What If the Tragically Hip Had American Success?

je_hip in america

Nicholas Friesen @Nicholastronaut January 18, 2016

The Tragically Hip, made up of longtime members Gord Downie, Gord Sinclair, Johnny Fay, Rob Baker and Paul Langlois, is easily one of Canada’s most successful bands, but real American success always eluded the Hip. So here’s the question – would that potential American fame have torn the band apart, or simply opened things up to a wider audience? Let’s find out what may have happened if the band’s 1995 performance on Saturday Night Live catapulted the Hip to Coachella-headlining hit makers.

(And just to be clear – this is a work of SATIRE.)

March 25, 1995: Kingston, Ontario’s Tragically Hip appear on episode 16 of Saturday Night Live‘s 20th season. Hosted by John Goodman, the band is introduced by the SNL regular’s future Blues Brothers 2000 co-star Dan Aykroyd, launching the band to international superstardom with performances of “Grace, Too” and the chorus-less “Nautical Disaster” from 1994’s Day for Night.

Spring, 1995: The band tours the states that spring and fall, taking its music festival, Another Roadside Attraction, through Canada’s speedways and racetracks over the summer. Opening slots in the states turn into headlining slots, and expectations grow for a follow up to Day for Night, which hits #1 in 32 countries and spawns seven singles.

January, 1995: The band enters Abbey Road Studios with Steve Albini to begin tracking its fifth album under the working title Trouble at the Henhouse (eventually released as 40 Gallons in a Steady Stream). The sessions are quick and organic, but mixing with Steven Drake of the Odds takes months as the band’s new label, Sony, insists that it does not “hear a single.” The Hip heads to Los Angeles to attend the Grammy awards, and Drake is replaced by Jimmy “The Senator” Douglass.

March, 1995: The band wins several Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist (beating out Sheryl Crow). During the show, the band performs “So Hard Done By” with host Paul Reiser accompanying on bongos. Frontman Gord Downie improvises a rant about Bill Clinton, featuring multiple expletives. CBS cuts away to a shot of Mariah Carey, who is there to hand out the next award. She mumbles something about how she thought Canadians were supposed to be polite, eliciting nervous laughter.

July, 1995: The band tours Europe with Radiohead and REM, first as openers, then as the second band. Each night, Radiohead refuses to play hit single “Creep” so the Hip cover it as the last song of each set, which is met with mixed reactions. Rolling Stone calls the band “subversive but essential” in a review of one gig, while REM would go on to cover “Grace, Too” on its 1998 Up tour.

May, 1996: 40 Gallons in a Steady Stream is released with “Gift Shop” as the first single. Directed by Anton Corbijn, the black and white video finds Downie and the band working as doctors in a rundown hospital, wearing scrubs covered in glitter. Bono makes a cameo as a patient, miming along to the “bah bah dah dahs.” It is a massive hit on MTV and Much Music.

December, 1996: “Ahead by a Century” is used in the film Jerry Maguire and appears on its soundtrack album. Director Cameron Crowe oversees a music video featuring the band and actor Jonathan Lipnicki as buskers waiting for a train, intercut with clips from the film. It hits #1 on most charts and the cassingle is the must-have stocking stuffer of the year.

January, 1997: The band lands its first Spin cover (Downie would appear again in a group shot with Carlos Santana, Mick Jagger and Lyle Lovett in 1999, while the band would appear again in 2002 and ’07).

February 1998: Downie visits his friends in the Barenaked Ladies in the studio and drops a verse on the song “One Week.” When the single is released, it is deemed a “Hip rip off” by fans, and BNL’s record, Stunt, is delayed for months. It is eventually released to lukewarm praise.

March, 1998: 40 Gallons’ third single “Butts Wigglin'” is remixed by Puff Daddy, featuring a new verse from Ma$e. The video is #1 on MTV’s Total Request Live for 16 straight weeks. When Downie is interviewed by Carson Daly, he lights up a joint live on the air (Daly takes a puff but does not inhale) and the network is fined $400,000. Daly loses his job and, after a stint on Queer as Folk, he leaves the entertainment world to devote his time to his family.

Summer, 1998: The band revives its 1993 Another Roadside Attraction touring festival, asking Sheryl Crow, the Wallflowers, Beastie Boys, Wilco and Jesus Lizard to come along for the ride, in addition to a re-united Eric’s Trip and the Barenaked Ladies.

October, 1998: The Hip shoots scenes for the pilot episode of Killer App, directed by Robert Altman and written by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau. The show is a huge hit on Fox, mostly due to the performances of the band, and a full season is ordered. Due to the band’s now busy schedule, it is unable to commit to the show and only tapes a handful of episodes. Downie recommends the Barenaked Ladies, noting that the band could “use the break in the states” and the ratings plummet. The show is canceled after 10 episodes but finds an audience online.

December, 1998: Drummer Johnny Fay ends his two year relationship with actress Jennifer Esposito.

July, 1999: The Hip headlines Woodstock ’99 with Rage Against the Machine. Downie speaks out on CNN against the violence that occurs at the festival, and alongside Sarah McLachlan, founds an anti-sexual violence foundation called Emergency, after the band’s hit single.

November, 1999: The soundtrack to the TV series King of the Hill is released, featuring the Hip b-side “Poets,” recorded during a touring lull.

August, 2001: Hip in America, the band’s first DVD documentary is released. Directed by Kid in the Hall Bruce McCulloch, it chronicles the group’s rise to fame. Longtime guitarist Paul Langlois is fired (or possibly quits) during the tour/film, and though the interaction is not caught on camera, McCulloch’s director commentary reveals that “it was not a mutual parting of ways.” Langlois returns to Ontario and begins jamming with then unknown Broken Social Scene members Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, later joining Treble Charger when Bill Priddle leaves to join BSS. Langlois is not immediately replaced and the band finishes the tour/documentary as a four piece.

October, 2001: Guitarist Mike Turner leaves Our Lady Peace and accepts an invite from Downie to jam with the Hip. He joins the band at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas for the recording of the still un-released @ Phantom Light. Producer Hugh Padgham, known for inventing the “gated drum” sound of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” oversees the sessions but gets into a scuffle with drummer Johnny Fay’s then girlfriend, Estella Warren. “He kept trying to ‘produce’ us,” Fay would tell Chart Magazine the following June. “If we wanted to be produced, we’d work with Bob Rock.”

December, 2001: Fay ends his six-month relationship with Estella Warren.

March, 2002: Turning down an offer to play themselves as curlers in Men with Brooms, the band members instead sue Napster for millions over bootlegs of the live versions of “Highway Girl” and “New Orleans is Sinking.” Downie hints to Pitchfork.com that he is working on a solo record.

May, 2002: Bobby Baker appears on a four-episode arc of Law & Order: SVU as Detective Leon Callucci.

Summer, 2002: Downie enters the studio for six months to record his only proper solo record, Road Diet. The album, produced by Rick White and released only on vinyl, features contributions from Joel Plaskett, John K. Samson, Jack White, Julie Doiron, Britney Spears, Josh Groban and Ron Hawkins. It is met with near universal praise when it is released just in time for Christmas.

December, 2002: Fay ends his 16-month relationship with Shannyn Sossamon.

March, 2003: Bobby Baker appears as Julie Cooper love interest “Carlo” on The O.C.

December, 2003: The band releases its first greatest hits compilation, Ahead by a Century: The Collection, featuring two new tracks, “Bobcaygeon” and “The Darkest Ones,” as well as a cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.” Absent are songs from the band’s first three records. The liner notes are written by Quentin Tarantino and Johnny Depp.

March, 2004: Downie begins blogging for Pitchfork and does so infrequently until 2013.

September, 2004: Fay releases a solo record, Me Alone + Kit, under the name The Johnny Fay Confusion. A video for the single “Death Knell” starring Anna Kournikova (his girlfriend at the time of filming) is released and is a minor hit on MTV and Much Music.

October, 2005: Guitarist Bobby Baker releases an album with members of Odds as Stripper’s Union.

June, 2005: The Hip does a small American club tour under the name The Filters to debut new material and play covers. It sells out in minutes.

December, 2005: Fay ends his two-week relationship with Ashanti.

March, 2006: Baker hints that the Hip is on hiatus during a radio interview, but Downie shrugs it off in a YouTube vlog, one of many he uploads throughout the year.

April, 2006: Gord Sinclair reveals in a MySpace blog that he is getting into music video direction, starting with “something really out there” for the White Stripes.

December, 2006: The Hip announces its first Canadian tour in eight years. Dubbed the “World Invader” tour, it will feature openers My Chemical Romance and The Bravery.

April, 2007: The “World Invader” tour is canceled after four shows. No reason is given.

June, 2007: Mike Turner is rumoured to re-unite with Our Lady Peace, though these rumours are later revealed by Stereogum.com to be false.

July, 2007: Tracks from the band’s long delayed @ Phantom Light record are leaked online. Guitarist Bobby Baker notes in an interview with chartattack.com about the second Stripper’s Union record that he is “glad” the songs are finally being heard, as Hip fans have waited long enough for new material.

December, 2007: Fay ends his two year relationship with Evangeline Lilly.

February, 2008: Sinclair writes and directs the indie film Sprawling starring Ryan Gosling, Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood. It premieres at Sundance and receives decent reviews. Gosling and Sinclair would go on to work three more times together, most notably on 2011’s mediocre Drive.

April, 2009: The band plays a rare set at Coachella, headlining day two in between Paul McCartney and The Cure. Amy Winehouse performs with the band during a mash-up medley of “Apartment Song” and “Rehab.” Views of the video exceed 50 million on YouTube.

July, 2009: Turner releases a five-song digital solo EP with Edwin from I Mother Earth on vocals, Meg White on drums and Sinclair on bass. Exclaim calls it “ambitious” and the “supergroup” does a brief campus tour.

June, 2010: Downie releases a solo digital single for free from his website. The track, which consists of four hours of humming and Fucked Up frontman Damian Abraham reading the entirety of Robert Munsch’s written work in French, receives a 9.7 on Pitchfork.

August, 2011: Fay tells Entertainment Tonight Canada that the new Hip record will “definitely be out by Christmas,” while promoting his new line of vegan hot dogs.

December, 2011: Fay ends his seven-month relationship with Olivia Wilde.

October, 2012: The band releases a second greatest hits package, simply titled Hip Hits, featuring a lone new offering, the Community referencing “Streets Ahead.” Hip fan and Community creator Dan Harmon directs a video starring Chevy Chase lip syncing the song (shot in a room similar to the one featured in the “You Can Call Me Al” video), which goes viral and saves the relationship between Chase and Harmon, extinguishing their feud. Chase decides not to leave Community, ratings soar, Harmon is never fired and the show lasts for 12 incredible seasons.

March, 2013: Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne and Downie form the duo MEL? and play several secret club shows in Europe. Jimmy Page attends one, later telling NME that it was “invigorating.” He asks Downie to do vocals on a new solo disc, but the singer declines. MEL? releases several singles available only with tabs of acid given out at Burning Man.

December, 2013: Fay ends his two year relationship with actress Mila Kunis.

June, 2014: Glastonbury books the “classic” Hip line up to play Day for Night in its entirety in honour of the band’s 20th anniversary. Original Hip saxophonist Davis Manning launches a Twitter campaign to be included in the reunion, despite never playing on any of the band’s records. The hashtag #Davis4Night goes viral, and the band invites him to play the gig. The performance is released as a live album/DVD set.

December, 2014: Fay ends his two month relationship with Kate Upton.

February, 2015: The band enters the studio with its original line up to work on new material, with plans to release something by Christmas of that year. The sessions are produced by 15-year-old Willow Smith, and a series of Vines are released to promote the making of the record.

December, 2015: Fay begins dating Zooey Deschanel.