COLUMN: The cultural experience I missed

The Tragically Hip's final concerts, which ended in the band’s hometown, served as a way for the nation to say their good-byes.

The Tragically Hip’s final concert in Kingston, Ont. on Saturday evening was no small event.

Close to 7,000 people packed the K-Rock Centre, with an estimated 20,000 more watching on a large screen in Kingston’s Springer Market Square. And an estimated 11.7 million Canadians — roughly one in three of us nationwide — watched at home or at public venues as CBC broadcast the concert.

The Hip’s final tour this year attracted plenty of interest.

In May, frontman Gord Downie stunned fans when he announced he had terminal brain cancer.

The series of concerts, which ended in the band’s hometown, served as a way for the nation to say their good-byes.

A send-off of this magnitude is not typical, but The Tragically Hip should not be considered a typical band.

Formed in 1984, The Tragically Hip became an important part of Canada’s musical and cultural landscape over the next 32 years.

The Tragically Hip managed to remain relevant and popular through the years. This is no easy task.

For many who discovered the band in high school or university, songs by The Tragically Hip formed an important part of the soundtrack of their lives.

Watching the band’s final concert was a memorable, moving experience for them. It was a way to grieve and to say goodbye to a musical icon.

For myself, The Tragically Hip’s final concert didn’t have the same emotional pull on my heart.

I could recognize the band’s sound and a few of their hits. Their musical talent and the thought that went into their lyrics impressed me. But the band didn’t play a big part in my life.

I didn’t attend their concerts and I don’t associate their songs with key moments in my life.

Part of the reason is that for most of the 1990s and early 2000s, I wasn’t really following contemporary music or contemporary popular culture. Sure, I could recognize some of the biggest names in entertainment, but that was where my connection ended.

I hadn’t planned this disconnect; it just happened.

A lot of other things were happening in my life. Music and popular entertainment took a back seat. During one five-year period in the 1990s, I got started in my career, got married and made three interprovincial moves.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was thrust into the role of a caregiver and later that of a widower. Again, a lot was happening, but it wasn’t accompanied by the music of the day.

Most of the time, I didn’t notice I had pulled away from popular music and entertainment.

Saturday evening was different. People watching the concert had a strong connection with the band and the music. Many had memories of specific songs from dances, trips with friends, workplaces or other experiences.

Some saw the band members as friends, not just entertainers. It’s a deep connection and it speaks to the power of the songs and performances.

For the first time, I realized I couldn’t share in the emotions they were feeling. I couldn’t relate to their connection with a well-loved band.

And now, as I think about the concert and the accompanying emotions, I wonder if I have missed out on a special part of Canadian music and culture.

Even though I wasn’t part of The Tragically Hip’s journey over the years, it was still touching for me to watch them perform at their final venue as our nation said an emotional farewell.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.