Last Thursday afternoon (March 26), Canadians from across the country were asked to join together to sing The Tragically Hip’s song “Courage” from their balconies, porches, and bedrooms. The day before, Montreal comedian Joey Elias has put the call out on his Twitter account, which was retweeted by former Tragically Hip members Paul Langlois and Gord Sinclair.
Now, members of local cover band The Tragically Hits have put out a call for Canadians to come together to sing The Tragically Hip’s song “Bobcaygeon” at 6 p.m. this Sunday (April 5th).
The Tragically Hits’ rhythm guitarist Richard Kyle, a Bobcaygeon resident, tells kawarthaNOW that “Sing Bobcaygeon From Your Front Porch” is intended to be a show of solidarity with the town.
“We hope you will help spread word of this event and then join us from your porch, balcony, or deck as we spread a positive message to a community that could really use the show of support at this time,” Kyle writes in an email.
Bobcaygeon has been devastated by the many deaths of residents at Pinecrest Nursing Home, located just south of the downtown area, as well as the death of Bobcaygeon resident Jean Pollock, who was the wife of one of the home’s residents, from COVID-19. The large number of deaths (22 as of Saturday, April 4th) has received national attention.
A group of concerned Bobcaygeon citizens has created the Bobcaygeon and Area COVID-19 Relief Fund to help patients, families, and health care workers affected by COVID-19 in Bobcaygeon and the surrounding area. The Kawartha Art Gallery has made a $2,500 donation to the fund in honour Pollock, who was a long-time volunteer of the gallery and a member of the gallery’s board.
Kyle says Tragically Hip guitarist Paul Langlois will be participating in Sunday’s event, singing from his own porch. For more information about the sing-along, visit the Facebook event page.
Bobcaygeon will be sung this Sunday at 6pm Keri. There's a group of people from there who are organising and promoting it on facebook. I'll be back on my porch again then to sing along with them. The fb link to it that I have doesn't work it seems, but I'm sure you can find it!! https://t.co/7gwKEn0ewv
— paul langlois (@paullanglois101) April 2, 2020
Syd Birrell, artistic director of the Peterborough Singers, says the choir has an arrangement of “Bobcaygeon” by choir member David Geene, and that each member of the choir will be joining the sing-along from their own porches using that arrangement.
To encourage everyone to participate, including those who might not be familiar with “Bobcaygeon”, we’ve put together some resources below, including the official video, lyrics, and the story behind the song. We’ve also included more information about the Bobcaygeon and Area COVID-19 Relief Fund, if you wish to donate to help those in need in Bobcaygeon.
The official video
I left your house this morning
About a quarter after nine
Coulda been the Willie Nelson
Coulda been the wine
When I left your house this morning
It was a little after nine
It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves one star at time
Drove back to town this morning
With working on my mind
I thought of maybe quittin’
Thought of leaving it behind
Went back to bed this morning
And as I’m pulling down the blind
Yeah, the sky was dull and hypothetical
And fallin’ one cloud at a time
That night in Toronto
With its checkerboard floors
Riding on horseback
And keepin’ order restored
Til The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Stepped to the mic and sang
And their voices rang with that Aryan twang
I got to your house this mornin’
Just a little after nine
In the middle of that riot
Couldn’t get you off my mind
So I’m at your house this mornin’
Just a little after nine
Cause it was in Bobcaygeon where I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves one star at time
The story behind the song
The Tragically Hip released Bobcaygeon in February 1999 as a single from their sixth album Phantom Power. The song went on to win the Juno Award for Single of the Year in 2000 and has since become one of the band’s most enduring and beloved signature songs.
The song is named after Bobcaygeon, Ontario, a town in the City of Kawartha Lakes about 160 kilometres northeast of Toronto. According to The Tragically Hip’s frontman Gord Downie (who died from brain cancer in October 2017 at the age of 53), the song was not specifically written about the town itself, but rather any small town. He chose Bobcaygeon mainly because it was the only place name he could find that came close to rhyming with the word “constellation”.
The song’s narrator works as a police officer in Toronto (although the police uniform in the video is generic). He’s thinking about quitting his stressful job as he drives back to Toronto from Bobcaygeon, where he sees “the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time” — in contrast to Toronto’s “dull and hypothetical” skies that are “falling one cloud at a time”.
In live performances, Downie referred to “Bobcaygeon” as a “cop love song”, although the gender and identity of the narrator’s love interest changed from performance to performance. In the original video, the police officer’s partner is female, but Downie sometimes introduced the song in concert as being “about a couple of gay cops that fall in love”.
A secondary theme of the song is about racism and anti-Semitism. Downie sometimes introduced the song with “This one asks the question: evil in the open or evil just below the surface?”. In the song’s official video, Rob Baker’s guitar has “This machine kills fascists” written on it.
The song’s bridge refers to the British rock band The Men They Couldn’t Hang performing at a concert at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern (which has checkerboard floors). When they begin to sing their song “Ghosts of Cable Street” (which is about the Battle of Cable Street riot in London in 1936) in an “Aryan twang” (a reference to Neo-Nazis), a similar brawl or riot appears to erupt between fascist and anti-fascist activists in the audience. The narrator, who is mounted on horseback, keeps thinking of his lover in Bobcaygeon while he’s dealing with the rioters.
Another common interpretation of the lyrics in the bridge is that they refer to the Christie Pits riot of Toronto in 1933, when a group of fascists from a Toronto gang called the Swastika Club brawled with a group of young Jewish men after a baseball game. A similar public brawl in Toronto between the Neo-Nazi group Heritage Front and Anti-Racist Action happened in 1993, just a few years before Downie wrote the song.
VIDEO: “Bobcaygeon” Trailer
The Tragically Hip performed in Bobcaygeon for the first time on June 24, 2011, during The Big Music Fest that was attended by 25,000 people. Director Andy Keen documented the band’s appearance is his 2012 film Bobcaygeon.
On the final night of The Tragically Hip’s the Man Machine Poem Tour, which saw the band’s concert in Kingston broadcast nationally by CBC Television, the town of Bobcaygeon held a public viewing on its main street.
In addition to local residents, the event was also attended by a significant number of people who had made a pilgrimage to view the concert there because of the song. The “Concert Under the Constellations” event was the largest public event in the town’s history, garnered more widespread media coverage than any other public viewing party anywhere in Canada outside of Kingston, and a fundraising initiative during the event resulted in the largest single tour-related donation to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Trivia: the song’s reference to “Willie Nelson”, the legendary folk-country singer-songwriter, is also a slang reference to cannabis (Nelson is a frequent user).
Sources: Wikipedia, Stephen Dame of The Hip Museum
Bobcaygeon and Area COVID-19 Relief Fund
A group of concerned Bobcaygeon citizens has created a fund to help patients, families, and health care workers affected by COVID-19 in Bobcaygeon and the surrounding area.
The fund, which is administered by the Community Foundation of Kawartha Lakes and advised by members of the Bobcaygeon community under the leadership of City of Kawartha Lakes councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan, is intended to provide eligible recipients with immediate assistance, including food supplies, transportation, technology, hiring and overtime costs, and mental wellness counselling.
The eligibility of each recipient will be determined collaboratively by the Community Foundation of Kawartha Lakes and the Bobcaygeon advisors. The approach to determine the eligibility of the recipients of the fund will be accountable as well as generous and inclusive.
The Community Foundation of Kawartha Lakes will supply the funds to local businesses, charities, and municipal bodies to deliver the funded goods and services to those identified in need. All activities undertaken will align with the objectives of the Community Foundation of Kawartha Lakes and charitable purposes as defined by the Canadian Revenue Agency.
To make a donation to the Bobcaygeon and Area COVID-19 Relief Fund, contact foundation coordinator Margaret Cunningham at 705-731-9775 or email@example.com.
Bobcaygeon and area patients, families, and health care workers in need should contact Seymour-Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was updated to include information about the Bobcaygeon and Area COVID-19 Relief Fund.