to “Greasy Jungle” and sing along. Oh! Also, along with “Grace, Too,” this song has the signature Hip driving outro. Love it.
•    “Inevitability of Death”: Speaking of singing along, if you’re still reading this, you’ve probably sung this song to yourself many times, trying to perfect Gord’s tongue twisting wordplay: “I thought you beat the death of inevitability to death just a little bit / I thought you beat the inevitability of death to death just a little bit.” What’s that? You haven’t done this? You mean, like me, you haven’t hit pause and tried to mimic… OK, Maybe it is just me.

Trouble at the Henhouse (1996)

Like Day for Night, this is another statement record that separates itself from its predecessor. Contrast the dark, raw production of “Fire in the Hole” on Day for Night, with the catchy, endearing acoustic guitar in the nostalgic anthem “Ahead by a Century.” 

There are epic Hip anthems on this record: “Giftshop” has everything that makes a Hip song a great Hip song; “Ahead by a Century” is in the running for the best Hip song of all time. The lyrics speak of nostalgia, and that feeling is even stronger over 20 years later.

In contrast to these hits, there are more songs that have Gord Downie experimenting with poetry and the persona that he brings to each song: “Coconut Cream”, “700 Ft. Ceiling”, “Butts Wigglin”.

Much respect for the band’s willingness to experiment with different approaches to songwriting and production.

World Container (2006)

There is a new sound for The Hip on this record; Bob Rock gave the overall sound more body than the Hip’s past recordings. He also seems to have influenced the arrangements of their songs and Gord Downie’s vocal delivery (“The Kids Don’t Get It” is playful and powerful—something that continues through the rest of the Hip’s catalogue). 

Many of the songs are undeniably catchy. “Yer Not the Ocean” is more in your face than the band had sounded since Phantom Power; “The Lonely End of the Rink” is everything I love about a Gord Downie lyric (the title alone does it for me); “Fly”, despite being a more cliché title for Downie, is positive and infectious; and the life affirming and upbeat “In View”, easily the band’s closest attempt at a pop song (my wife automatically starts bobbing her head when it comes on).

There is a slight dilemma: the back end of the record doesn’t match the intensity and quality of the first six tracks. Are the changes to the band’s formulas to blame? Quite possibly. Is “In View” just too damn catchy? Most definitely.

Modern Gem of this record: Listen to intently to the lyrics in “Fly” and think of Gord Downie. I hope he’s made it to Moonbeam.


The Unrankable New Records

Overall, there’s an honesty in these two records that hasn’t been as blatant in The Hip’s previous work. The reality of the ups and downs of life comes through in a profoundly beautiful way that cannot be compared with the rest of the band’s catalogue.

Now for Plan A (2012)

In a previous blog, I mentioned how I see a similarity to The Hip’s catalogue as that of Radiohead (This is a stretch, I know, but it’s there.) As a fan of Radiohead, I’ve needed to listen to most of their records from top-to-bottom a few times before “getting it”. This also applies to Now for Plan A.

There are a lot of really cool, and very passionate songs on this record (and multiple Sarah Harmer appearances! My Canadian rock n roll fantasy camp is one step closer!), but since it summarizes my relationship with this record so well, I’ll focus on one song: “We Want To Be It.”

“Drip, Drip, Drip.” The first time I heard this lyric repeated again and again, I didn’t know what to think. The amount of repetition and the phrasing of the words are unique for a Hip tune. As I put the context of the struggles that Gord Downie and his wife, Laura, must have gone through while she battled breast cancer, it all started to come together.

I now think of a husband sitting beside his wife’s hospital bed, desperate to help, but helpless in desperation. I picture this husband sitting in a stale hospital room wishing that time would fast forward so that all times could be better. Yet, the clock would be ticking as slowly as the drip from an IV/chemotherapy drip bag that would probably make the love of his life feel far worse before she feels any better.

The repetition now makes perfect sense. The pleading in Downie’s voice, reflected by the dynamic supplied by the band, is intense through this lens of reality. Downie is pouring his heart out for the woman he loves above all else. He’d trade places with her if he could, and he’s sharing this with his fans. This may be Gord’s most profound poem, song, and performance. 

This song summarizes my whole experience with this album. I’ve written of powerhouse singles in previous blogs; there are none here. However, there is poetry and music produced with passion, and Sarah Harmer’s harmonies are absolutely perfect.

Man Machine Poem (2016)

In the first break in the set at the Hip’s August 1st show in Calgary, a guy seated next to me asked what I thought of the show so far. I told him, “Nostalgia and reality are making this so awesome in so many ways.”

This is also true of this record.

I understand that Man Machine Poem was recorded before Gord Downie’s terminal diagnosis, but the reality of his illness cannot be avoided when listening to this record; there is a ton of emotion in the music and lyrics. Since the title of the album was borrowed from a song from Now for Plan A, the consistency from record to record makes sense. There’s no doubt that what Gord Downie and his family had gone through with his wife’s illness changed his perspective and his poetry. Still, one can’t help but interpret many of these songs as addressing Gord’s own illness. 

Highlights of this record:
•    The mechanistic voice at the intro of the album is the most un-Hip-like production of all, but suits the song and album title so well.
•    I have to admit that the first time I heard “In a World Possessed by the Human Mind,” I thought it was Arcade Fire. This track is one of my favourites of theirs in a long time. The playfulness in Gord’s delivery, especially in the final verse, just makes me smile. Any Hip fan would picture that playfulness coming alive on stage.
•    As I stated on Twitter a few days back, “What Blue” may be the most honest love song that Gord D’s ever penned. After digging into “We Want to Be It” on Now for Plan A, I will change my opinion slightly: “What Blue” is the most literal love song Gord Downie has ever penned: “I love you so much, it distorts my life / What drove and drives you drove and drives me too.”  Wow.
•    “In Sarnia”: There’s passion, longing, and honesty once again.
•    “Tired as F**k” is another one that makes me imagine Gord during his treatments, or helping his wife. 
•    The atmospheric track “Ocean Next”: “I’ll turn my music up/Listen don’t guess/At the centre of it, a little sadness/ Ocean next, the thousand pictures/ Better than sex, or salt’n’vinegar chips.”  Seriously, how many people can get away with a line like that, other than Gord? A Hip fan can’t help but smile.

Records with Personality

In Violet Light (2002)

This is a really solid record. 

The Hip sonically blend the laid back feel of Henhouse, the rawness of Day for Night, and even some of the straight-ahead rock of Fully Completely. I love how Rob Baker’s artwork creates the mood for the entire album, and how the band plays around with songwriting formulas that have worked so well for them in the past. Check out how they experiment with different feels, time signatures, and arrangements in “All Tore Up,” “Leave,” “A Beautiful Thing,” and “The Dark Canuck.”

Rather than continuing the Phantom PowerMusic @ Work feel, including opening the album with a power hit (“Poets”, “My Music at Work”), this record takes a little time to get going, but when it does, The Hip give three sing along tunes that reward their fans (“The Darkest One,” “It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken,” “Silver Jet”). 

In Between Evolution (2004)

Even though there isn’t a typical powerhouse single that everyone will belt out at a concert, there’s a strong personality to this record that makes me feel good as a fan of this band. This record sounds like a band that got together, listened to some late 70’s punk, blended it with their own minimal style, hit record, and had fun. And, isn’t this what makes this band so legendary, so endearing? Doesn't this also equate The Hip with Pearl Jam? These two bands play straight-ahead rock music over an ever-evolving discography, with a loyal fan base, and a just-one-of-the-guys aura that pervades their careers. Think of this comparison when listening to this record.

“It Can’t Be Nashville Every Night” is such a great tune.

Just Not My Fave

Music @ Work (2000)

Ok, so here it is: I don’t connect to this record as much as the rest of The Hip’s catalogue. Aside from the opening track single and the hook in “Putting Down,” not many of the songs are as memorable as you would find on past Hip records. Also, the lyrics aren’t as accessible on much of this record. 

Sometimes I rate my enjoyment of a band on how I imagine them live in concert. If this were The Hip’s only record, I would picture them being a great opening act on a stadium tour across Canada. I’d go to the show, sit through their opening set, buy the t-shirt, and probably wonder why I spent the 30 bucks a couple weeks later. Then, a couple of months would go by and they’d come through town, headlining a small club. I’d go. I’d sweat it out on the dance floor. I’d love it for that night. Once in a while, down the road, while I’m driving in my truck “My Music at Work” would pop up on shuffle and I’d go, “Who the heck is this?” My wife would look at my phone, tell me, and I’d say, “Oh yeah. They were good. Weren’t they?”

Nevertheless, as part of a complete discography and an evolution of a band, of this band in particular, I can appreciate the band grinding out these songs together and evolving their creative process.

A Personal Overview of The Tragically Hip's 13 Studio Albums: Part 5 by Aaron Adair

Part 5: Reality Tinges Interpretation (Now For Plan A & Man Machine Poem)

The emotion present in The Tragically Hip’s final two studio albums should be undeniable for any listener, but it really hits home for me on a personal level and as a fan of the band. I can’t help but connect to the tone of these songs through my own experiences as a cancer patient.

My wife told me that songs on Now for Plan A were influenced by Gord Downie’s wife’s breast cancer diagnosis. There is an excellent break down of some of the sections of each song in this CBC article.

Man Machine Poem is an album released after Gord D’s terminal cancer diagnosis; although, I understand that the album was written and recorded before he and the band received the news. 

Overall, there’s an honesty in these two records that hasn’t been as blatant in The Hip’s previous work. This is especially true in the lyrics and Gord D’s vocal delivery. The reality of the ups and downs of life comes through in a profoundly beautiful way.

Now for Plan A
In Part 4, I mentioned how I see a similarity to The Hip’s catalogue as that of Radiohead. (This is a stretch, I know, but it’s there.) As a fan of Radiohead, I’ve needed to listen to most of their records from top-to-bottom a few times before “getting it”. This also applies to Now for Plan A (and Man Machine Poem, for that matter).

There are a lot of really cool, and very passionate songs on this record (and multiple Sarah Harmer appearances! My Canadian rock n roll fantasy camp is one step closer!), but since it summarizes my relationship with this record so well, I’m only going to focus on one song in this entry: “We Want To Be It.”

“Drip, Drip, Drip.” The first time I heard this lyric repeated again and again in this song, I didn’t know what to think. The amount of repetition and the phrasing of the words is unique for a Hip tune. As I put the context of the struggles that Gord Downie and his wife, Laura, must have gone through, it all started to come together.

I thought of a husband sitting beside his wife’s hospital bed, desperate to help, but helpless in desperation. Sitting in a stale hospital room wishing that time would fast forward, so that all times could be better. Yet, the clock would be ticking as slowly as the drip from an IV/chemotherapy drip bag that would probably make the love of his life feel far worse before she feels any better.

The repetition now makes perfect sense. The pleading in Downie’s voice, reflected by the dynamic supplied by the band, is intense through this lens of reality. Downie is pouring his heart out for the woman he loves more than anything. He’d trade places with her if he could. And, he’s sharing this with his fans.

I can’t help but feel it may be Gord’s most profound poem, song, and performance. He’s baring his heart and soul, basically standing naked in front of anyone who’s witnessing this song. 

This song summarizes my whole experience with this album. I’ve written of powerhouse singles in previous blogs; there are none here. However, there is poetry and music produced with passion.

Other excellent songs: “Now for Plan A” (Sarah Harmer’s harmonies are a perfect blend), “Man Machine Poem” (there’s power and vulnerability on Gord’s voice. Great chord changes), “The Modern Spirit”, “About This Map”.


Man Machine Poem

In the first break in the set at the Hip’s first farewell show in Calgary, a guy seated next to me asked what I thought of the show so far. I told him, “Nostalgia and reality are making this so awesome in so many ways.”

This is also true of this record.

I understand that Man Machine Poem was recorded before Gord D’s terminal diagnosis, but the reality of his illness cannot be avoided when listening to this record. Like this record’s predecessor, there is a ton of emotion in the music and lyrics. Since the title of the album was borrowed from a song from Now for Plan A, this consistency from record to record makes sense. There’s no doubt that what Gord Downie and his family had gone through with his wife’s illness changed his perspective and his poetry. Still, one can’t help but interpret many of these songs as addressing Gord’s own illness. Again, with my personal connection to cancer, my experiences affect how I listen to these songs. In the end, isn’t that what makes art so great?

Highlights of this record:
-The mechanistic voice at the intro of the album is the most un-Hip-like production of all, but suits the song and album title so well.
-I have to admit that the first time I heard “In a World Possessed by the Human Mind,” I thought it was Arcade Fire. As I turned the radio up (yes I still listen to music on the radio from time-to-time), I realized it was unmistakably Gord’s vocal. This track is one of my favourites of theirs in a long time. The playfulness in Gord’s delivery, especially in the final verse, just makes me smile. Any Hip fan would picture that playfulness coming alive on stage.
-As I stated on Twitter a few days back, “What Blue” may be the most honest love song that Gord D’s ever penned. After digging into “We Want to Be It” on Now for Plan A, I will change my opinion slightly: “What Blue” is the most literal love song Gord Downie has ever penned: “I love you so much, it distorts my life / What drove and drives you drove and drives me too.”  Wow. He’s written some very romantic lines in the past, but this is a statement of never-ending love—again, reality tinges interpretation. I love this song.
-“In Sarnia” proves yet again that I’m not on the same level as Gord Downie (surprise, surprise). There’s passion, longing, and honesty once again.
-“Tired as F**k” is another one that makes me imagine Gord during his treatments, or helping his wife. I can sort of relate. After going through a radiation treatment a couple of years ago, the three words in this title were the ONLY way to describe the week that followed. My experience was nothing close to what Gord and his family have gone through, but the song speaks to me.
-The atmospheric track “Ocean Next” didn’t upload to my phone properly when I got this album, so I didn’t actually hear it until the Calgary concert. During the show, the last verse stood out to me so much that I had to write it down in my phone: “I’ll turn my music up/Listen don’t guess/At the centre of it, a little sadness [Reality/Interpretation again!!!]/ Ocean next, the thousand pictures/ Better than sex, or salt’n’vinegar chips.”  Seriously, how many people can get away with a line like that, other than Gord? A Hip fan can’t help but smile.

Hmmm.  I like that last thought. You know what? I’m going to leave it at that.

I’ll post a summary in the coming days.

Cheers for reading!

A Personal Overview of The Tragically Hip's 13 Studio Albums: Part 4 by Aaron Adair

Part 4: How Bob Rocks (World Container-We Are the Same)

If you’re around my age, you’ll remember what happened when Bob Rock produced Metallica’s Black Album. He took an already successful band, changed up their regular studio tendencies, and ended up with a legendary rock record. Some fans hated it—the sound had changed too much; the band wasn’t as heavy as they used to be. But this producer-band union opened the band’s catalogue up to a diverse new audience.
So what would happen when Bob Rock combined with Canada’s rock n roll guys next door? The Hip added two albums to their catalogue where they take risks, step outside of their tried and true formulas, and continue their evolution by maturing as songwriters and performers.

World Container

Here’s my nostalgia trip for this entry. When I was first getting into this record after its release, I was on a trip through Southern France (pretty nice, hey?). Anyways, there was a specific stretch where I was sitting in the front of a bus travelling through the countryside of Provence. Man, it was beautifully peaceful. Well, on my iPod mini, I couldn’t stop listening to the first four songs on World Container. There was a new sound for The Hip here; and the songs—the first four in particular—were undeniably catchy. “Yer Not the Ocean” is more in your face than the band had sounded since Phantom Power; “The Lonely End of the Rink” is everything I love about a Gord Downie lyric (the title alone does it for me); “In View”—I’ll get to in a bit; and “Fly”, despite being a more cliché title for Downie, is positive and infectious.

Bob Rock gave the sound of this record more body than the Hip’s past recordings. He also seems to have influenced the arrangements of their songs. Everything on this record follows a more traditional pop structure. For example, the signature guitar solo at the end of many epic Hip tracks is moved to the middle of songs. Choruses are more predictable and very catchy. This is a major shift from the albums I focused on in Part 3 of this blog.

This shift works in a lot of ways. “In View”, easily the band’s closest attempt at a pop song, is so upbeat that it'll make the sun shine through a storm in Saskatchewan, Provence, or Southern "Ontari-ari-o". I really dig this song. I know it’s great because my wife automatically starts bobbing her head when it comes on.

These first four songs and the two that follow—“Luv (Sic) and “The Kids Don’t Get It”—can get stuck in your head quite easily; some may not like the pop influence, but it’s the first time this has happened on a Hip record this consistently since Fully Completely. Downie’s vocal delivery on tracks like  “The Kids…” is also playful and powerful—something that continues through the rest of the Hip’s catalogue.

Beyond these tracks is where a slight dilemma lies: the rest of the record doesn’t match the intensity and quality of the first six tracks; it's like my feeling toward Music @ Work. There are good songs outside of the singles, but are the changes to the band’s tried and true formulas to blame? Quite possibly. Is "In View" just too damn catchy? Most definitely.

Modern Gem of this record: Listen to intently to the lyrics in “Fly” and think of Gord Downie. I hope he’s made it to Moonbeam.

We Are The Same

In a previous blog, I alluded to how playing Hip tunes around a campfire was my introduction to songwriting and musicianship. We Are The Same seems to be the most perfect record to sit and strum along to since Road Apples. So, allow me to have a conversation with myself:

AA’s self: How come you didn’t listen to this album all the way through until now?
AA: Uhhhhh. When it came out, I had my head up my a** listening only to 60’s and 70’s soul and anything Questlove touched. Remember? I was getting ready to write a soul-inspired record.
AA’s self: That doesn’t answer my question.
AA: Well, Self, I’m sorry that I deprived you of this gem. We good?
AA’s self: …just don’t do it again.

Through the chronological sequence of The Hip’s catalogue, this album is an amazing sonic anomaly. It diversifies their catalogue in a fashion reminiscent of The Beatles, even Radiohead, but in The Hip's own way; it is a departure from any other record they've created, and it works. 

Speaking of The Beatles, did Sir George Martin get a hold of the band and Bob Rock for this one? I mean, accordion, string arrangements, pedal steel, flugelhorn, piano (etc.) on a Hip record? There are also layered and polished harmonies on this record. Any Hip fan loves the way Paul Langlois lets loose on his background vocals on past records, but—again—the new polished approach works on this album. An early 90’s Hip enthusiast might spit at the thought of all of this, so let me attempt to provide a little perspective:

•    This album cements the band’s legacy as excellent songwriters. There’s a beauty, honesty, diversity, and accessibility on this record that is admirable.
•    Most profoundly, Gord Downie has always been a great rock singer, but on this album he is a great singer, period. (Full credit to Bob Rock, I imagine. Just recall my assessment of “The Kids Don’t Get It” performance). Explanation: There are times in rock n roll where a singer just needs to let it buck and if a note here or there is a little sharp or flat? No big deal. Tom Petty would say, “It’s good enough for rock n roll.” On this record, Gord doesn’t miss a note while ranging from quiet and honest, to full-bodied and powerful. His voice is crystal clear and forward in the mix, lyrics are less figurative, and each word is clearly emphasized. If you’re a singalong Hip fan, this is the most singalongable album since 1991.

Did I just say “singalongable”??? Good.

OK. I do have one minor critique. There are a few songs on here that evoke The Hip of old—“Speed River”, “Love is a First”. This is a very good thing, but they seem somewhat, I repeat SOMEWHAT, out of place on a record with songs sandwiched between two country-inspired tracks. Nevertheless, if you haven’t clued in, I really love this record.

I should also mention that my recent feelings on this record might have been influenced heavily by scenery. I was driving through rural Saskatchewan backroads on a sunny summer day while listening to the album multiple times. The somewhat surprising balance between country and rock on this record just screams rural Saskatchewan (or Ontario for that matter) to me. Given the guys-next-door in Anytown, Canada aura of this band, maybe this is something I’ve been waiting for. In fact, I can picture the boys in the band sitting around a campfire, trading songs off this album with Sarah Harmer and Jim Cuddy. 

Is it only me? Sorry, just my version of a little Canadian rock fantasy camp, I guess.

A few of the excellent songs on this record that get in my head from time-to-time: “Morning Moon”, “Honey, Please”, “The Last Recluse” (listen for the Radiohead OK Computer-like sound in the back half of the tune), ”The Depression Suite”, “Love is a First”.

A Personal Overview of The Tragically Hip's 13 Studio Albums: Part 3 by Aaron Adair

Part 3: “It’s Evolution, Baby!”  (Music @ Work - In Between Evolution)

Here’s a group of three records where The Tragically Hip evolve their artistry by developing albums with individual personalities. It’s very interesting that outside of the opening song on Music @ Work, “My Music at Work,” there are no powerhouse singles (“The Darkest Ones” comes close on In Violet Light). This is a major shift from Phantom Power, but in a good way. After all, you can’t measure a great album simply on hit songs alone. Can you? (The answer is no, btw.)

This era in the band’s discography leads me to equate The Hip with Pearl Jam. Here are two bands that play straight-ahead rock music over an ever-evolving discography that contains albums that don't always rely on singles. They both have a loyal fanbase and a just-one-of-the-guys aura that pervades their careers (Think of this comparison when listening to In Between Evolution). It’s like how there will always be PJ fans who go to shows only to hear all the hits from Ten, and they’ll often leave disappointed since the band will focus on covering their entire catalogue. I imagine a few fans felt this way at a few of The Hip’s shows. At the August 1st show in Calgary, there wasn’t one song played from Fully Completely! But it didn’t matter: every song in the 2.5-hour show was amazing.

Music @ Work
Ok, so here it is: I don’t connect to this record as much as the rest of The Hip’s catalogue. Why is this? Aside from the opening track single and the hook in “Putting Down,” not many of the songs are as memorable as you would find on past Hip records. I also find that I don’t connect to the lyrics as much as I do with Downie’s work on other records. After my last top-to-bottom listen it occurred to me that Music @ Work would be a great achievement for most bands, but, like Day for Night, it’s not one that I’ll frequently return to in its entirety.

Let me put it this way. Sometimes I rate my enjoyment of a band on how I imagine them live in concert. If this were The Hip’s only record, I would picture them being a great opening act on a stadium tour across Canada. I’d go to the show, sit through their opening set, buy the t-shirt, and probably wonder why I spent the 30 bucks a couple weeks later. Then, a couple of months would go by and they’d come through town, headlining a small club. I’d go. I’d sweat it out on the dance floor. I’d love it for that night. Once in a while, down the road, while I’m driving in my truck “My Music at Work” would pop up on shuffle and I’d go, “Who the heck is this?” My wife would look at my phone, tell me, and I’d say, “Oh yeah. They were good. Weren’t they?”

Nevertheless, as part of a complete discography and an evolution of a band, of this band in particular, I can appreciate the band grinding out these songs together and evolving their creative process.

[Please note the humility that accompanies this reflection. I have never come close to (and may never) produce a record of this quality. It’s a good record, just not one of my absolute faves. We cool?]

In Violet Light

This is a really solid record. 

I love how the artwork creates the mood for the entire album, and I love how the band plays around with songwriting formulas that have worked so well for them in the past. 

Rather than continuing the Phantom PowerMusic @ Work feel, including opening the album with a power hit (“Poets”, “My Music at Work”), this record takes a little time to get going, but when it does, The Hip give three sing along tunes that reward their fans (“The Darkest One,” “It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken,” “Silver Jet”). 

This record sonically blends the laid back feel of Henhouse, the rawness of Day for Night, and even some of the straight ahead rock of Fully Completely.

It’s interesting to hear the band break from their traditional formulas on a few of back-to-back tracks. Check out how they experiment with different feels and time signatures in “All Tore Up,” “Leave,” and “A Beautiful Thing.” 

Is it just me? “The Dark Canuck” is a tune that has many elements of the signature Hip sound, but the song itself stands out because the typical Hip formula for a hit is not quite complete. There are two specific movements in this song. Three minutes in, the band shifts completely into the trademark heavy 4/4 rock sound with the powerful but minimal guitar tone and the driving Johnny Fay drums—the basis for a Hip hit. However, Gord Downie’s essential role in influencing whether a song will be a hit or not is cemented here. In this section of the tune, poetry takes precedence over a strong hook and memorable melody. It would be interesting to revisit this group of records with this in mind. [As I listen to this song again, I’m picking up Gord’s old Up to Here vocal tone…interesting. I dig it.] 


In Between Evolution

Remember how I said that I won’t return to Music @ Work in its entirety very often? Well, In Between Evolution is one that will always get a regular spin. Even though there isn’t a typical powerhouse single that everyone will belt out at a concert (except maybe “Gus: The Polar Bear in Central Park” or “It Can’t be Nashville Every Night”), there’s a strong personality to this record that makes me feel good as a fan of this band.

This record sounds like a band that got together, listened to some late 70’s punk, blended it with their own minimal style, hit record, and had fun. And, isn’t this what makes this band so legendary, so endearing? I remember looking at the artwork on Up to Here when I was a kid; the picture made the band seem like the guys who live next door in any Canadian town, rehearsing in the basement on a Saturday night—quietly at first, but with more intensity after Hockey Night in Canada. The music matched that image. It’s that image that returns to me as I listen to this record. There’s an alluring rawness to each song and the record as a whole. Kudos to producer Adam Kasper. Check out his resume: http://www.allmusic.com/artist/adam-kasper-mn0000597809. (Remember what I said about The Hip’s Pearl Jam-esque qualities?)

[I’m listening to “It Can’t Be Nashville Every Night” again right now. What an awesome song.]

 

A Personal Overview Of The Tragically Hip's 13 Studio Albums: Part 2 by Aaron Adair

Part 2: Defining The Hip Identity (Day for Night-Phantom Power)

These three records are grouped together since they are the most important records for The Tragically Hip after their iconic debut trilogy. Separated by decades from first listens, I now see these records as the point where The Hip explored and expanded their artistry rather than following their previous models. This is where the band cements their legend in Canadian music.

Day For Night

I’ve got to admit that I’ve always struggled with my desire to love this record as much as its predecessors. After listening to it three times over more than 20 years after its release, I understand it in a slightly different way than I did years ago. Don’t get me wrong. There are legendary songs on this album, but it’s just not one I’ll return to in its entirety as often as some others in the band's discography.

Here’s the thing: As many bands do, The Hip could have gone into the studio after the monumental success of Fully Completely, used the same producer, and followed a similar format to recapture its essence and success. But no. Day for Night is almost the complete opposite of that approach (perhaps what the title hints at?), and this is why I have a lot of respect for this record.

When comparing this record to Fully Completely (which one can’t help but do), the production of Day for Night is far more raw, the lyrics more dark. “Daredevil” sounds like a live off the floor one-take track, an equivalent of a band ranting as opposed to the polish of the previous three records. (Note: This is actually a really cool rock tune—especially live.)

There are standout tracks that have stood the test of time:
•    “Grace, Too”: Come on! When the full band comes in and lets loose together on the riff, you can’t help but nod your head and rock out with them. Damn! That’s actually a heavy riff!
•    “Greasy Jungle”: One of those songs where you think, “What the heck made Gord put down these words?” And, if you’re not singing along in the chorus, check your pulse and make sure your affairs are in order.
•    “So Hard Done By”: This track still slinks, creeps, and crawls the way it did the first time it crossed my ears.
•    “Nautical Disaster”: I’m assuming this was the biggest hit from this record. What’s crazy about that after listening now? There’s no chorus in this song. Got a problem with that? Head back to “Greasy Jungle” and sing along. Oh! Also, along with “Grace, Too,” this song has the signature Hip driving outro. Love it.
•    “Inevitability of Death”: Speaking of singing along, if you’re still reading this, you’ve probably sung this song to yourself many times, trying to perfect Gord’s tongue twisting wordplay: “I thought you beat the death of inevitability to death just a little bit / I thought you beat the inevitability of death to death just a little bit.” What’s that? You haven’t done this? You mean, like me, you haven’t hit pause and tried to mimic… OK, Maybe it is just me.

Trouble at the Henhouse

Am I right in remembering that this record was released on a Friday night? It seems to me that I lined up at a record shop close to the University of Saskatchewan at Midnight to get my hands on one of the first copies. But, hey! That’s what this band did to fans like me. Three epic debut records, a fourth that separated itself from the others, and now fans wanted to know what the band’s next move would be. Well played, boys. Well played.

Speaking of shifts in production, here’s another statement record that separates itself from its predecessor. Contrast the dark, raw production of “Fire in the Hole” on Day for Night, with the catchy, endearing acoustic guitar in the nostalgic anthem “Ahead by a Century.” (Since nostalgia is a major theme of this blog, remember the first image of Gord Downie playing an acoustic guitar when this album came out? Here was a signal of yet another change for the band.)

In the spirit of my test of time approach to these blogs, I have similar feelings about this record as I do for Day for Night. There are epic Hip anthems on here: “Giftshop” has everything that makes a Hip song a great Hip song; “Ahead by a Century” is in the running for my favourite Hip song of all time. The lyrics speak of nostalgia, and that feeling is even stronger over 20 years later.

In contrast to these hits, there are more songs that have Gord Downie experimenting with poetry and the persona that he brings to each song: “Coconut Cream”—does anybody picture Gord D. singing this with a smirk on his face? I laugh every time; “700 Ft. Ceiling” gets in my head once in a while since revisiting this album; and “Butts Wigglin”—well, the title alone.

Overall, like Day for Night, much respect for the band’s willingness to experiment with different approaches to songwriting and production.

Phantom Power

If you’re a nostalgic Hip fan like me, you probably remember the period where everyone in Canada was waiting for the band to break out in the States. I’d always check their tour dates to see how many more shows were south of the border, and whether the venues were getting bigger. Dan Aykroyd even brought them on Saturday Night Live.

Well, we waited. Albums kept being released as #1’s in Canada, but we continued to wait.

As I previously mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, Fully Completely, easily their greatest achievement, was full of Canadian shout-outs, but these references were minimal on their next two records. Perhaps this was a conscious effort to make the songs more relatable to an American market?

Whether that’s true or not, Phantom Power is the lyrical equivalent of the entire band lining up at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge and giving any potential US record execs a full-bodied middle finger.

How many listeners outside of Canada would relate to a story for a girl from Thompson, Manitoba? Why would someone pinpoint a defining moment of a relationship when a girl is “loosening [his] grip on Bobby Orr”? And where or what the heck is a “Bobcaygeon”, and why would anyone ever sing about it?

Well, Gordie did, and we loved it.

This record, as the title alludes to, has a kick to it. That full tilt in your face rock n roll production that was muted on the previous two records comes out in force on Phantom Power. Although, it is interesting from a production aspect how the bass takes a step back in the mix in a song like “Fireworks.” Nevertheless, many of the songs are memorable, sing along anthems once again, and each seems to evoke a separate lasting image.

Standout tracks besides “Poets” and “Bobcaygeon”? “Something On”, “Fireworks”, “Thompson Girl.”

If I had a top 5, Phantom Power is definitely there.

A Personal Overview of The Tragically Hip's 13 Studio Albums: Part 1 by Aaron Adair

I love The Tragically Hip. I’m not a super-fan who has seen every tour and bought every album right as they were released, but I still love this band. I love their music. I love what they mean to my development as a musician. I love what they what they mean to my country.

In honour of their final tour, I decided to listen to each album in chronological order so that I could track their evolution while taking a personal nostalgic trip.

I thought that I’d rank the records from 1-13, but I just can’t. The first four or five in a ranking are fairly clear for me; I could probably even pick the ones I relate to least. But, what I’ve found is that every record has its own identity; there’s a personality to each grouping of songs, to the production style, and—recently—to the circumstances surrounding each album that skews how I listen and relate to each word and note. 

Ranking chronologically sucks, so I’ve decided to be slightly more creative by separating the records into five eras that help me define the band. Please note that this overview is heavily tinged by nostalgia and personal taste!

Part 1: The Golden Era (Up to Here-Fully Completely)

Up to Here:

Hands up.  How many people would be happy if this were their debut full-length record?

All of you?!  

I thought so.

This record defines every recording that follows by establishing The Hip’s minimalistic sound and straight ahead brand of rock n roll. (I’ll define this sound more closely as this progresses, and perhaps in a future blog).

Over the years, I’ve listened to Up to Here countless times, but there is quite a bit of distance between now and the last time I listened to it from start to finish. After years of only shuffling through a few tracks once in a while, there are three elements that really stand out to me after a couple of full listens: 

1) The signature Hip sound. Rob Baker’s guitar glides and glistens throughout. Paul Langlois’s background vocals contrast Gord Downie’s tone, yet somehow blend perfectly. Speaking of Downie, there are bluesy growls and gritty yells that help paint the picture of each story. Johnny Fay’s drums drive the band and accent the right spots. Gord Sinclair’s bass rumbles along and adds a low-end melody from time-to-time.

2) Gord Downie’s storytelling. Each song on Up to Here is like a short story: a woman trapped in an abusive relationship (“I’ll Believe in You”), a prison break  (“38 Years Old”).

3) The subtle simplicity of each song. The roles of each member of the traditional five-piece rock band are fulfilled on this album—extra production is minimal. Also, no arrangement of any song seems overthought; many of the songs on this record have at least one of the guitars simply keeping rhythm through the three or four chord progression. The simple, straightforward approach makes each lyric and hook that much stronger.

The Forgotten Gem? “Another Midnight.” If it weren’t for some of the other tunes being so strong (“Boots or Hearts”, “Opiated”, “New Orleans is Sinking”, “Blow at High Dough”, etc. etc.) this may have been a hit. Maybe it would have been just that for any other indie Canadian band at the time.

[I have to mention here that I'm posting this first part on my last day as a 38-year-old.]

Road Apples:

Back when I was starting to get interested in song writing, I had a binder of cover songs that my brother’s friend had compiled. It was simple: lyrics broken into verses and choruses, with chords noted above each line. This binder taught me about rock n roll chord progressions; it taught me how to sing a song and strum along on a guitar at the same time. There were songs from Tom Petty and The Watchmen, but it was overloaded with tunes from The Hip’s first full-length records.

I remember the summer that I bought this record. I was heading to a friend’s midday pool party in the middle of summer, and I had a new Road Apples cassette in a little HMV plastic bag. I remember taking off the plastic wrap. I remember hitting play. I remember my friends being somewhat indifferent while I was focused on why this record sounded so good and what it was that made it sound unique from the highly successful Up to Here.

I probably couldn’t figure it out then, but as I listen now I hear a band that matured significantly as songwriters. Just listen to the arrangement of “Cordelia” versus the arrangement of any of the tracks on Up to Here. The melodies and stories are still strong, but the literal is becoming more figurative, and the straight ahead three or four chord rhythm guitar is dissipating in favour of harmony and complimentary riffs.

If Road Apples had a Works Cited, Shakespeare would appear a few times: Cordelia and Macbeth in “Cordelia”, Falstaff in the heartstring wrenching “Fiddler’s Green”, “Shakespeare’s bent to touch” in “Three Pistols”. 

This album is where the band starts to cement their legacy as Canadian icons. I remember learning to play “Three Pistols” but needing to look up who Tom Thompson was so I could sing this song. (Coincidentally, after they opened their August 1, 2016 show in Calgary with this song, it was stuck in my head for a couple of days—especially as I was paddling down the Bow River the next day, noticing how a mountain framed in the distance looked like a painting from the Group of Seven).

Forgotten Gem? “Long Time Running”. My God, is this ever a beautiful song. I saw that they played it during their first show of the final tour. I would have been bawling my eyes out—maybe as much as I did when they played “Fiddler’s Green” at the first show in Calgary.

Song that ties to the previous record? “Born in the Water.” That signature sound is there.


Fully Completely

Let’s just get it out of the way right off the bat: This is the single greatest achievement in The Tragically Hip’s discography. Hands down. No argument. 

It is a masterpiece. With all of the Canadiana infused into the lyrics, a non-Canadian listener may not get it, but this record is solid from top to bottom.

As I’ve mentioned, as I developed this overview, I listened to each of the band’s albums chronologically. When moving from Up to Here, to Road Apples, to this album, I can’t help but wonder what came over the band when producing this record. Each of the previous two albums are excellent in their own right, but Fully Completely is a rare blend of excellence in production, musicality, lyrics, and song selection.

Every Canadian should be proud of this record. From the prairie imagery, to references to the Toronto Maple Leafs and the CBC, to a shout out to Jacques Cartier, you just want to pour maple syrup over this album and devour every note. They even threw a loon call into “Wheat Kings” just to cement its place in our national musical lore.

Gord Downie’s evolution as a lyricist takes its biggest leap on this record. On their previous two albums, Downie sings in a prose-like fashion, as if he’s narrating individual short stories. But, the lyrics and phrasing on Fully Completely have space, and there seems to be a turn toward the figurative compared to the stronger literal narrative that appears in his previous work. 

You know what else is amazing about this record? The Hip have always been a great rock band, but just listen to how hard and heavy “Lionized” and “The Wherewithal” are. The latter could be on a metal record, but the minimalist approach to the arrangements and production along with Gord D’s voice make it blend so well with the rest of the record. Everything on this album just fits.

Highlight after not listening to this for a while? Gord Downie’s ability to approach songs like a poet and an actor (“Locked in the Trunk of a Car”, “Looking for a Place to Happen”). This really pops out for the first time on this record. He sang with passion and emotion on previous recordings, but nothing like the howl on “Locked in the Trunk of a Car”: “LET ME OUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT!”.

Song that ties in the previous records? “We’ll Go Too” has the straight-ahead rhythm guitar that defines Up to Here and the Paul Langlois background vocals that are an essential part of the trademark Tragically Hip sound.

Forgotten Gem? “Pigeon Camera.” Damn.  That’s a good song.

A Rant/Recap/Review of The Tragically Hip's Show: August 1, 2016. Calgary, Alberta by Aaron Adair

Gord Downie exits the stage after the final encore.  

Gord Downie exits the stage after the final encore.

 

I have never been a part of something like this in all of the years that I've been going to shows. 

Think about how many stadium shows you have been to where the cheering of the audience drowns out the band. There's probably been a few. Possibly many. But how many times has this taken place NOT in the encore, or the first or last song, but part way into a set, and before a song is even complete?

Halfway into The Tragically Hip's set on August 1, the band was pounding out "Grace, Too." Toward the end of the song, the audience noise actually drown out the music--and not in a quiet moment in the song, but during the Hip's patented driving outro section. 

Unbelievable! 

It was as if the entire Saddledome audience was propping up Gord Downie (and the band), supporting him as for a family member who has given so much of himself to better the lives of his loved ones. I don't want my still fresh, still glowing memories to lead to bias, but this was the most powerful moment I've ever experienced at a concert. (Check the swell of energy starting around 5 mins: https://twitter.com/thehipdotcom/status/760551952912617472)

Gord gave his all for this show, this moment. And let's be clear. I didn't go into this show watching for weakness; I was searching for strength. As I said to the concert goers in the neighbouring seats, "If Gord is standing, so are we."  After 2.5 hours, I didn't want to sit down, because outside of whatever happened backstage during some scheduled breaks to change outfits, Gord was giving his all and soaking in every moment. Gord was being Gord (This is a serious compliment, btw). His self-animation was prime at several points. His mic was used as a flashlight, motorcycle handlebar grip, fishing rod reel. His hands became a peacock tail as he strutted around the stage. He poured his voice into every song, often letting out long growls, wails, and almost James Brown-like squeals. 

This show, this tour I suppose, was and is Gord's moment--a moment to share with his brothers and his fans. I've never been more proud to share this with someone. 

The show opened with Gord in a metallic golden suit, surrounded in a tight formation by his band mates. The arrangement of the band in this semi-acoustic setting bona fide their brotherhood. 
Road Apples was the focus of the first few songs. I was not expecting to hear "Fiddler's Green", but three songs into the set, the song choice activated the waterworks. Yup. I was bawling. (I must have played that song 300 times when I was younger: around campfires, in my basement, at school, whenever I had an acoustic guitar in hand). In retrospect, getting that emotion out of the way early in the night was exactly what I needed to soak in the rest of this show.

From there, songs were grouped by album. Road Apples led to their latest--Man, Machine, Poem. After a quick break and reconfiguration of the stage, songs from World Container preceded Day for Night, followed by Phantom Power. The first encore? Trouble at the Henhouse. Up to Here closed out the night. 

Check out the set list here: https://twitter.com/thehipdotcom/status/760465017460428800

It wasn't until my wife and I were in the middle of the impossible task of getting a cab after the show that we realized there wasn't a song performed from Fully Completely. No "New Orleans is Sinking" either. And you know what? It didn't matter. 

I could go on, song by song, but the praise would not stop. The love in the room was overwhelming. 

And isn't this what music is all about? Performers and audience driven by emotion. A band performing as if in a never ending, ever evolving prime?

Amazing. Beautiful. Inspiring. 

Afterthought 1:  The morning after the show, I was at a gas station where I saw a guy in a Hip T-shirt. We pointed at each other, pointed at our shirts, gave each other the nod, and moved on. We both knew. 

Afterthought 2: I don't want to diminish the roll that the rest of the band played. I'll write about them more in the future (especially my appreciation for Johnny Fay's drumming). 

 

 

 

Dear Gord Downie (Part 2/Poem) by Aaron Adair

Gord. (By the way, has anyone asked if we can call you that?)

Your impact is staggering.
Your words have moved mountains.
Or at least
They’ve created them.

You craft stories that make my mind
Consider the lives of Canadians different from myself.
You made a younger me research Tom Thompson (and Falstaff, and Cordelia).
You put Bobcaygeon on my map.

We’ve sung your songs
Around campfires in Northern Saskatchewan.
We got most of the words right
Just mumbled the rest.

But the lyrical hooks on the water’s edge
Always drew us together.

Some of us even imitated you
On stage
Improvising through the spaces
Crafting new one-shot hits over Rock n Roll standards.

Selfishly
I want you to be here
Making music
For my years to come.

I’ve always pictured you
Years down the road
Popping up here and there on TV
Commenting on Canadian identity.

As you age
You’d become
Your own perfect blend
Of Cohen and Cherry.

Yeah. That’s right.

A romantic poet’s pen
Carving out ballads of the beauty of rink life.
A pensioner with an incurable passionate patriotism
And a no excuses Don’tGiveAF*** attitude.

I’d catch glimpses of you
On CBC
Watching the Bruins and the Leafs
At the ACC.

But, 
As you live,
As you fight
Like so many characters you’ve donned on stage,
I’ll celebrate your words
And music
And envision you carrying on
With Courage
And
Grace, Too.

Thank you.

Dear Gord Downie (Part 1) by Aaron Adair

In anticipation of seeing your show in Calgary on Monday, I’ve been listening to the Hip’s albums chronologically over the past few days (I’m on Music at Work as I write this). During this nostalgic trip, I remembered a simple little story that I think you might appreciate.

    It must have been September 1996. I was entering my second year as a university student, and my buddies and I decided to line up for parking passes on the University of Saskatchewan campus. There was no option to phone in to reserve the luxury of being able to drive to school and park, hassle free, on campus; we were still years away from playing the frustrating luck of the draw Internet ticketing option. Back then, the only way to get the this parking privilege was to camp out for a weekend in front of the newly constructed Agriculture Building. It was actually kind of fun.
    We set up a tent along Campus Drive, drew up shifts of who would man the camp, and hoped for the best in the parking pass lottery. We also envisioned that we’d get some sleep on the Sunday night before the passes went on sale, but our not yet 20-year-old brains were mistaken because—well—we were not yet 20-year-old men.
    I remember that I foolishly crawled into the tent before 3am (on Monday by that point) to try to get a little sleep. Only minutes later, my buddy Jay burst in the tent and rounded up everyone around us to start a road hockey game. I don’t even know where the sticks came from. Maybe we all just carried them around back then. The Canadian version of Licensed to Carry.
    Some crude form of nets took shape on the roadway, probably with whatever dirty laundry we could pull from people’s tents, and the game began. Stick slapped. Knees were skinned. Silent elbows were thrown about. Body checks between friends tossed some boys from the road to the grass. It was 3am, and it was intense.
    Toward the end of the game, probably getting close to the first team to ten, the always-orange road hockey ball found its way into a darkened bush along the Vet. Med. Building across from where we were tenting. No matter how orange it was we were not going to find that ball. The momentum of the game broke, and as the adrenaline subsided some of us started thinking about the campers who were actually trying to sleep, and how we young a-holes were ruining that pursuit. 
    Just then, a campus cop car pulled up behind one of the nets. 
    “Car!”
    “Oh sh*t! It’s the cops!”
    Surely we were done. 
    Game Over.
    But wait! Were we actually breaking some campus bylaw? Either way, I grabbed my stuff and thought about heading to the tent.
    Well, the cop got out of his car and fired up his blinding white sidelight. But, instead of turning it on us, he turned it toward the Vet. Med. Building.
    “That where your ball went?” 
    Adrenaline returned as a pre-dawn hero emerged with the ball. 
    “Game on!”

With the ball found
The game was won.
By which team? Who knows?
It was more than just good fun.

  As our sweat cooled on the dewy grass, and the sun started to reflect off the glass façade of the Ag. Building, the tenters were moved into a dusty parkade to begin the actual lineup for parking passes. We got no sleep on the concrete floor, but we emerged into the morning with a few well-earned bruises accompanied by our freshly acquired passes.

  This is just a simple Canadian moment like many of the songs you’ve crafted that have made you feel like one of the guys to so many Canadians. 

Oh!

    After we got our passes? We hopped into my mom’s ’86 Caprice Classic station wagon. You know, the white wagon with the faux wood paneling? We raced through the awakening streets of Saskatoon.
    To get downtown
    To get into another lineup
    To buy tickets
    To see The Hip.

A few weeks later, we were front row centre, soaking in your Canadiana.

Dear Gord Downie (memory and poem) by Aaron Adair

In anticipation of seeing your show in Calgary on Monday, I’ve been listening to the Hip’s albums chronologically over the past few days (I’m on Music at Work as I write this). During this nostalgic trip, I remembered a simple little story that I think you might appreciate.

    It must have been September 1996. I was entering my second year as a university student, and my buddies and I decided to line up for parking passes on the University of Saskatchewan campus. There was no option to phone in to reserve the luxury of being able to drive to school and park, hassle free, on campus; we were still years away from playing the frustrating luck of the draw Internet ticketing option. Back then, the only way to get the this parking privilege was to camp out for a weekend in front of the newly constructed Agriculture Building. It was actually kind of fun.
    We set up a tent along Campus Drive, drew up shifts of who would man the camp, and hoped for the best in the parking pass lottery. We also envisioned that we’d get some sleep on the Sunday night before the passes went on sale, but our not yet 20-year-old brains were mistaken because—well—we were not yet 20-year-old men.
    I remember that I foolishly crawled into the tent before 3am (on Monday by that point) to try to get a little sleep. Only minutes later, my buddy Jay burst in the tent and rounded up everyone around us to start a road hockey game. I don’t even know where the sticks came from. Maybe we all just carried them around back then. The Canadian version of Licensed to Carry.
    Some crude form of nets took shape on the roadway, probably with whatever dirty laundry we could pull from people’s tents, and the game began. Stick slapped. Knees were skinned. Silent elbows were thrown about. Body checks between friends tossed some boys from the road to the grass. It was 3am, and it was intense.
    Toward the end of the game, probably getting close to the first team to ten, the always-orange road hockey ball found its way into a darkened bush along the Vet. Med. Building across from where we were tenting. No matter how orange it was we were not going to find that ball. The momentum of the game broke, and as the adrenaline subsided some of us started thinking about the campers who were actually trying to sleep, and how we young a-holes were ruining that pursuit. 
    Just then, a campus cop car pulled up behind one of the nets. 
    “Car!”
    “Oh sh*t! It’s the cops!”
    Surely we were done. 
    Game Over.
    But wait! Were we actually breaking some campus bylaw? Either way, I grabbed my stuff and thought about heading to the tent.
    Well, the cop got out of his car and fired up his blinding white sidelight. But, instead of turning it on us, he turned it toward the Vet. Med. Building.
    “That where your ball went?” 
    Adrenaline returned as a pre-dawn hero emerged with the ball. 
    “Game on!”

With the ball found
The game was won.
By which team? Who knows?
It was more than just good fun.

  As our sweat cooled on the dewy grass, and the sun started to reflect off the glass façade of the Ag. Building, the tenters were moved into a dusty parkade to begin the actual lineup for parking passes. We got no sleep on the concrete floor, but we emerged into the morning with a few well-earned bruises accompanied by our freshly acquired passes.

  This is just a simple Canadian moment like many of the songs you’ve crafted that have made you feel like one of the guys to so many Canadians. 

Oh!

    After we got our passes? We hopped into my mom’s ’86 Caprice Classic station wagon. You know, the white wagon with the faux wood paneling? We raced through the awakening streets of Saskatoon.
    To get downtown
    To get into another lineup
    To buy tickets
    To see The Hip.

A few weeks later, we were front row centre, soaking in your Canadiana.
_________________________________________________________________________________
Gord. (By the way, has anyone asked if we can call you that?)

Your impact is staggering.
Your words have moved mountains.
Or at least
They’ve created them.

You craft stories that make my mind
Consider the lives of Canadians different from myself.
You made a younger me research Tom Thompson (and Falstaff, and Cordelia).
You put Bobcaygeon on my map.

We’ve sung your songs
Around campfires in Northern Saskatchewan.
We got most of the words right
Just mumbled the rest.

But the lyrical hooks on the water’s edge
Always drew us together.

Some of us even imitated you
On stage
Improvising through the spaces
Crafting new one-shot songs over Rock n Roll standards.

Selfishly
I want you to be here
Making music
For my years to come.

I’ve always pictured you
Years down the road
Popping up here and there on TV
Commenting on Canadian identity.

As you age
You’d become
Your own perfect blend
Of Cohen and Cherry.

Yeah. That’s right.

A romantic poet’s pen
Carving out ballads of the beauty of rink life.
A pensioner with an incurable passionate patriotism
And a no excuses Don’tGiveAF*** attitude.

I’d catch glimpses of you
On CBC
Watching the Bruins and the Leafs
At the ACC.

But, 
As you live,
As you fight
Like so many characters you’ve donned on stage,
I’ll celebrate your words
And music
And envision you carrying on
With Courage
And
Grace, Too.

Thank you.

On the Eve of the Canadian Election by Aaron Adair

I just posted this on Facebook; I thought I'd share it here too. I've been debating what needs to be shared via social media about my views on the election. In the end, keep it simple, and keep it positive. How Canadian is that?

"Hi there, Canadian friends.
Wow! There’s been a lot of negativity shared by some around here lately, hasn't there?! A lot of untruths have been spread as well. The good thing about all of this is that I’ve had A LOT of material to use in my classroom discussions!
So, here’s a question: Does anyone think that the attempt at a “strategic” voting movement is going to work? It seems to me like this is a concept that has appeared far too late and really hasn’t gained any momentum because of a lack of organization. Polls, neighbourhood sign counts, and historical voting patterns give a lot of conflicting perspectives. Oh, and the circumstances of this election are quite different from the last one. Nevertheless, if all of your research tells you that being strategic is indeed the way you should vote, go for it! As many of my students agree, casting a vote without attempting some unbiased quality research is not what democracy should be about. So if you did your part, great!
Actually. You know what? Don’t answer my question!
I’ll just let you know that I’m feeling really good about being able to vote in this amazing country, and I’m confident in my decision. I did my research on the party platforms. I looked at as much material as I could from my potential MP’s. I’m going to sleep well tonight knowing that I’ll cast a ballot for the person who has the potential to best represent Jenn and me. If the candidate wins, great! If not, I’ll remain confident in my choice until I go through this process again the next time around.
I have a multitude of hopes for Canada. Mainly, I hope that after tomorrow, everyone can focus on the positives in our awesome country. Remember the resentment that many people were expressing after the last election’s result? Regardless of tomorrow’s outcome, I hope that you, like me, will be satisfied that you have done your part to move our country forward."

The Thrill Lives On- RIP BB King by Aaron Adair

The first news I read when I awoke on the morning of May 15th was about the passing of Mr. B.B. King.

This news took me back a few year to when Mr. King played at TCU Place in Saskatoon. My homie, Chad, texted me after the show with an invite backstage to possibly meet the King himself. We waited outside Mr. King's tour bus for a while, and it was getting late, so we thought our opportunity was lost. Someone even pushed ahead of me in line to try and get on the bus--a pretty stark contrast to the class that Mr. King exuded throughout his life.

Our turn did come. We walked up the steps and through to the back of the bus, and there sat Mr. King, stripped down slightly from his formal stage attire, but dapper nonetheless. He sat and signed photographs and answered all questions that he was asked. Most amazingly, he dished out advice to the musicians in the group and shared stories. In 140 characters or less, I tried to share some of those memories today:

...that's some pretty amazing advice, coming from one of the greats! You know, people often misuse the word "humble", but hearing Mr. King speak of musicianship in this was was the definition of the word.

The next piece of advice was given after I asked, "Mr. King. What makes a good songwriter?" 

He zinged me with his reply: "Good songs."

 

A very personal moment occurred when Mr. King spoke of a son of his who he wouldn't be able to see for 20 years because he was in prison. He told us that you can't go out getting drunk and acting like a clown, but...

This is why you work hard and give your all at every show:

 

Mr. King then told us an old saying from Mississippi that he lived by:

 

Of course, he was too much of a gentleman to curse in front of us! He told us that this lesson was true whether you were in business or in music. And when you think of it, isn't this what Mr. King embodied? He was all class and respect; that's how he lived on stage, and from the few moments I got to spend with him, I could see that this is how he was off stage too. Now that I think about it, I think I'll go throw in Live at the Apollo and listen to the King work his professional magic over the screaming young ladies.

This piece of advice is the reason that everything I've done with the Aanalog record has been done in a suit (or a fine equivalent!).

 

This was a small moment in my life that had an enormous impact. 

RIP to a legend.

Choc'LaCure 2014 by Aaron Adair

I can’t believe a year has passed already. Or, maybe more to the point, I can’t believe what’s happened in the last year.

I was going through my YouTube channel the other night and came across a video that I posted just over a year ago. It was the end of October, and I was raising money for the Choc’LaCure Gala—an annual event that raises money for the Saskatoon Cancer Centre. It was going to be my second time playing at the event, and I was honoured to be asked back to perform. If you’ve never attended the event, you’ll have to take my word that Choc’LaCure warms the attendees’ souls with the generosity of the people of Saskatoon. Last year turned out to be no exception. I played a set with Meagan Bzowy; made a donation thanks to those who bought my music; teared up a bit hearing the stories of survivors; and I soaked up the spirit of the evening.

I had no idea that I’d be a Cancer Centre patient in less than four months.

I’ve said it before: the Saskatoon Cancer Centre is an amazing place. Coming from someone who hates hospitals, I hope you can understand what that statement means to me. Despite the tasks at hand in the building, there is always hope and a sense of welcoming and care that many people might not think possible with all of the grim stories that we hear about our medical system. It’s the people that make that place amazing, and it’s the Choc’LaCure event that helps those people to help everyone who walks through the Centre’s doors.

I’m proud to be playing again this year on November 7th. I’m honoured to have friends like Brett Balon and Meagan joining me on stage. Even though this will be my third year performing, I’ve got a case of butterflies from the anticipation of how the night will feel now that I’ve got a completely new perspective.

If you’d like to donate, I’m not running my own fundraiser this year, but please check out Choc’LaCure’s site. Trust me—it means so much.

http://www.choclacure.com/about.html

Last year’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csxwMi4Vvpo

Sweet. Bitter. Better. by Aaron Adair


The last 24-hours have been extremely bittersweet.  Here’s the story:

The Sweet Side
This morning, I found out that my album, Aanalog, has been nominated for the Western Canadian Music Award for “Urban Recording of the Year”! I was stunned when I got the news, but two pretty awesome moments followed once the word got out:
·      My wife’s grade 2 students yelled, “Congratulations!” while on speaker phone. I laughed a lot and I teared up a little—I’ll get to the reasons for the latter in a bit.
·      My mom asked, “What does the category ‘Urban’ include?” I told her, “Artists who were born in Meadow Lake or equivalent.”
As I write this, I honestly still don’t know what to think; I don’t know what to write. I’ve been sitting here for the last hour trying to figure out what this all means to me, and why I didn’t jump through the ceiling with excitement when I got the news. Actually!! Why the heck am I thinking so much about this in the first place?!?! Don’t get me wrong! I am totally grateful, honoured, ecstatic, and supremely thankful all at the same time (check out a blog from a few weeks ago here http://aaronadair.blogspot.ca/2014/04/my-baby-is-1-today.html). I’ve been reflecting on all of the hard work and equally hard lessons that went into the process of writing, recording, and releasing the album. Again, I’m grateful for all of the learning experiences that I’ve had along the way. However, I’m very aware that the somewhat bitter side of this story also has something to do with the mixed emotions I’m experiencing after today’s great news.

The Bitter Side
            I’ve been working out lately. Not the type of workout where you’d see me at the gym—in fact, stop trying to picture that, please! As with some people, a tipping point occurs in life where something pushes you toward commitment to having to better yourself in some way. This point for me came when I made a frightening discovery a few weeks ago. I was driving to Collective Coffee for my daily Americano, when for the first time in weeks I tried singing along with a song playing on my stereo—I believe it was “PS I Love You.” The problem was, I couldn’t sing. WHAT THE HECK WAS HAPPENING?!?!?! I have always been able to sing! Well, I suppose there is the exception of my pubescent audition for the musical Cinderella in elementary school (picture the bag boy in the grocery store on The Simpsons), but since then I've been able to sing! Singing is a skill I've worked hard to develop. I've got to admit I've taken this skill for granted from time-to-time, but not now!
            For those who don’t know, over the past few months I have had surgery and undergone treatments to help cure Thyroid Cancer (some details are in my past blogs: http://aaronadair.blogspot.ca/p/soldier-against-cancer.html). When I received the official diagnosis on February 28th, one of the first questions I asked was, “Will this affect my singing voice?” I was told I'd be ready to go by the time the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival came around. Some may feel that I’d hold some kind of resentment since it looks like what I was told may not turn out to be true, but I don’t. It’s hard to resent anything anymore since I’m alive and getting healthier each day. Losing approximately two octaves of my vocal range has added yet another challenge to my plate. Not being able to sing like I used to is not a doctor's fault; it's not a card that's been dealt to me from a deck that's unfavourably stacked. Again, I'm alive, and today's awesome news is affirmation that there is so much that I've got to be grateful about.
Last month, I teamed up with Anastasia Winterhalt to help rediscover and redefine my voice. When I first talked with Anastasia, I told her, “I need a vocal personal trainer,” and that’s the focus that we’ve been working with for the past few weeks. I haven’t been trying to sing complete songs until this week. Like rehabbing a sports injury, I can’t jump back into game shape right away. Until a few days ago, I’ve simply been breathing (imagine that!!!) and doing basic exercises within the octave or so that remains of my vocal range.
You know what? I just realized something. During our first meeting, Anastasia described the celebration that occurs when we sing. After all, singing is an expression, a release, an exclamation. I wonder if the recent lack of singing in my life has precipitated the muted celebration at today's nomination news? Either way, that brings me back to the last 24-hours.
Yesterday afternoon, I sat down to practice songs for my upcoming shows, and I discovered that things are not getting better quickly. I knew I wouldn’t recover fast, but there's a lot of ground that I need to cover before I am recovered. The falsetto voice that some say is a signature on Aanalog is gone. This means that for now, my amazingly skilled and talented friend Meagan is going to have to take the lead on many of the tunes. The keys of some songs will have to be redefined. Some songs may need to be reworked completely. But, regardless of the point that I’m at when June 20th comes around, I will keep working to reach my target. 
What is that target? Hmmmmmmm. Well, it’s not to get back to where I was before the surgery. I think it’s to get to a point where I am comfortable with my voice again. Maybe this will open new opportunities for writing for different people, or for singing in a different style. You know what? I’m kind of excited to see where this leads!

The Better Side
Phew! The last few paragraphs were cathartic! I think I can move on now to being totally excited about today’s unexpected news. Aanalog just isn’t going to be the same, and that’s okay with me. Right now, I can’t wait to perform in a few weeks! AND, I can't wait to go to Winnipeg in October! Time to celebrate! Time to get to work!

Low Iodine Diet Adventures: Craving, Experimenting, & Radiating by Aaron Adair

     I suppose Low Iodine Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie has very little to do with shepherds. Scavenger Pie? Gardener's Bake? I dunno. 
     Anyways. I started a low iodine diet last Friday. So, when coupled with the dietary recommendations from my naturopath, my dining options have dwindled significantly.
     This has actually been tougher than I thought. You see, I love food. I love to cook. Cooking is often my only creative outlet in a busy day. But now, I have been challenged, and like listening back to a bad take of a song in the studio, the results can be very unsatisfying.
     Before I get into tonight's culinary experiment, here's the down low on the low iodine diet and the reasons for it:
  • The next step for treatment after my thyroid cancer diagnosis and surgery is a radioactive iodine treatment. The drug I'm on right now, Synthroid, will be shut down through two injections of Thyrogen, and then I go for my treatment. Essentially, I will be brought a pill in a lead box (brought in by someone in a Doc Brown suit, I like to imagine), I'll swallow the pill with some water, and then LOOK OUT! OFF LIMITS! No adults will be allowed in my hospital room unless they are 1-2 meters away, and only for a 20-minute maximum visit. After three nights in relative isolation, I will be released following a scan by Doc Brown's Geiger counter--or something like that.
  • I can't be around children, pets, or pregnant ladies (I suppose adding "ladies" is redundant...oh well), so my pseudo-isolation will continue for a while after the treatment. It has been recommended to me not to be back at work for two weeks. Because the radiation will be expelled through sweat, I can't have contact with anyone, and I need to throw out towels, bed sheets, dishes, and cutlery. Yikes!
  • From what I understand, the point of the low iodine diet is to starve the body of iodine for two weeks so that when I take the pill, my now active thyroid tissue (thanks to the Thyrogen) will eat up the iodine and then the radiation will kill any remaining cancer cells. Keep in mind, I'm not an expert, but this is what I've gathered over the last couple of weeks.
  • The diet itself involves cutting out iodized salt, anything from the water (fish, shellfish, etc.), anything from a can, dairy, and anything with red food colouring. I also can't eat anything that I don't prepare at home since everything in restaurants contains higher iodine levels. This is actually quite a challenge now that I realize how easy it is to just grab a snack at a coffee shop, or even by the till at a grocery store.
Back to the food. I've never really realized what it is like to truly crave food. I mean, I'm a skinny guy to begin with, but whenever I've had a "craving" for something, say nachos, I can go out and get some--hopefully from Amigos. But now, when I want something, I've really got to think about it and go through the list of restrictions to figure out what I can have. 
I now see why diets fail. Temptation is everywhere, and eating involves habits that have been ingrained in us since birth. Like craving nachos. This is a habit. Nowadays, through recommendations from my Low Iodine Diet and from my naturopath, I can't have cheese, tomatoes, onions, peppers, corn, and so on. So, no nachos. Now some of those things might seem weird to cut out, but regardless of the reason, I'm being asked to change habits. I don't want cancer anymore or ever again, so I can change. Except, Man! Now I really want nach...never mind.
Experimenting in the kitchen tonight resulted in one heckuva tasty dish. I saw what we had in the fridge, I looked up what's traditionally in a shepherd's pie, and a little while later, I had a darn tasty dish (that I thouht was going to be terrible when I started off).
 So, here it is... Low Iodine "Shepherd's Pie" with a Quick "Sorta" Apple Sauce
Ingredients:
  • yellow potatoes (I think I used Yukon Gold. Whatever, they were in the pantry)
  • 3 beets
  • 3 fairly large carrots
  • leftover steamed broccoli and cauliflower...it was in the fridge, so why the heck not?!
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • bay leaf
  • Coarse Windsor Salt (it's low iodine friendly!)
  • honey
  • a lil' Olive Oil
  • Vegetable Stock...I made my own on the weekend and then froze it...roughly chopped carrots, celery, and cauliflower boiled and then simmered in water. With the cauliflower I actually used what I'd consider to be the "core" which I've always thrown out, but it worked!
-Boil potatoes and, later, mash them with vegetable stock, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Whatever. Just make mashed potatoes, and make them tasty.
-While all that is happening, par boil some beets and shred some carrots.
-When the beets are done, drain them and then add the carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, vegetable stock, salt, pepper, bay leaf, honey, cinnamon. Reduce the mixture.
-With a little olive oil in a pan ( I used a larger cake dish), add the beet mixture (but remove the bay leaf), slather on the potatoes, and bake at 400 for 20 minutes or so. I also broiled it at the end to brown up the taters a bit.
-While the "pie" is in the oven, chop up some apples, add a little bit of water, cinnamon, honey, and a bit of salt. Reduce...there ya go! "Sorta" Apple Sauce! This part wasn't really needed, but I wanted a little more sweetness, and a bit more moisture to replace the traditional gravy. It worked! So, if you have time, try it!
-After letting everything cool a bit, cut out a slice of the "pie", spoon on some "sauce", and thank me later...haha.

My "Baby" is 1 Today! (Gratitude on Aanalog's 1st Birthday) by Aaron Adair



Scenes from the Aanalog Release
It’s been a crazy year to say the least: getting my Master’s, traveling to Croatia, helping students and staff members be successful, constantly trying to be a better teacher, and—most recently—my ongoing (& successful!) treatment for thyroid cancer.

Also, my first solo album, Aanalog, was released a year ago today—hence the reflective tone of today’s blog. My life has changed exponentially recently, so I’m even more grateful for all of the experiences that I’ve accumulated.

I’m thankful for everything that I learned from the successes and the challenges of creating, producing, releasing, and promoting the album, and I’m extremely thankful for all of my friends and family who helped, inspired, taught, and supported me along the way.

Now’s a good time to (re)acknowledge the people who had a direct impact on the record:

Scenes from the Production of Aanalog
Dave Anderson- bass, trumpet, flugelhorn
Hal Schrenk- Drums
Meagan Bzowy- Vocals
Sarah Anderson- Trombone
Brennan Risling- Sax
Sam Mitchell- Flute
Ryan Unger- Guitar
Charly Hustle- Percussion
Roger Mercier- Percussion & some live drums!

Recording Engineer- Dan Canfield
Mixing Engineer- Jared Kuemper
Mastering Engineer- Phil Demetro
Marriage Engineer- Jenn Hamon-Adair :)

Album Photography- Karyn Kimberley
Album Design- Derek Bachman
Web Design- Rick Hazell

And the live band: Brett Balon (keys), Kyle Krysa (Drums)

Of course, there are many more people I’d like to acknowledge. I’m thankful for:
·      everyone who gave the record a listen
·      anyone who purchased a song or the entire record!
·      People who grooved along at a live show (ticketed or not!)...especially those who traveled to see a show!
·      Those who booked the shows and/or did live sound
·      Chef Jenni for our fun collaborations
·      Anyone who “Liked” my Facebook page, or even liked a photo or status
·      Anyone who “Favo(u)rited” or Retweeted a tweet..it really does help a lot!
·      Zoe Vassos and the Choc La Cure crew for having me back for their amazing event
·      SaskMusic and the Western Canadian Music Alliance/Break Out West
·      Cam Fuller, CFCR, CBC, Chrix Morix (ominocity.com), and Bryn Becker (@ thepickup.ca) for some great local press
·      International press, like breakthruradio.com
·      Ryan Hall (aka. Soulier) for the remix of “Helpless” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5kkmnRMN7M
·      Curtis Olson for inviting me into the Two Twenty community
·      And YOU, for reading this!

 Cheers everybody!

4 Weeks In- Good News, Good Food, Good Progress, but “The Good Cancer”? by Aaron Adair


It’s April 8th—four weeks since my surgery, and a year minus a day since I released my first solo album—and I’m feeling good.
            Overall, I’m very close to where I was before the surgery. I realize now that my energy was low back then, and I’m struggling with it a bit now, but things keep getting better. Jenn and I had our first night out on Saturday (thanks to some great friends!), and it felt awesome. We also spent some time out at my brother’s place on Sunday, and I was able to go for a longer walk with our dog, Lucy, yesterday. Again, awesome. Everything takes a little more time, but it’s okay because I just don’t want to push too hard. It was estimated that I could possibly go back to work this week, but I’m relieved that I have some more time. I definitely don’t have the energy to be back in the classroom yet. Adjusting to my new medication, Synthroid, is not as easy as it sounded at first.
            One of the reasons it may be taking a bit longer to get my energy back is the fact that my surgery was a bit more extensive than just a thyroidectomy. We received our pathology report last week and found out that I had three areas of concern on my thyroid. Dr. Christian, my surgeon, mentioned that even though the cancer was evident on both sides of my thyroid, some doctors would only do a partial removal of the thyroid. I feel lucky to have had it all come out at once. After all, there was a patient in a bed next to me after my surgery who was in for his second surgery since the first didn’t complete the task. We also found out that I had 20 lymph nodes removed, nine of which were suspicious. This lymph node dissection led to the extensive scar that has caused me the most discomfort.
These four weeks have flown by. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it was really difficult but I’m in a good spot. This gets me thinking about something I wrote about in my first blog: Is Papillary Thyroid Cancer really the “Good Cancer”? I mentioned that Dr. Christian told me that “the good cancer” is indeed what I have. Since the surgery is so effective, there are not many procedures that need to follow. But, can cancer be good in ANY way?! I read an article that shoots down this “good” diagnosis completely, and I see why (check out http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-graeber/thyroid-cancer-things-to-know_b_3319897.html). No cancer diagnosis, no treatment involving surgery and a permanent medication regiment is “good.” However, when I consider all of the things I was able to do last weekend, I consider myself lucky. I am looking ahead to a radioactive iodine treatment, but this involves being isolated at the hospital for just a few days. When I think of the people who need to go through extensive, painful treatments involving chemotherapy, I realize that I am in a “good” situation. As stated in this article (http://thyroid.about.com/b/2010/09/09/thyroid-cancer-good-cancer.htm), the prognosis for my type of cancer is very good, but maybe the terminology could be changed in some situations.
            Also, as I’ve written about before, the medical care I have received has been phenomenal. My follow-up appointment with Dr. Christian and Dr. Caspar-Bell, the endocrinologist, was so reassuring. Even with a long line of patients to see, Dr. Caspar-Bell took the time to speak with Jenn and find how we are both doing emotionally. She also took the time to answer every question that we had on our minds—especially regarding diet (*see below*). These simple gestures are not ones that we often hear about when people are discussing patient care. Like schools, hospitals often get compared to factories without thorough consideration of the implications of this metaphor. Dr. Caspar-Bell’s personalized efforts put Jenn and I at ease; we didn’t feel like a number or some product that will eventually come out the other end being deemed as “good enough.”

*With regards to diet, we (especially Jenn) did a lot of research on diet recently. Both doctors reassured us that a normal diet is going to be fine from now on. Of course, not many people share the same idea of what normal really is, but our normal prior to surgery will continue to be our normal now:
·      Lots of veggies and greens- We had read that there were certain vegetables that are goitrogens—they could potentially cause an adverse effect on recovery—but as with anything, moderation is key. This also applies to meat. We were considering a strictly plant-based diet, but we are just going to choose wisely. I won’t eat meat every day, and we will continue to buy the healthiest meat that we can find (“organic”, antibiotic-free, etc.). On a side note, I love to cook, so the perspective of considering meat as a side dish is a challenge that I look forward to.
·      Iodine- we were concerned about iodine levels when preparing for the iodine treatment, but Dr. Caspar-Bell told us that this would only mean that, “If you live in Vancouver, you would have to move to Saskatchewan.” What she was implying with this joke is that unless one eats seaweed and fish every day, iodine levels won’t be a major concern. She did advise to take it easy on the sushi though.

As it stands now, it’s April 8th. The sun is shining. It’s 16 degrees Celsius after a long, cold winter. My dog wants to go outside, and so do I. I’m feeling good.

Under the Knife with Thyroid Cancer (A.K.A. Saskatchewan Nurses Rule) by Aaron Adair


On March 11, 2014, I had surgery to treat Papillary Thyroid Cancer at Royal University Hospital (RUH) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (Check out the backstory in my first post, “Mr. Chuck D & Me”). The procedure not only involved a thyroidectomy, but a right side lymph node dissection as well. I want to write about the hospital experience to: a) inform anyone who may go through a similar surgery (I didn’t really know what to expect, so maybe this information will help the process a little); b) Give a few insights into the process, specifically what I saw during my time in the hospital. I’ll admit that I can think of things I’d change, and the tone of this blog may come across as being negative at times, but I guarantee that I’ll end on a positive! After all, the care that I received was excellent, and my wife and I see this surgery as an opportunity for renewal—a chance to start fresh with a clean bill of health.

Pre-Op Visits
Before the surgery, I had to go to two pre-op appointments: one with my family doctor, and another at the hospital. Since I was lucky to get my surgery booked to take place 10 days after the diagnosis, I actually completed both appointments on the same day. My wife, Jenn, and I found that both of these appointments put our minds at ease about what to expect before, during, and after the surgery.
The hospital visit only took about two hours to complete, and most of that time was spent waiting. After registering at Admitting, I completed a blood test and had my vitals checked—something I would get extremely used to over the next week or so. I was told that because of my good health, I didn’t need to have x-rays or an ECG. We then met with a nurse who asked a lot of general questions about my health and outlined the procedures for the days leading up to the surgery, the day of the surgery, and a bit of information about what to expect after leaving the hospital. I was given two sponges to use in the shower on the two days prior to the surgery, and a general information booklet. A meeting with an anesthesiologist confirmed my clean health record and that everything on the day of the surgery would be relatively routine.
My family doctor admitted that our visit with him was a bit of “red tape.” I just needed to obtain my physical record, so he asked me a lot of questions that had already been covered at the hospital, checked vitals again, gave me the paper to take to the hospital on the day of the surgery, and then I was on my way.

Two-Days Prior
Getting ready for the surgery was simple, but there were a few things that I had to do:
·      Cut off solid food at midnight the night before the surgery
·      No alcohol for 48-hours prior
·      No Omega oils (this is a blood thinner)
·      Use the cleaning sponges twice
·      Pack an overnight bag
·      Leave jewelry and money with someone else

Day Of the Surgery
6:30 am: Check in at admitting
6:30-7am: Change, check vitals, sit in waiting room
Just after 7: moved to a pre-surgery room with a few other patients. Seeing these other people who were going to get opened up just like me was quite surreal. This was actually something that bothered me a bit about the process. Each patient met with a surgeon and anesthesiologist separately, but these meetings were all conducted in one big room. Hearing what everyone else was going through seemed too public considering the severity of some of the procedures being discussed.
8ish: A nurse walked me to Operating Room #4. I jumped up on the table, got the meds flowing, heard the surgeon say my name and the procedure (for a recording, I imagine), and then I drifted off.
1:45pm (I think): This is the first time I remember seeing the clock. I was awakened in the Recovery Room. I was asked about my pain level, and I was glad they did because I was definitely uncomfortable. I reported an “8,” got some morphine, and then drifted in and out for the next hour. My surgeon, Dr. Christian, came and talked to me to tell me that everything was a success and that he had met with my family. He was also happy to hear that I had my voice; this was one of the possible side effects of the surgery since the thyroidectomny was so close to my vocal chords. However, the risk was less than 1%.
2:45ish: I was moved to the Observation Room.  The nurses actually forgot to inform my family (haha), so I was left in the hallway for a bit so that everyone could come and see me.

The Observation Room Experience:
I was in this room for about 20 hours or so. Honestly, this was the toughest time in the hospital. I mentioned how the pre-surgery meetings lacked the privacy that the patients deserve; well, I had no idea how much I would value my own privacy after the Observation Room.
·      There were six patients in this room, separated by curtains, with the eyes of nurses on us constantly (for good reason).
·      On a night that I really wanted to sleep, I couldn’t. Let’s just say that I got to know the other strangers in my room extremely well without saying a word to any of them. I heard things, saw things, smelled things that I never want to experience again. A very loud patient next to me was moved out after 1 am, and replaced by a patient that the staff kept saying “shouldn’t even be there.” He was in bad shape, and had to be awoken every 30 minutes or so. Needless to say, sleep was hard to come by.
·      I got to shower the next morning. Again, the walls of privacy came down quickly with this experience. Nevertheless, it’s amazing that no matter how difficult it was to actually complete the task, the shower was unbelievably refreshing. Discovering things like how I had been prepped in the operating room and finding a patch of dry blood on the back of my head were things that I didn’t expect. It was also very awkward, and slightly painful, to handle the two drains that I had at the base of my neck. All in all, this wasn’t a spa treatment, but it was refreshing!
·      Another aspect that was a bit shocking was the size of my scar. Since the lymph node dissection was required, the incision ran horizontally from the left side of my Adam’s apple to my right ear, and then vertically toward my ear lobe. The 45 or so staples caused discomfort, and the procedure caused numbness that I am still experiencing as I type this two weeks after the surgery. I was told that the numbness will eventually go away, and that it was caused by work being done around nerves in my neck. I’m still not used to barely being able to feel the right side of my jaw and the bottom half of my right ear.
·      I had some devices on my legs that pulsated regularly to help with circulation. These were removed after my first night.
·      I only experienced nausea after taking my first Calcium supplement. It wasn’t pretty. I’ll leave it at that.
·      Sidebar: patients and visitors should have limitations on cell phone use in these rooms. When I was fresh out of surgery and trying to sleep, hearing personalized ring tones and loud conversations didn’t help at all! Why aren’t there any rules in place for this?

Semi-Private Room
When I checked into the hospital, I requested a private room for a $120/day fee. Unfortunately, the facilities weren’t available so I was moved into a semi-private room. An older lady and I shared the room, and two other people also called the room home at separate times over the next two days. The fact that there were more than two people in a room only designed for two showed me how stretched our hospital facilities are. I hope the Children’s Hospital will alleviate some of this pressure.
Anyways, I was quite comfortable in this room, and the procedures were routine:
·      I ate regular meals. I should mention that the Chief Resident was disappointed to hear that I had only received Jell-O for my first meal. He wanted me on a regular diet right away. This was a pleasant surprise since my radical surgery was focused around my throat. Although, I had to change my eating habits because the staples made repeated chewing painful. Also, I found that I was only comfortable swallowing small bites of food or sips of a drink at once.
·      My vitals were checked regularly and my blood was taken a couple of times a day. Checking calcium levels was very important after this surgery.
·      I got up to shuffle around for some walks whenever I felt like it. It was a bit awkward to be carrying around my two drains and being a little hunched over, but the air in the 5th Floor Atrium was a nice change from what I was becoming accustomed to.
·      I stayed in this room for two nights. We were originally expecting one, but it was decided that my drains should be kept in for an extra day, and then some time was needed to monitor how I’d react after they were removed. I was nervous about the removal process, but it only took a maximum of ten-minutes, and it wasn’t very painful.
·      My pain was managed mostly with Tylenol. Measuring my pain on a 1-10 scale was a difficult process since the cluster headaches that I’ve had since grade 10 have built up an extremely high pain-tolerance. I’d say to the nurses, “I’m at a '5' right now, but that might be someone else’s '8'.” Does anyone know how these discrepancies from patient-to-patient are dealt with?

Discharge
            When the Chief Resident came on his rounds on Friday morning, I found out that I could go home. Even though I knew it was coming, I was so relieved to get the news and to hear that everything was progressing as it should. When he left, I put on my headphones just as Curtis Mayfield’s “So In Love” started playing on my IPhone. It was one of the most joyous moments of my life. Maybe that sounds like hyperbole, but that song just seemed like the only song that should have been playing at that moment. The groove, the organ, the horns, the space, the honesty of the lyrics: “So in love. You do so many things with a smiling face.” That first line got to me when I considered all of the stress that my wife had put up with over the few days that we were there.

The Positive Ending that I Promised!
            I have a profound respect for nurses. Teachers and nurses always seem to share a mutual appreciation for each other’s professions—perhaps it’s the multitasking and the long hours, but the most significant common ground has to be in the personal touches that excellent professionals strive for. The RN’s, staff, and nursing students who cared for me made me feel secure and comfortable throughout the entire experience. Esther, Amber, Paul, Grant, and Ben are a few of the names that I can remember of people who went out of their way to make me feel like I was their only patient.
            Also, despite some of the uncomfortable moments, I can’t say enough about how grateful I am to be Canadian and to have access to our health care system. I am going to live a long and productive life because once I received my diagnosis I received efficient and personalized care for a grand total of $0 out of my pocket (with the exception of parking fees for my visitors). This is something that I will never take for granted.

Take a listen to Mr. Mayfield in order to solidify that positive vibe...

Mr. Chuck D & Me by Aaron Adair

“@MrChuckD is now following you on Twitter!” My mind completely cleared when I saw this notification on my phone just after midnight on St. Patrick’s Day, 2014. The fact that Chuck D, the living legend MC of Public Enemy, made a connection with me blew me away. To think that one of my musical idols since childhood, a man who exposed me to new music and expanded my global mindset, had taken the time to click on my Twitter feed and hit “Follow,” blew me away. But what really affected me most positively was not the social media induced all-out ego-explosion of having Chuck D at the top of my list of followers, it was the timing of the moment and--specifically--the moment that preceded this connection.
When I received the notification, I was lying on my bed, trying to relax after what I might call an anxiety attack. Feeling dizzy, and trying to rid myself of the rush of negative emotions that were overwhelming me, I needed to lie down. I had just been looking in the mirror, inspecting for the first time my newly acquired eight-inch, heavily stapled incision that extends from the left side of my neck below the Adam’s apple to my right earlobe. The reason for the scar? A surgery on March 11th to remove my thyroid gland and lymph nodes on the right side of my neck. The reason for the surgery? Papillary thyroid cancer.
Now, I can imagine friends and family who didn’t know about my condition being relatively shocked at this news, so I’ll now take the time to assure you that I am going to be fine. My excellent surgeon, Dr. Christian, pointed out the oxymoron of this type of cancer being the “good cancer,” but I’ll get back to that later. (Time for a choose your own adventure here: if you’re not feeling as optimistic as Jenn and I are, skip ahead four paragraphs or so; if you’re cool with it, read on.)
So how did I end up in this position? About a year ago, I began noticing that I was clearing my throat far too much. My family doctor pointed to allergies, given the time of year, but I knew that something was different--especially considering that I also noticed a decline in my energy. By the end of June, my throat was so irritated that I lost my voice when playing my second gig at the Saskatchewan Jazz Fest. This was an anomaly for me, something that had only occurred once in my singing career. This fact became even more worrisome when my voice continued to be affected for 10-12 days after that gig. In the meantime, at the beginning of July, a massage therapist discovered a bump on the right side of my neck. “It’s probably a lymph node,” I said, like I knew what I was talking about. Jenn and I were about to travel to Croatia, so my doctor gave me a prescription for some antibiotics, and a referral for an ultrasound when we returned from our trip. When we returned from our amazing vacation, I had my first ultrasound on August 9th. The images showed two swollen lymph nodes, so I was asked to follow-up in 6-8 weeks. On September 27th, my second ultrasound showed no changes. After returning from the Break Out West music festival in Calgary, my bloodwork was normal. Again, I was instructed to follow-up in 6-8 weeks.
On December 6th, stuff started to get real. I had a different radiologist this time. He had the technician take multiple images until he was clear on what he was seeing. He sat down with me and took the time to explain, with little medical jargon, exactly what he was seeing. He pointed out how weird it was that these swollen lymph nodes were still hanging around, lining up outside the club under my right ear, so he asked if he could take an image of my thyroid. After all, when there’s a lineup outside the club, sometimes you go in to find that something’s really going down; other times, it’s just a facade and the hype will die down, so you can move on. When he returned, he took all the time necessary to explain that many people have nodules on their thyroids and these are most often harmless. However, I had one on the right side that showed signs of possible calcification. He eased my anxious mind by telling me that even in the worst case scenario, the problem would be treatable.
Six weeks later, on January 20th, I had a fine needle aspiration (biopsy) performed by Dr. Caspar-Bell at Royal University Hospital (RUH). I need to mention here that there are two things that I’ve never gotten along with: anyone (or anything) touching my neck, and needles. Well, maybe needles are actually down with me because they always get what they want since I’m usually unconscious. The biopsy was one of the more uncomfortable experiences of my life. I heard I would equate the pain with a bad bee sting, but it was more like a tattoo needle being held in one place for 40 seconds, a minute, or whatever it was. I was told that results might be available in a week or two, but I didn’t hear back until February 26th when Dr. Christian’s office called. Those six weeks or so were pretty distracting: not only would my mind wander once in a while to the lingering possibility of a problem, but my energy was continuing to drain. I had a little too much on my mind when I was gigging at the Bassment on January 31. In fact, I was concerned that I might start to cough mid-song as I had during rehearsals. Luckily, I was able to make it through with the help of my wicked band and a great audience.
February 28th was the day that Jenn and I got our answer. We met with Dr. Christian and Dr. Caspar-Bell. They quickly looked over my results (Jenn and I locked eyes when we heard the word “carcinoma”), they conducted an ultrasound, and then Dr. Christian said, “Now, we’re going to go next door and discuss your surgery.” Wait a minute! Didn’t I say that January 20th was when stuff got real?! Well, maybe this moment was unreal? Surreal??! Either way, without being told this directly, I had cancer and it needed to get out. Dr. Christian was amazing at explaining what Papillary Cancer is and how the procedure would go. At first we actually discussed how Joni Mitchell should be included in Saskatchewan Secondary English Curricula, then he used his oxymoron: I had the “good cancer.” The thing that makes oxymorons fit in with the cool kids and diss the regular morons, is that they make sense. Dr. Christian was not sugar-coating the news. The more I read about this type of cancer, the more confident I became. I realized that this is what sidelined Anthony Calvillo after the Grey Cup a few years ago, and A.C. seems to be a pretty good dude; he also seems to be a pretty dang healthy guy (except I question his mental health for his choice of loyalty to the Alouettes). Check out his story… http://www.endocrineweb.com/news/hypothyroidism/4452-canadian-football-player-reports-rapid-recovery-thyroid-cancer
Although there were six-week stretches between the third ultrasound to the specialist appointment to the date of the big news, it only took three days to get booked for surgery. Eight days later, I was on the table in operating room 4 at RUH, humming “You Love So Hard” to myself as I drifted into my medically induced sleep. I’ll write about the experience at RUH in the future. The important thing to know right now is that I received the best of care over my three-day stay.
Since then, looking at this scar has been very hard. The first time that I could really bear to look at it was before the Chuck D notification moment. All of the negative emotion that I had been going through took over at that moment. A dark wave of images took over: the staples, the surgery, what was removed, what the future could be like. I was dizzy; I needed to lie down. Bed didn’t provide immediate relief; those images were still strong, dark, and powerful. “Good cancer” or not, this was some difficult stuff to handle. As I had grown accustomed to in the hospital, I needed to reach for my phone for a distraction. That’s when I saw that @Mr.ChuckD was following me.
I can’t explain it easily. Those dark images that were dominating my psyche instantly vanished. Thoughts of the staples were replaced by the legacy that Chuck D. has created in the music industry. Picturing myself on the operating room table became the image of me in grade 8 listening to “9-1-1 Is A Joke” (when the boys were countering any presence of New Kids on the Block being played on the classroom ghetto blaster). Difficult speculative images of the future vanished to the simplicity of Chuck D pressing “Follow.” And then, I realized that all of the anxiety that was weighing on me a minute prior had disappeared completely. I had tears in my eyes as I thought of the power of music, the power of relationships, and the power of social media. The ironic thing about this whole defining moment is that when I found out that I had cancer, I wanted to avoid social media. Turns out, social media helped me fight the toughest mental battle of the journey--with a little help from Chuck D.