"...If there's a goal that everyone remembers, it was back in ol' 72
It was a September to remember. In 1972, the powers that be within the National Hockey League Players Association came up with an idea that would generate funds for their fledgling retirement fund. Canada's All Stars would play the Soviet Union's best in an 8 game international hockey series. The idea was pure marketing genius. Not only would the series appeal to the nationalistic tendencies of the Cold War, but also to the wounded pride of Canadians and their national game. Never being able to ice the best of the best at the then purely amateur Olympics, Canadian hockey fans could excuse their teams two decades of futility with the popular refrain: "If only our best were playing..." In '72, the best would be playing, and it was a chance for Canada to regain her hockey supremacy. Gord Downie's godfather, Harry Sinden, was Team Canada's head coach.
The series itself has become steeped in lore and mythology. It was our way of life against theirs. It was good old Canadian boys versus the evil emissaries of Stalin's Empire. It was Communism against Democracy and East versus West. The series unfolded over eight nights in various Canadian and Russian cities. The Soviets cruised to an early lead during the games held in Canada, shocking Canadian fans and players who had been brash, cocky and downright disrespectful heading into the showdown.
By the time the series moved to Russia, it had all the makings of a Hollywood classic. The good guys stormed back and won the last three games of the series, all on winning goals by Paul Henderson. Henderson's dramatic goal (the one 'that everyone remembers') in the last gasps of game eight saved Canadian pride, and made him a national hero.
Everybody who was around at the time, has, or has heard, a "where were you story" about Henderson's goal. My fathers goes like this: He was working in a retail outlet on the day of the final game, a few doors down from a popular sports bar. When Henderson scored, thanks to the streets being deserted and the store being empty, he could audibly hear the roar from down the road. Foster Hewitt's call of the goal, and the image of Yvan Cournoyer hugging Henderson afterwards, have become extremely familiar facets of Canadian culture.
"...You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr"
Bobby Orr is considered by some to be the greatest hockey player of all time, and is without question among the top two defenseman to ever play the game. Orr starred for Harry Sinden's Boston Bruins and won the Stanley Cup twice, first with this famous cup winning goal in 1970. Orr did not play for Team Canada in 1972 due to a knee injury. He was on the Team Canada roster and traveled to Russia to support his teammates.
"...Crisis of faith and crisis in the Kremlin..."
"...Next to your comrades in the national fitness program."
The Cold War, like any self respecting conflict, was full of propaganda on both sides. During the '72 Series, the stereotypes and fears of all encompassing Soviet collectivity were laid bare. Newspaper columnists and hockey analysts blamed the "national programs" and top down coordination of the central Soviet state for their early domination of the series. In everything from fitness to flash dancing, the Soviets had produced hard, focused and callous physical specimens. These half man, half machines were part of the larger Communist plot to be certain, and the paranoia surrounding all things Soviet spread from sports to business to military concerns. In reality, the national Soviet programs were abysmally run and were bankrupting the Kremlin; seat of Soviet power, site of its palaces and legislative complex and the symbol of Mother Russia.While much is made of the bi-polar nature of the "Superpowers" involved in the Cold War, a closer study of history has revealed that only once, when the Soviets had nuclear missles based in Cuba, did the Empire have the capacity to strike against the United States. In reality, the Soviets never possessed the delivery capacity to engage in a full-on nuclear war with the U.S. C. John Runions, of the Oxford School of Life Sciences had this to add: "Just a small one to add because I think that two memories of my childhood that Tragically Hip lyrics most strongly evoke come from the song Fireworks. I do remember where I was when Henderson scored the goal and I also remember being 'caught is some eternal flexed-arm hang.' I am Gord's age or thereabouts so I can tell you that he is talking about himself in public school Gym class. The Canadian government decided that Canadians were too flabby so in 1971 or '72 they started the Canada Fitness Program as a social experiment. This was later encompassed by the 'Participaction' advertising campaigns of the 1970's. I have discovered one person's blog from 2003 where several people discuss the Canada Fitness Program so I know that I didn't dream it. School kids were evaluated in six fitness tests: vertical jump, 100 yard dash (before metric), speed situps, flexed-arm hang, the shuttle run, and something else that I don't remember - probably the mile run or 'endurance' run that I am forgetting due to the trauma involved. Based on overall score, students were awarded bronze, silver, gold, or the much sought after 'Award of Excellence' crests. These are, I imaging, collectors items 35 years later. In the flexed arm hang, one had to hang from a bar with arms bent at 90 degrees at the elbows for as long as possible. This was hard to do and usually resulted in you and your comrades 'falling to the floor in fits of laughter' within 5-30 seconds. Some of the superheros could go on for 2 minutes or more. Gord's use of the word 'comrades' nicely ties this Canadian program in with the cold war imagery of the rest of the song. Most of us weren't great at the fitness tests but we had fun doing them for the most part."
"...Fireworks exploding in the distance
Gord Downie has remarked that the inspiration for this lyric came from his critical assessment of the music industry. While the industry creates pop stars and flashes-in-the-pan in the hopes of cashing in on the latest fad, these tenuous trend setters obscure real stars, and real music.
Temporary towers rise in the form of the latest "it" acts. These 'here today, punch-line tomorrow' fireworks make a huge impact. They dazzle us for a short time, while overshadowing the actual and omni present talent. They then quickly evaporate before our eyes. When they're gone, the stars continue to shine brightly, but the industry keeps packing that powder in preparation for the next show.
Gordon Welch had this insightful bit of info to add: "And believing in the country of me and you"I have always thought this line was a reference to the novel "Mother Night" by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. In Mother Night, the protagonist Howard W. Campbell claims no country, no political values, wanting only to live in a "nation of two" with his beloved wife Helga. The idea presented is that a couple can form a sovereign territory separated from and defended against the madness of the world around it. Play Song