As most of my fellow Canadians know Gord Downie was dealt a shitty hand earlier this year. The Tragically Hip put out an album earlier this year, and put on a final tour. Many thought this may be the last time they would ever get to see or hear from Gord. What we did not know is Gord had been working on a solo album over the last 3 years, and announced the album release and 2 shows to promote it. Earlier this week the album hit the shelves, and he performed in Ottawa and Toronto.
When I heard of the album/book I was a little disappointed in the formats. It was either book (with download code) or the deluxe version with 180gram vinyl/88 page book/download/10 lyric posters in a box. Unfortunately no cd version available. I prefer a physical format and like vinyl better than cd anyway, but the price was a little steep. Oh well, 100% of the proceeds from book/album, and both shows goes directly to The National Centre For Truth And Reconciliation (nctr.ca). Gord Downie obviously feels very strongly about this cause. If I were dying I’m not sure I would be able to give millions of dollars to any cause. I would be too selfish and think of my own family first. Obviously Gord Downie is a better man than I. He really is one of a kind.
The story behind the album/book is all about Chanie Wenjack. A real life tale about a 12 year old indigenous boy that died while running away from a residential school and trying to find his father. Little did he know his father was over 600km away. The link for the original story from 1967 is below.
The book is wonderfully illustrated by Jeff Lemire. He has a knack for making what at times appear to be drawings by a scared runaway, but yet still reek of professionalism. The coloured pages in the book reveal happy moments. But since only 7 of the 88 pages have colour, the black and white despair fills most of the book. It is a bit of a hard read if you remember this was the tale of a young boy dying, but the pictures perfectly represent the flow of the album. You may want to listen to the album as you flip through the pages. They suit each other nicely.
The Stranger – Chanie ran away from his residential school with some classmates. He was a stranger in school. He was a stranger when he got to his classmates home. The most telling part of the song are the lyrics “That is not my dad. My dad is not a wild man. He doesn’t even drink. My daddy’s not a wild man.” As if from the lips of Chanie trying to clear up the stereotype of the native man.
Swing Set – This is a nice song with a good beat. A cross between the newer Hip and house music. The song relates to the boys running off when no one was looking.
Seven Matches – Chanie was not able to stay at his friends house so the boys mother gave him 7 matches in a jar. Fire meant survival, so these matches were his life.
I Will Not Be Struck – Chaney walked along the train tracks, and would place his ear along the rail listening for the train.
Son – I am not sure how to interpret this song. I believe it is a message from a father to a son about not giving up his heritage or his dreams.
I glance through the book for a few more pages and flip the record over
Secret Path – The path the boys took to run away was a secret. Chanie is starting to get very cold as he continues to try and find his father. He wishes he had his jean jacket instead of a light windbreaker. The part that jumps out at me is “And the fuck-off rocks along the path” (I have no idea).
Don’t Let This Touch You – The lyrics don’t exactly reveal the details but the pictures show young boys in bed, a priest reaching out, and scared eyes. I think we can draw our own conclusions.
Haunt Them. Haunt Them. Haunt Them – A fairly fast paced song about Chanie hallucinating about a raven that tells him he can see his family again if he just gives up. Chanie wants to go back but does not want to haunt them.
The Only Place To Be – The place for Chanie to be, in his mind, is right in his final resting spot. When he dies he will give back to the animals and the earth. The song has a very upbeat, positive sound even with the outcome.
Here, Here And Here – This song has a total of 7 words. They repeat often, but the message still comes across, and the music is poignant and beautiful.
This book is beautiful. The artwork is marvelous. Just a warning to all of you Hip fans. This is not The Hip, so don’t go in expecting Road Apples Part 2. This has elements of mellow Hip songs, Gord’s solo stuff, house music, dance music, jazz, world music. It has a bunch of everything. I enjoyed it. I think it will grow on me the more I listen. I loved being able to glance through the book as I listen.
I suggest every Canadian should at least educate themselves on a very dark part of our history. As Gord said during his show the other night “Let’s not celebrate the last 150 years. Let’s start celebrating the next 150 years.”
For those interested CBC television has a 1 hour, commercial free airing of The Secret Path on Sunday, October 22 at 9pm EST.
For the music itself I would score a 7/10, and as a whole this deluxe edition earns a solid 9/10.