Bobcaygeon references


"...Coulda been the Willie Nelson, coulda been the wine."

Willie Nelson is of course the folk and country music legend behind such hits as "On The Road Again" and many others. But rumour has it that the "Willie Nelson" is also a slang term the kiddies are using nowadays for the weed, the wacky tobacky, the Hippie Lettuce, the non-stop THC commuter train to Stonerville: marijuana. Whether it is a reference to two intoxicating agents, or the music of Willie Nelson exerting intoxicating influences itself, it's a beautiful little piece of poetry.

The Tragically Hip and Willie Nelson would go on to share the bill as part of Woodstock '99.

"...It was in Bobcaygeon, where I saw the Constellations
Reveal themselves one star at a time."

Bobcaygeon is a serene small town in Central Ontario's cottage country. From, of all places, a now defunct Wisconsin based photo site, comes this little bit of interesting history: "The origin of the name Bobcaygeon can be traced back to as early as 1615, when Samuel de Champlain traveled through this area. In his diary, he noted that the forests around this area were the finest he had observed in all his travels, and described it as "beaubocage" (beau = beautiful, bocage = hedged farmland). Two centuries later, the first white settlers arrived to hear the Indigenous Mississauga calling it "Bobcajewonunk," their version of the name Champlain had used. This word developed into meaning "narrow place between two rocks, where water rushes through." It aptly described this site before a wooden dam and lock were built, altering though not erasing its beauty. Built on three islands where Sturgeon Lake flows into Pigeon Lake, Bobcaygeon is divided by the Trent Canal, and flanked on either side by the Big Bob and Little Bob rivers, with 7 bridges joining everything together."

Gord was asked during a 1998 appearance on Sausalito, California radio about his choice of song setting. "You could use any small town really," he said. "Bobcaygeon rhymes with constellation... sort of."

"...That night in Toronto, with it's checkerboard floors
Riding on horseback, keeping order restored
Til the men they couldn't hang
Stepped to the mic and sang
And their voices rang with that Aryan twang."

"...In the middle of that riot, couldn't get you off my mind   

As with most Hip songs, "Bobcaygeon" defies easy explanation and seems to be alluding to multiple references. Of the most commonly discussed and debated is the songs hint of intolerant thugs clashing with mounted cops in "Toronto The Good." Gord took to introducing the song during 2004 with: "This one asks the question: evil in the open or evil just below the surface?"

Toronto, the capital of Ontario and also Canada's largest city, was once known derisively in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the Stern Voice of God in the British Empire. The town was notorious for the moral righteousness of its leaders as well as their prohibition laws and church laden approach to addressing social problems. The city, which today is proudly called the "most multicultural city on earth" lost its stoic and stuffy image and was permanently scarred in 1933 by the Riot at Christie Pits. During an afternoon softball game at the 30 acre park, a horde of Nazi sympathizers from a Toronto gang called the Swastika-Club brawled with a group of young Jewish men.

Like a school yard fight, word of the confrontation spread quickly throughout the city, bringing additional fighters and onlookers in a flood. The police in the area were overwhelmed, and didn't restore order until 2:30am the next morning. The swastika flag which is thought to have started the whole thing was captured by Jewish youth and destroyed. The men who sewed the banner were sent scurrying and the Jewish community around Harbord Street claimed victory.

Toronto was again touched by hate-induced violence in 1993 when members of the Neo-Nazi group the Heritage Front (scum who may also be referenced in Fire In The Hole) engaged in a bloody street fight with a group calling themselves Anti-Racist Action. Once again, Toronto police were caught helpless, and the city stood with its tolerant reputation in tatters.           

This theme is strenghtened by the 1930's Woody Guthrie-esque anti-hate message scrawled across Bobby's acoustic guitar at the end of the Bobcaygeon video: "This Machine Kills Fascists."

The Men They Couldn't Hang were a British band who wrote a song called Ghosts of Cable Street. The song, fitting with the apparent theme in Bobcaygeon, was about fascists and anti-fascists clashing in London.

The Men They Couldn't Hang played at Lee's Palace, a Toronto club, in 1986. The Hip themselves graced the stage at Lee's in their early days. The Hip also played the Horseshoe Tavern, which does, in fact, have famous checkerboard floors and is believed to be the venue referenced here.

EXTRA CREDIT: If you look real close and quick below Gord Sinclair's feet during the riot scene in the Bobcaygeon video, you'll notice the back of a head, and an arm decked out in a plaid sleeve thrusting rhythmically and angrily into the air... that would be me. My sister knew "the Hip's photographer," a guy named Chris, who did graciously sneak us into the shoot as extras. It was shot in a warehouse off Cherry Street in Toronto during January of 1999. We met the band, who could not have been nicer, and when Gord Downie was told of our plans to see the band in Hamilton, Mississauga and Ottawa that winter, he thanked us and shook our hands.

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