Tragically Hip – Ahead By A Century

I learned about this band from my Canadian friends Dave and Deke. What a wonderful band they were and I’m still shocked they didn’t make a bigger impact in America. The Tragically Hip remains a national treasure in Canada. This song is not only beautiful but it weaves together past, present, and future. It is about time, memory, loss, disappointment, and desire.

The song was released in 1996 on the album Trouble In The Henhouse. The album peaked at #1 in Canada, #7 on the Billboard Heatseeker Album Charts, and #134 on the Billboard Album Charts.

They got their name from Elephant Parts. That was a video by Michael Nesmith (Monkee guitarist) and they heard it in an Elvis Costello song (Town Cryer) also. Gordon Downie said: “There’s one skit in there that is sort [of] like a TV plea: ‘Send some money to the Foundation for the Tragically Hip.’ And that phrase has also appeared in an Elvis Costello song. It crops up every now and again, and it’s just a name that we like.”

They formed in 1984 in Kingston, Ontario. They were together until 2017. They have released 13 studio albums, one live album, one compilation album, two video albums, two extended plays, and a boxed set. In December 2015, their lead singer Gordon Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.


Following Downie’s terminal diagnosis, he soldiered on for one final tour with the group that had  over a thirty-plus-year career  and become known as “Canada’s Band.” Night after night, the group’s set closed with a lengthy ovation for a man that had…in his impressive body of work…seemingly captured everything that made Canada…well Canada.

On the last night of the tour – in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario – Downie said his final goodbye with this song. The credited songwriters are Rob Baker, Gordon Downie, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, and Gord Sinclair.

Gordon Downie died on October 17, 2017, and the country mourned his passing.

Gordon Downie: “Originally, that song was entirely different,” he revealed. “The lyrics were almost totally overhauled, which is not usually my style, but whatever—it seemed like the way to go. Originally, what was it: ‘First thing we’d climb a tree, and maybe then we’d talk; I will touch your cunt, you will touch my cock; then we’ll be married, then we won’t have to hide.’ Those were sort of working lyrics, but they stuck there, they said to me ‘innocence’, and that’s what I wanted, because I thought, ‘It’s two little kids, and they don’t know what a cunt is and they don’t know what a cock is—they just heard them called that.’

“People picked up on that within the band, but then it became apparent that I was going to have to defend one’s right to use words that possibly offend other people, and I didn’t really care to have a Lenny Bruce situation on my hands. But the biggest concern—which was pointed out to me by our guitar tech, Billy—was that no one’s gonna get to hear this song because no one’s gonna play it, and ultimately the real reason no one’s gonna hear it is because they’re only gonna hear those lines and not the rest of the song. People’s ears are gonna race to those words and start having a little debate about what those words mean.

The last concert and last song…Ahead By A Century

Ahead By A Century

First thing we’d climb a tree
And maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently
And listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday
Cast in a golden light
No dress rehearsal
This is our life

And that’s where the hornet stung me
And I had a feverish dream
With revenge and doubt
Tonight, we smoke them out

You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century

Stare in the morning shroud
And then the day began
I tilted your cloud
You tilted my hand
Rain falls in real time
And rain fell through the night
No dress rehearsal, this is our life

But that’s when the hornet stung me
And I had a serious dream
With revenge and doubt
Tonight, we smoked them out

You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century

You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century
And disappointing you is gettin’ me down