If you’re reading this and you know anything about my musical preferences you will know that there isn’t a band I hold in higher esteem than The Tragically Hip. For me, the most formative time in my life was near the end of what Americans would refer to as my sophomore year of college. Things were changing for me drastically. In the words of the great Michael Stipe, I was losing my religion, my politics were shifting, and the way I viewed the world was undergoing a metamorphosis of epic proportion. Looking back, if I were to pin this dramatic shift on a singular event, it would be the day I was introduced to The Hip. The countless hours I spent listening to them since that day almost had me believing I WAS Canadian – kidding (sort of)!

The Hip’s lyrics are metaphorical, literal, poetic, and nonsensical. They are the embodiment of when emotion, metaphor, and passion transitions to auditory art. One of my favorite songs by them, and I’ll be honest my favorite song changes from month to month, is Cordelia, an obvious metaphor referencing the Shakespearean tragedy King Lear. It’s exact meaning probably can’t be derived anymore since we’ve lost the legendary Gordon Downie.

However, Cordelia was King Lear’s favorite daughter, and when he tries to divide his kingdom evenly between his daughters, his only criteria is for them to publicly declare their love for him. Predictably, two of the daughters are all too eager to oblige while Cordelia refuses, claiming there are no words to adequately describe her love. So she becomes banished…. To keep this as short as possible, King Lear is betrayed by his two remaining daughters and eventually loses his faculties. Cordelia, still having love for her father, decides to come back and care for him. By the time she arrives to help, he no longer recognizes her. They eventually have one final and brief moment to reconcile before they are both executed. And while Gordon may not have had Canadian (and certainly not American) nationalism at the core of what he was writing, I think it remains analogous. Here’s the link. Go listen. No really, Go. I’ll wait….

CORDELIA: Lyrics by Gordon Downie

Angst on the planks, spittin’ from a bridge
Just to see how far down it really is
Robbing a bank, jumping on a train
Old antiques a man alone can entertain

It takes all of your power
To prove that you don’t care
I’m not Cordelia, I will not be there
I will not be there, I will not be there

Yeah

Tin can man, dragging from a car
Just to see how alive you really are
Marrying words, falling in your wake
Just to tell what you can’t eliminate

It takes all of your power
To prove that you don’t care
I’m not Cordelia, I will not be there

Treading the boards, screaming out Macbeth
Just to see how much bad luck you really get
Jump in the ring with your hidden cape
The bull can’t decide what it is that he really hates

It takes all of your power
To prove that you don’t care
I’m not Cordelia. I will not be there
Not be there, not be there

Angst on the planks, spittin’ from a bridge
Just to see how far down it really is
Robbing a bank, jumping on a train
Old antiques a man alone can entertain

It takes all of your power
To prove that you don’t care
I’m not Cordelia, I will not be there
Not be there, not be there

Thief lingers on, on his hands and knees
Must be one more thing he’ll really need
Die in your dreams, falling on your knife
A thief blinded on the job has to steal for life

It takes all of your power
To prove that you don’t care
I’m not Cordelia, I will not be there
Not be there, I will not be there
I will not be there, not be there

Back? Amazing right?

We’ve recently had a couple of patriotic themed holidays in North America, Canada Day on July 1st and good ole Independence Day here on the 4th. Frankly, there are a lot of people in the States not feeling so patriotic these days. It’s not like any of us are ready to storm the Capital and commit treason or anything, but when we see the flag flying, it doesn’t always come with the greatest connotations anymore. Trump certainly erased a lot of that with his outright bigotry, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and nepotism. He did all of this under the guise of patriotism, pride in our military, and all the patriotic dog whistles that tend to bring Americans running to drink whatever water is being served. That water is tainted, but it always has been. It’s tainted with our sheer inability to grapple with actual American history. We celebrate our revolution against a tyrannical empire that we somehow won, but we ignore how we, ourselves, became tyrants.

Canada has been having a reckoning with its own history with the discovery of hundreds of indigenous victims unceremoniously dumped into mass graves on the grounds of schools that were committing cultural genocide. Now the entire country, and the world, is witness to the physical genocide that took place. The last residential school closed in Canada in 1996. This isn’t ancient history, I was 15 when the last school closed in Canada. I don’t know how old I’ll be when the last school closes here, because according to Wikipedia, we still have as many as two-dozen open here in “The Land of the Free.” There are people alive today that went to these schools. They were torn from their families, stripped of their language, heritage, families, culture, and history. All in the name of making them less “savage” – even the racists must agree that we must not have done a great job because that’s typically how racists continue to see indigenous peoples and communities, oblivious to the fact that the very idea that we had a right to do this made us the savages.

While Canada has its national conversation about genocide, lets stop and think where the numbers would be here if we were to locate and find the burial grounds where we placed murdered slaves, Indigenous peoples, Asian Americans, and many other minority populations we’ve subjugated at home and abroad. We don’t seem to want to have that conversation because it doesn’t make us feel good, it’s in the past, we didn’t personally witness nor commit any of those atrocities. Okay… Nobody breathing today took down any Redcoats, or signed their names to any documents, or engaged in a single activity that helped this country gain independence, yet we are certainly willing to risk all of our limbs every year in order to celebrate it. The argument can be made that what is celebrated is the freedom that those acts gave us, and while that might seem like a compelling argument, it ignores the systems we currently enjoy and benefit from were built on the backs, and murders, of slaves and indigenous communities.

Canada certainly isn’t blameless in this conversation, but it is willing to have a more substantive discussion about its past than we are. There was actually a movement to hold off celebrating Canada Day this year in lieu of all the mass graves being discovered. It was an actual national discourse and conversation that happened. Can you even imagine that conversation happening here in the States? I know Republicans think leftists like me are trying to cancel America, but in reality they’ve never been more protected and enabled at any point in history as they are today. This country has never had more freedom to ignore the price that freedom came buy. People think only U.S. soldiers died to keep us free, when we haven’t fought a war where even an argument could be made that U.S. freedom was at stake in 80 years. And 80 years prior we were in a very different war contained within our own borders and many of the patriots of today seem utterly obsessed with another symbol of treason by flying a treasonous flag along side the other flag they so desperately cling to, so much so that they invent disrespect just so they can feel like they’re fighting for something.

Yet the price for being considered America’s favorite child is to publicly proclaim your love. A lot of us aren’t willing to pay that price anymore. It’s one thing to acknowledge the privilege to live in a country like this, but you have to also acknowledge the other kind of privilege it is built on. I don’t think Gordon, with his fierce commitment to indigenous issues in Canada, would’ve been anything but heart broken at what we’ve all seen. I don’t think he would’ve had any issue at all with cancelling Canada Day. Like Gordon, I am not Cordelia. Sure, I don’t engage in modern displays of patriotism. I don’t fly flags, I don’t light fireworks. My patriotism, because it does exist, is practiced by voting, staying civically involved, educating people on our real history, and not proudly proclaiming my love for country. In that respect, Cordelia and I probably have some similarities. There aren’t words to display my feelings, because what is being asked is that I only acknowledge the good, and to do so only distorts reality.

So when America eventually loses it’s faculties and the façade begins to fade away and the true horrors of our past become more apparent. When our literal skeletons are found and uncovered. When the masses beg us to come together as one and pretend that we weren’t forced to pretend for all of these years. When those that kneel are ostracized as unpatriotic and traitors by the very people that embrace treason. When those same people ask us to unite for the sake of the country, to come back and help the country heal just know:

It took all of your power
To prove that you don’t care
I’m not Cordelia, I will not be there

Thanks for sticking this one out.

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