Story Time

“Pretty days like that make the rest of my life seem sadder” – from the song “Angelique is a free spirit”, by Moe Berg.

Story time…this happened a couple of weeks ago.  It was a Monday night, and I was getting cabin fever.  I work from an office in the spare bedroom of my home, and some days (most, if I’m being honest). I feel like I need to get out of the house by the end of the work day.  The walls really close in, and I just have to get out.  I’ve taken to driving around.  I have a couple of loops that I drive, just to get out and see some things.  Monday was one of those days.  As I was making my way home, I decided to drop in to a sports bar that I used to frequent weekly, but haven’t been to for quite some time.  My plan was to grab some take out and head home to watch the hockey playoffs.  As I pulled in to their parking lot, I decided to just hang out there for a while. I didn’t really want to go home.  I took up my position at one end of the bar…I always seem to end up within 1 or 2 seats of the same spot whenever I go there, I ordered some food, and asked for them to put the hockey game on.

A couple of minutes later a question is lobbed to me from the middle of the bar; “who are you cheering for?”  I replied with a lukewarm answer of the Washington Capitals.  She informed me that she had been a Penguins fan since middle school.  I returned to watching the game. A few minutes later another question was lobbed my way, something about the game, I lobbed my answer back.  After 15 or so minutes, another question came my way, along with my reply, then a third.

I guess I should explain this better.  I was at one end of the bar, she was sitting nearly exactly in the center of the bar, which seats 25 – 30 people, I’ve never counted.  There was no one sitting between us, and there was a couple to her left, other than that, the bar section was empty.  There were a few folks scattered through the rest of the place.  I should also say that after the 3rd question, I had the idea to move down and chat with this woman.  I didn’t.  It’s not typically my style, she was sitting alone, and I didn’t want to bother her.  I’m also terribly cognizant of how much grief (abuse) women take from men, and I don’t want to be one to contribute to that.  So I kept to myself.  We’ve reached the end of the 1st period of the game…

During the intermission, I was catching up on the days’ news on my phone.  I got another comment my way about her not being able to hear (game sound wasn’t on in the bar) and she couldn’t learn what was happening.  Seeing the face of Mike Milbury on the screen, I informed her she wasn’t missing anything.  That one probably should have been my clue to join her, again, I did not.  As the 2nd period started she asked me if I was paying close attention to the game, I wasn’t but told her I was, and she asked me to join her.  I did.  (See how I foreshadowed that earlier…writing )

We seemed to hit it off immediately.  She was full of questions; about hockey, the teams playing, me, life, we were off and running.  There were no awkward pauses.  It was a blast.

I don’t often find myself in a position where strangers reach out to me and invite me in to their world.  It was fantastic for me.  Just to have a connection with someone new was thrilling.  I guess I can write that same sentence three or four more times to fill out a paragraph.

During the game, we had made plans to watch Game 7 of the series 2 nights later.  I had a suspicion that once the beer goggles wore off, she wouldn’t want to hang out again.  That proved to be the case.  I tried to reach out again a week or so later, to see if there was anything there.  I was politely, but most definitely rejected.  It sucks.


The Hip, Part II

I was born and raised on a farm approximately 45 miles southwest Detroit, Michigan.  I was weaned on Album Oriented Rock (AOR) Radio at the time, and that meant a steady diet of Foreigner, Foghat, the Rolling Stones, adopted Detroiters the J. Geils Band, and of course hometown hero Bob Seger.  As a teen in the early 1980’s, for me and many of my friends, cool was defined by WRIF radio, and afternoon DJ Arthur Penhallow, and the morning radio team of JJ and the Morning Crew.    A quick google search will lead you to the history of these and many other things Detroit based at that time.  In many ways, I’m still there; I’m still a fan of the music.  I semi-lovingly refer to it as 3 chord thud rock.  It’s the music of my youth, and is still resonates with me.  I was exposed to alternative rock though, because we spent a lot of times in bars and nightclubs at the time, and while many times they had live bands playing 3 chord thud rock, between sets, and after the live sets, they would have DJs spinning alternative music, which was the dance-able music then.

Fast forward to the late 1980s and early 1990s, basically the hair-metal era.  I wasn’t a fan of hair-metal, but I wasn’t not a fan either…It’s what was there, so I listened to it.  I started listening to 89X once in a while, then.  It was fun to hear nothing but new (to me) songs, but I still found myself going back to the AOR stations.  I distinctly remember the events that lead to my “conversion” if you will to Alternative Rock.  I had a run of insomnia for a few nights in a row, and I was listening to the radio to pass the time.  I found that I could predict the songs in order at a certain point.  The playlist was way too tight, way too predictable, and exactly predictable.  The 2nd night, when I was able to predict the songs, I thought it was a fluke.  The 3rd night, I was mad.  The 4th night I switched.  I was an “alternative rocker”.  Then Nirvana happened, and everyone was an alt-rocker.

I remember the first Hip song that found its way into my consciousness.  Little Bones.  You can watch the official video here:  ( There was a line, or a set of lines that show up in the song that really got my attention:

For a hi-ball and a buck and a half
For a beer, happy hour
Happy hour, happy hour is here

later in the song…

Two-fifty for a decade
And a buck and half for a year happy hour
Happy hour, happy hour is here

And then finally…

Two-fifty for an eyeball
And a buck and a half for an ear happy hour,
Happy hour happy hour is here

Full lyrics to the song are available here:  (

I was in, and little did I know “all-in” at that point.  I know I started paying attention to TTH songs from then on.  As I mentioned in the previous post, my first CD was Up To Here.  I’ve been with them since.

I’m doing a really poor job, in my estimation, of relating why I love this band so much.  Maybe it’s because their musical influences are very similar to mine.  Maybe it’s because we’re all nearly the same age.  Maybe they just effin’ rock.  I have to confess to not always loving each release right out of the gate.  I bought all of them as soon as they were released, and now, the entire catalog is still in regular rotation on my iPod.  Yes, I still have an iPod.  Some of the records took 2 or 3 listens for me to fall in love with them.  I always managed to give them that many listens…One of the interesting things, in my opinion anyway, is the way that many of the songs are presented live versus the studio versions.  Often times, the live versions are way more “rockin’”.  That appealed to me.  I recall an interview that lead guitarist Rob Baker gave for the release of the latest record, “Man Machine Poem” (not to be confused with the song Man Machine Poem from the previous release).  He described that many times, the songs really found their legs “live” and that when he goes back to the studio versions of some of the songs in the live set list, they sound almost “small”.  The band really crafted them over the years for the live show.

The music as I’ve mentioned a couple of times, is layered, and textured.  If you look at their recording carrer as a whole, you can see the band grow up and age, if you will, as the guys got older too.  In the mid-late 1980s they were a blues rock based bar band, not unlike myself.  As they grew up as men and musicians, and also achieved more success the songwriting got more intricate and the storytelling better.  It’s been a fun journey to be a part of.

I’ve been trying to think of what my favorite TTH album is.  It’s been difficult.  The cliché answer would be “the last one I’ve listened to.”  I’d like to think I could give a better accounting of things than that.  In many ways, my first TTH album is my favorite, Day for Night.  It was my first collection.  A strong case could be made for Fully Completely as well.  It could easily be argued that the band was at its creative peak during this period (through the Trouble at the Henhouse record).  In the run-up to the last concert of the last tour, there was a lot of discussion of this topic, and also of one’s favorite Hip album.  The Internet seemed to agree on the Road Apples record.  Of the 12 songs on that record, 7 of them have been a part of the Live Set for years.  It’s hard to argue against that as the best.  I listened to that record a couple of weeks ago, and just hit after hit, if you will (even though I feel that way about most of their recordsJ).

I was fortunate enough to be able to see them play live three times.  The first time, was in late 1996 or early 1997 at Cobo Arena in Detroit, MI.  This show was recorded, and released as “Live Between Us”.  I like to tell people that this is where I made my recording debut.  I was one of the 10,000 or so folks you can hear cheering between songs.  J  My 2nd Hip Show was at the House of Blues in Orlando in 1998 or 1999.  This is a much more intimate venue than the show in Detroit.  The Detroit show was a pretty standard arena rock show for that time period.  The House of Blues venues is a couple of thousand people maximum.  It was more like a club date.  It was particularly exciting for me to see them there very close.  The final show was in 2010 or so in Atlanta, Ga.  Again a smaller venue, but a great show.  The band really limited their US touring over the years, at least to places not near the Canadian border.  There are pockets of Hip fans in several places, but not enough to make touring profitable.  The band has released a full length concert DVD from a show in Toronto as part of a greatest hits package.  The last show from the last tour (see post above) is still available on YouTube, as are several other sets.

The Best Band you’ve (likely) never heard of

An ode to The Tragically Hip

My previous blog post details my upcoming trip to Las Vegas for what could easily be titled a “Classic Rock’ vacation.  This story starts out with what I was trying to make happen last summer, but was ultimately unsuccessful.  One of my all-time favorite bands is The Tragically Hip.  They are a Canadian Rock band that has been together for nearly 35 years at this point.  I was introduced to them when I made my transition from AOR radio to “Alternative” Rock in the early 1990s.  The alternative station in Detroit was actually in Windsor, ON CA, CIMX-FM, known as “89X”.  As they were a Canadian station, they are bound by Canadian Content laws, which in a great oversimplification stated they had to play a certain percentage of Canadian Artists.  Because of CanCon, I was introduced to many bands I likely would never have heard of, including The Pursuit of Happiness, Sloan, Treble Charger, and of course The Hip.

I remember the first Tragically Hip CD I purchased was Day for Night.  I could only afford one CD at the time, and I remember being in the record store, and just grabbing the first one in the bin.  It was the current release; I recognized the first song, Grace, Too as the current single.  I was hooked immediately, and as finances would allow, purchased the back catalog as fast as I could.  I was hooked.  The Hip are a blues-rock based, guitar driven band.  The songs are textured, and I can always find a way to ride through a song.  Sometimes it’s the vocals, other times it’s the guitars, or bass, you get the idea.  I can still listen to songs I’ve been listening to for 20 years, and hear something different, or something that really stands out.

So the story from last year.  The band started sending out teaser tweets that ended up being bits of lyrics from the first single.  Eventually they announced the release date for the new record.  I think they released the single at that time as well.   Things were looking up…perhaps a tour was forthcoming as well, they have always toured behind records.  I was hoping to see them close to home.  I was fortunate enough to see them play 3 times, the first time at Cobo Arena in Detroit, MI.  That show was recorded, and released as “The Live Between Us”.  My 2nd show was at the House of Blues in Orlando, FL, not too long after moving here.  It was great to see them in a smaller venue.  This would have been 1997 or 1998.  The last show I was able to attend was in Atlanta, while I was living there, around 2011 or so…somewhere in there.  Now comes the bummer news.  It was announced that the lead singer and lyricist for the band, Gord Downie has been under treatment for non-operable brain cancer.  I was devastated.  I don’t know Gord, or anyone in the band, but I have been evangelizing The Hip for so long, listening to the records, it felt like a family member had been diagnosed.  I was in a funk for a few days.  I read all of the news that I could, and just wished I could do something to say Thank you to them.  Now, some good news, if you will.  The band announced a tour of Canada.  They were out for a month from West Coast to East, ending in their home town of Kingston, Ontario.  I was going to go to one of the shows.

I knew tickets were going to be at a premium.  Tickets for a Hip tour would be at a premium generally speaking, but with the added influence that this could be the last tour, and the limited number of dates. This was going to be a tough ticket, not to mention an expensive trip.  The details are a little bit fuzzy, but I believe all of the shows went on sale at the same time.  This meant that I had to decide which date I was going to try to get.  It wasn’t like “…if I don’t get Vancouver, Calgary will go on sale tomorrow…” it was pick your city, and hope.  I was on the Ticketmaster site for the fan club pre-sale, waiting for the site to refresh with a link to buy tickets.  I was neglecting work and waiting and refreshing the page until noon, IIRC, at noon, the page refreshed, and a purchase tickets link appeared, I clicked, and then…the spinning wheel of death, I knew immediately that I was shut out.  It took too long to load, and I knew, just knew they were all gone; the fam club tickets anyway.  Eventually, I was able to get to the shows page, and I tried dutifully from west coast to east coast, and was denied.  I had another opportunity a few days later, when tickets to the general public went on sale.  I had the same result there, and was shut out.  I was, in a word, disappointed.  You can read an article about the ticket sales for the tour here ( if you are so inclined.  It is/was a big deal in Canada.

The Secondary market had plenty of Hip Concert tickets for sale in every venue, but I frankly wasn’t willing to pay their prices in addition to all of the other travel expenses I had to undertake to see the show.   After being shut out for tickets, I messaged the band to ask if they would televise or live stream the concert so that those of us without tickets could see the show.  A few weeks later, CBC announced that they were televising the concert live, and streaming it online.  Needless to say, I had 3 different means of internet connection going that day; just in case one was not working…I was watching that show!

The Kingston, ON show, the final one of the tour was the one that was broadcast.  There were rumors that the show would be available on DVD, but as of yet, I haven’t seen it available.  The band did a 30 song set…30 effin songs.  It just kept on going, it was a phenomenal performance.  I can say with certainty that should it be made available for purchase, that I will own a copy.

I’ll write another post shortly about the band and music.