So I might be betraying some of the anonymity that I wish to maintain for the time being but because it is very germane to this post I have to let slip that I am Canadian. If you happen to be a compatriot I don’t need to explain who the Tragically Hip are. For those of you who don’t salute the Maple Leaf or only borrow it while travelling, let me explain the significance. The Tragically Hip are a folk infused rock band that have been touring for over thirty years. They sing about Canadian icons and legends, they sing about encounters in bars. All those lyrics, though, have been thoughtfully composed or at least co-written by their incomparably talented front-man Gordon Downie. Not only is he a gifted lyricist, capable of blending the pedestrian with the surreal he is a powerful presence on stage. He has one of those combinations of voice, persona and Mick Jagger-esque undulations that make The Hip (as they are colloquially known) a must-see live.
Tragically, Mr. Downie has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain cancer. When the news was released some time ago, it likely made every news outlet in the country and certainly dampened the collective heart of this expansive nation. But as is eminently clear by their unwavering enthusiasm on stage over the last thirty years, The Hip are tremendously invested in their fans. In spite of Mr. Downie’s illness they decided to tour in conjunction with their most recent album. It is very likely to be their final tour.
On the day the main pool of tickets was set to go on sale I woke up early, completed my morning tasks. A lot of Canadians did. Then, I sat anxiously in front of the computer with five separate browser windows open (in order of preferred venue) to Ticketmaster. And I waited. I waited until the timer on the first browser window reached zero. Nodda. Next window. Zilch. The other three—no luck. Ten minutes after tickets went on sale there was apparently not a single seat in the entire province to these concerts. Unless I was prepared to pony up. Like many others, I was keeping an eye on the scalping sites while feverishly trying to find tickets the old-fashioned (?) way. While I was being repeatedly rejected by every venue on Ticketmaster, the numbers on StubHub! were climbing by the second. Some sections at the larger venues had dozens of tickets available.
Anecdotes of similar scenarios quickly spread across news and social media. In fact, I can’t recall a single claim of finding passes from the primary seller. Accounts of nefarious, likely fraudulent, practices were also recounted. The technology that scalpers employ to snatch up multitudes of tickets are apparently capable of disrupting the checkout process long enough for hard-fought tickets to be usurped from a fan’s shopping cart.
I mean, outsiders may scoff when I say that the Attorney General of Canada may get involved in this debacle but you have to understand The Hip have been a part of our evanescent summer’s soundtrack for a generation. It would be like Bruce Springsteen hanging up his guitar in The U.S or Bjork retiring the goofy outfits in Iceland. And hey, I wish The Boss and Bjork unsurpassed longevity but that’s how quintessential The Hip are up here (or over here if you happen to live at a similar latitude).
Suffice it to say, I was disappointed. There were plenty of ensuing commentaries, debates and claims of malfeasance throughout the course of that day and they continue still. There was also some hope that more dates would be added. It was what can only be described as a media flurry. And somewhere amidst that flurry there was another report that seemed to go almost unnoticed.
Almost a thousand people drowned in the Mediterranean that day. And yes, it was worth discussing how scalpers had taken advantage of a dying man’s hard-earned reputation. But to pay such cursory attention to the tragedy of a thousand people drowning in desperate fervour? That lent me some perspective. Will I miss The Hip? Yes. Were there thousands of families that will miss their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers? Undoubtedly. Have we become inured to human suffering? Inexcusably. Perhaps it’s because those weren’t our mothers or fathers, not even neighbours or acquaintances. But for those who think that way, I have an ominous caution: just wait.
They say the world is shrinking, yet the gap keeps widening, pushing everyone towards each extreme, polarizing society. Can we really be that surprised that our streets and borders are wrought with the plight of the undervalued, the disenfranchised? It’s a scientific axiom: highly concentrated molecules diffuse towards solutions less populated; pressure is relaxed by migrating towards areas with less—pressure; heat always bursts towards cold. The Mediterranean’s turquoise calm seems every day to tinge another shade of red. I don’t think there’s another geographical feature of this planet more demonstrative of the wretched disparity that exists in human civilization than the Dardanelles and the Mediterranean Sea. Equilibrium has been lost, and pressure is building.
And across another body of water, here in my endlessly blessed home country the same paradigm plays out. As more money moves more quickly across countries and borders, there will be more people incentivized to widen the gap. That gap is becoming bloated and swollen, every day occluding more of the meagre allowance that once passively trickled down to those who needed it most, concentrating more capital at the top. Pressure.
So, what have Gordon Downie and the Mediterranean taught me about capitalism? There just doesn’t seem to be enough capital to sate the system. People are becoming commodity, currency. A dying Gordon Downie was exploited by scalpers and, let’s be honest, overstretched by fans. And the exchange rate on a thousand lives appeared to tick lower. I don’t know if I’m a socialist but if this is what the profit motive is turning us into, maybe we should find a new motive. And unless we actively and diligently work to relieve the pressure soon I don’t think missing out on some concert tickets is the only thing that’s going to ruin our fuckn’ day.
Post-script: Mr. Downie’s tragic illness reminded me of a story I wrote a while back. It’s about Warren Zevon, another performer who spit in the face of his fate. Anyone who knows anything about Zevon, though, knows that he was pretty complicit in his illness.