In honour of The Tragically Hip’s latest album, We Are The Same, released April 7th, here’s a brief series that demonstrates the manner in which I expect my students to approach poetry — without any research, and without any input from those who may know Gord Downie’s purposes for each song. I will analyse and speculate on each song’s possible meanings. For me, the poetry of TTH’s music is great literature; among the best.
Track #6: The Depression Suite
- Depression — very sad, or The Great Depression, or an indentation?
- Suite — obviously the songs grouped together in the same manner of Downie’s poem “The Michigan Suite (for W.)” from Coke Machine Glow, but it could also be a pun on the hotel room suite, or on a sweet candy
- “The Rock” — the past? or the planet? or Newfoundland? or a guy trying to be a steady, solitary, lone, tough cowboy?
- “NewOrleansWorld” — the present (NOW)? or climate change reality? or a guy wanting a second chance?
- “Don’t You Wanna See How It Ends?” — the future? or possibly the speaker saying, ‘You’re two-thirds of the way through this song, stick around for the finale.’ (And, incidentally, I don’t want it to end… I want it to keep going.)
- “the requisite strangeness”
- “perfect fifths low skids and Arctic howls”
- “honey” — there’s that word again! (see Honey, Please and Now The Struggle Has A Name)
- “Don’t you wanna see how it ends?” // “Doncha wanna see how it ends?”
- Place names: Chicago (unless it’s either the band or the musical), New Orleans without the Gulf of Mexico, Florida without the ocean, and Athabasca
- head under the pillow
- “the early morning light’s a pale cranberry”
- onomatopoeia: the sound of the siren, “Aaa-aah-aah not now-wow-wow”, sounds like someone saying, “Ah, not now.” (is it the tempting and deathly Sirens from mythology, or simply an emergency vehicle?); also “howls” and “boom”
- repetition: “I-I-I-II”, and “gimme-gimme”, and “a little weird a little weird”; also, the last three stanzas (and therefore the last two minutes) of the song are identical — I wonder if this will allow for a lot of improvisation in concert?
- assonance with “o” in The Rock: pillow, Chicago, whole, low, going, closing, morning; out, sounds, howls, now-wow-wow; you, through, too
- “lost in the Barrens” — a Farley Mowat title
- “you left me born on the stairs” — a shocking image, or is this a reference to a baby left on a doorstep?
- “What if this song does nothing?” — as in many other Hip songs, it seems that Downie might be questioning his own inspiration, or the potential impact the song may (or may not) have
There’s new work in the Day Room
I can’t lounge on-line
Don’t you laugh
I’d sell a giraffe and I’d give you half
Just to occupy my mind
“Attempting to drown out every sound, I put my head under a pillow. However, I can still hear you asking me if everything is okay. What I need is another chance; I’ll try really hard and I’ll succeed this time. I’ll win. But, perhaps you don’t believe me? Maybe you don’t want to stick with me? Maybe you simply want me to settle down here? I can’t. I need to move on. Are you coming with me?”
This song is probably among my all-time favourite Hip songs (along with The Last Recluse, and Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park, and Escape Is At Hand For The Travellin’ Man, and The Dark Canuck, and on and on…), and I don’t know if this song is about substance abuse, about Farley Mowat, about climate-change, or about The Hip reflecting on their successful career and on their future. So, I’ll assume the latter and be quite content to be proven wrong.