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Thursday, 09 June 2016 13:02

'Sarnia' in the title of song on upcoming album

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Singer Gord Downie is shown in this film photo as The Tragically Hip perform on the Bell stage Friday July 17, 2015 at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. The band's upcoming album includes a song titled In Sarnia. (File photo/Postmedia/Paul Morden/Sarnia Observer)


Tragically Hip fans in Sarnia are waiting to hear what Gord Downie has to say about their hometown.

A track listing for the album, Man Machine Poem, set for a June 17 release as the band prepares for what may be its final tour, includes a song titled “In Sarnia.”

Downie, the band's 52-year-old singer, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer several months ago but a summer Canadian Tragically Hip tour is going ahead.

An Aug. 8 show in London is the nearest date to Sarnia, a city the band visited several times over its long career, including three shows at the former Bayfest summer music festival, and earlier pre-fame gigs at the former Campbell Street Station.

That's where Paul Loewenberg first saw The Tragically Hip play.

The Sarnia native has lived for 26 years in Sudbury, where he's artistic director of the Northern Lights Festival Boreal, but before that he was managing a record store in Sarnia's downtown mall and living a block away from the Campbell Street Station.

His sister worked at the Station, and Loewenberg and his friends stopped in to hear bands, including the Tragically Hip at a time when the band’s career was just beginning.

“They had their first EP out, but I don't even think Up To Here was out yet,” Loewenberg said.

“They were a good rock and roll band, and I definitely followed them in the years to come after that, because of seeing a good show.”

A few years ago, Downie came to Sudbury to perform for the festival as part of his Country of Miracles solo project and Loewenberg drove the singer around town.

“The conversations with him were very, very normal,” Loewenberg said.

“He talked about his kids playing sports, and talked about hockey. He's just a very regular guy.”

The news about Downie's health is “such a shame,” Loewenberg said.

“I grew up in Sarnia and lived my life in Sudbury, and these are two cities that are very, very touched by cancer.

“It's always disheartening to hear another person, either your a friend, or a fan, that is going to have undertake this battle.”

John Wing, a comedian and poet who grew up in Sarnia and now lives in Los Angeles, said he met The Tragically Hip in the 1980s when the band opened a show he performed at, at The Campbell Street Station.

“I thought they were pretty cool,” Wing said.

A few years ago, he saw the band again in the airport in Toronto where they were all waiting for a flight to Los Angeles.

Wing said he went up to Downie and mentioned they had worked together years ago.

“He didn't remember it,” Wing said.

Later, Wing was surprised to see that the band flew coach and he watched as Downie spent the entire flight working on sheets of lyrics he kept in a doctor's bag.

Wing, who has published several volumes of poetry, said he considers Downie a poet.

“Nobody writes what he writes about, literally,” Wing said.

And, it's not just that Downie often writes about Canadian subjects.

“It's that he writes lyrics in a way that nobody else does, about things that nobody else writes about,” Wing said.

“I'm not even sure what At The Hundredth Meridian is about, but I like it.”

Lisa Daniels, curator-director of the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery in Sarnia, is also a fan of Downie and the band.

“Their music certainly has crossed multiple generations, and as the media and news has been saying, they're sort of a Canadian icon.”

Daniels said she noticed the upcoming album includes a song with Sarnia in the title, but added, “They write about small Ontario towns, like Bobcaygeon and Sarnia.”

Sarnia's Tracy Ranick describes herself as a “huge fan of Canadian music” and said she has gone to as many as eight Tragically Hip shows over the years, and saw Downie perform when he teamed up with the band The Sadies a couple of years ago at the Festival of Good Things in Sarnia.

“That there's a reference to Sarnia on their upcoming release is exciting,” Ranick said.

“I am anticipating a quirky, fun reference as I am quite sure they felt loved and appreciated when they played here.”

Roland Peloza, who runs the Cheeky Monkey record store on Christina Street, said he has been hearing some buzz around Sarnia about the Tragically Hip song on the upcoming album.

“A lot of people know there's a song on it called 'In Sarnia,' but nobody knows anything about it,” Peloza said.

Online searches for the song's lyrics come up empty.

“The album comes out in a little over a week, so I guess we'll find out then,” he said.

“I hope it's a nice song about the city,” Loewenberg said.

“It depends on how the song goes, it could be good or bad.”

Peloza said there is a great deal of interest in the upcoming album, and they've increased the number of copies the store normally orders in anticipation of the demand.

“Tragically Hip is usually a pretty big seller, but this one, I think, will be even bigger still because of what's going on with Gord Downie,” Peloza said.

The last time the band visited Sarnia, drummer Johnny Fay and guitarist Rob Baker stopped in at The Cheeky Monkey to buy some CDs and DVDs.

“That was definitely a memorable day on our calendar,” Peloza said.

“My sources tell me that the boys in The Hip, at least some of them, like to golf,” Peloza added.

He's also heard talk around town that some folks in Sarnia arrange tee times for band members when they're in the area.

“Maybe the song is going to be about Sarnia golf courses,” Peloza said.

When locally-raised golfer Mike Weir held a charity golf tournament in Bright's Grove several years ago, members of the band appeared along with other celebrities.

“We love this town,” band member Paul Langlois told The Observer in 2004 while attending that year's tournament.

Before the band's first Bayfest appearance in 2002, bass player Gord Sinclair told The Observer about his memories of the earlier years when they came to town to play the Campbell Street station.

“We were still doing three sets a night,” he said.

“I know we were still a cover band because the guy who used to run the Campbell Street Station insisted that you not play original music.”

Sinclair said they got around that by claiming their songs were unknown cuts from early albums by The Doors and the Rolling Stones.

He also talked about several of the songs on the album the band was promoting at the time and said, “Gord (Downie) is a great chronicler of our adventures on the road,

“Often you see these things re-emerge as lyrics in songs.”

Peloza calls himself a recent fan of The Hip.

“They kind of grew on me,” he said.

But, Peloza added, he has never watched the band perform live, and won't be at any of the shows on this tour, although he did try to buy tickets and, like so many others, “struck out.”

Ranick said the recent controversy over the sale of tickets to the tour, and their re-sale by brokers, has made her sad.

She said she decided not to pursue a brokered ticket and instead will make a donation to Downie's cancer charity, while celebrating the band by continuing to enjoy its music.

“I don't know anyone in Canada that wouldn't want to go,” Peloza said about the upcoming shows.

“Well, maybe my mother wouldn't.

“But as far as the average Canadian, 90 per cent of them would go if they had a chance.”

Original Article: http://www.theobserver.ca/2016/06/07/sarnia-in-the-title-of-song-on-upcoming-album