Like millions of Canadians, Carleton graduate student Michelle MacQueen tuned into the CBC broadcast of the last show of the beloved rock band The Tragically Hip.
At some point between the opening song “50 Mission Cap” – a song about the tragic death of a Toronto Maple Leaf player – and the emotional climax of frontman Gord Downie’s tear-filled screams during “Grace, Too”, MacQueen decided that she was going to research “Canada’s band”.
MacQueen is a master’s student in the Music and Culture program which is a program designed to give students a dynamic forum where perspectives in “cultural musicology” can be explored in a uniquely flexible and integrated fashion.
MacQueen was already aware of the band’s importance in Canadian rock music before Downie’s terminal diagnosis, but found the support around the final concert to be fascinating.
“I thought it was just incredible that so many people – truly from all across the country – were so enthusiastic about the band’s career and seeing them in concert,” said MacQueen.
MacQueen was interested by the nationalistic elements of the show – including an appearance by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – as well as the band’s connection to Canadian identity. “Through this research I want to try and explore the effects that a nationally-coveted, iconic rock band can have on what we think of as Canada and what it means to be Canadian,” said MacQueen.
MacQueen wrote a paper called Criticisms and Counter-narratives to ‘Canadianness’: The Tragically Hip and Canadian Identity. She presented it at the Ottawa Graduate Student Music Conference and also at the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM)-Canada conference in Toronto last spring.
MacQueen’s paper completes a lyrical analysis of The Tragically Hip’s songs about hockey, the Canadian landscape, and specific Canadian places, to songs by other Canadian artists which contain those characteristics of Canadian identity.
“The narratives created in The Hip’s songs are much darker, much more critical. So by using these tropes and by framing them in a much darker manner, The Tragically Hip are creating counter-narratives to Canadianness; they are providing an alternate, more critically-aware reading of Canadian identity,” said MacQueen.
“What I’ve determined is that while The Hip do have this national, iconic status in Canadian pop culture, and Canadian society more broadly, they are often quite critical of Canada and what it means to be Canadian,” said MacQueen.
MacQueen is hoping to expand this paper, and is looking forward to doing so because of her positive experiences with faculty and the cross-disciplinary nature of the program.
“I chose to pursue this degree because I love researching the relationships between music, identity, politics, and larger issues in society,” said MacQueen.
“I find it fascinating how music can have such profound impacts on so many facets of life and I think that this program especially allows for its students to interrogate why music and culture are such significant parts of society.”
And in Canada, one could argue, no band has had more of an impact than The Tragically Hip.
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