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 #3: The Last Recluse
- sounds almost like a moniker akin to ‘the last starfighter’ or ‘the last dragon’, but in this case, it’s the recluse
- reduce, reuse, recluse — live smaller
- reckless in his relationships
- “We rode hard for the boat” — this first line could easily call to mind “rowed hard” — like ‘row,row,row your boat’. Is it intended to be childish? Is it going to be a song about young love?
- Awright — Has this recluse been living on an island, out in the woods, or close to the land long enough that he no longer worries about proper pronunciation? Or is he simply a teen
- Immune — to what? love? a broken heart? or to American culture and American consumerism?
- Canoe and Canada Goose — symbols of national identity
- shut up — among the harshest language on the entire album! Usually the Hip will give David Mamet a run for his money when it comes to coarse language; perhaps the Hip are mellowing after 12 albums.
- guy and a girl biking to a ferry, guy gets on the ferry and the girl, without waiting to wave goodbye, bikes away with his bike by her side — though I may have the genders reversed
- the girl biking away from the ferry is either cruel, cold and emotionally removed from this breakup, or she is too upset to watch the ferry go — perhaps he said something to upset her?
- lots and lots of wonderful rhyme: cried/ride; who/you/canoe/view/knew; awright/night…
- repetition: “Who are you?”
- personification: “the ferry whistle cried”
- alliteration: “made me”; “when the wind”
- assonance: “sign in the night”
- the backup vocals near the end give the song elements of an anthem, though not quite as much as the last track on the album
- one gets the feeling that this ferry is not the Chi-Cheemaun, it’s something much smaller where young people would bike to, where a tearful goodbye could be enough to temporarily hold up the ferry’s schedule
Who are you
When the wind comes up and the surface of the water scuffs
“We got to the ferry just in time, but you decided not to come after all. You told me to go, so I did, but from the boat I saw that you didn’t even stay to wave goodbye. It broke my heart, and I don’t understand why you wanted to stay behind, alone.”
This song is definitely the first track on the album to really grab me and could become one of my all-time favourite Tragically Hip tunes. I don’t know if it’s a song about a break-up, or about a national identity crisis?! I love the opening keys, how jarringly incongruous it is with the strum of the guitar that seems to ultimately begin the song — only after hitting repeat on the iPod did I catch on that the opening sound is an extension of the end of the song. It brings the song full-circle, like the speaker who has worked so hard to get to where he would let the girl break his heart all over again.