The Tragically Hip

Music @ Work

by Barbara Flaska


I bought this CD because three years ago I heard a song by the Tragically Hip on the soundtrack of The Sweet Hereafter. Critically, I’m not equipped to write about the film, other than to say I regard this movie as a highpoint in my lifetime of movie-going experiences. What I hoped to do was to recapture those feelings of luminosity that the film engendered in me, that optimism and renewal are possibilities in today’s world. The film still haunts me with some intensity. That’s why I picked up Music @ Work, which in itself is a fairly good example of music at work.

Truthfully, I was expecting music a bit more along the lines of “Courage,” the song that appeared in the movie. Music that is ethereal, sparse, mystical, spiritually uplifting. What I got was poetry taken into the arena rock forum. I was jangled by their rhythm systems, but I appreciate the word pictures, from their immediate driving push into “My Music @ Work” into the erotic urgency of “Lake Fever” and the humor of “Sharks.”

What I like more is I believe this group accepts and respects intellectual parentage. In an era of moral ambiguity when other musicians are “sampling” the works of others, “Tiger The Lion” leaps straight out off the record. This song was inspired by reading about what “John Cage had come to feel that art in our time was far less important than our daily lives.” Several lines are paraphrases, but the liner notes carefully cite the sources. Credit is dutifully given to a lecture Mr. Cage delivered nearly 40 years ago and a book by Calvin Tomkins. Nobody would have noticed if the band had copped a few lines and changed them. Now why would that band do something like that, point the listener to the original texts that way?

They’re not pretentious about it, but the Tragically Hip may really be trying to assume some of the responsibility that goes along with proliferating ideas. They may look on themselves as servant-leaders. Young immensely popular artists are pointing the way for others to explore the roots while their influences continue to branch. The Tragically Hip apparently took their name from a skit in Michael Nesmith’s Elephant Parts video. I found myself wondering if they knew that “tragically hip” was first synonymous with Lenny Bruce decades prior. They’d probably like to know that.

I prefer to read the Tragically Hip’s lyrics and skip their music. But I still get a feeling of optimism when I think about them, because they remind me more than ever of The Sweet Hereafter. The film is a living example of all that can go right with the creative process. There is the original remarkable swirl of talent associated with that project, from Russell Banks to the original film score to Atom Egoyan’s amazing screen treatment. As a peripheral benefit, Egoyan’s entire screenplay of The Sweet Hereafter is posted online at

It’s just these magic combinations of things that allow me to feel optimistic.

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