See ya on the ice, eh: Canada waves goodbye to a national treasure

“There’s this fucking band you got to see

“They used to scare the living shit out of me”

gorddownieThat was written about Nirvana by Kingston, Ontario’s own Tragically Hip.

But it could equally apply to the Hip (this has nothing to do with food safety).

The first time I saw the Hip was in 1990 in a Waterloo, Ontario bar (that’s in Canada, the place where all those tech innovations come from) with my first wife who was pregnant with our second daughter.

From 1989-2000, the Hip was my soundtrack. I ran thousands of kilometers to Up to Here.

Jared Lindzon of Rolling Stone writes that countless better-known acts have come out of Canada, but if the nation ever had a true musical spokesperson, it might be Gord Downie, frontman and primary songwriter of the Tragically Hip. During their 32-year history, the band has notched countless hits – including 11 Top 10 Canadian singles – that many in the country can recite by heart.

But on May 24th, Canadians awoke to tragic news; the front page of every news site coast-to-coast announced that the singer’s days were numbered. “A few months ago, in December, Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer,” the band wrote on its Facebook page. 

Later that day Downie’s neuro-oncologist, Dr. James Perry, announced that Downie had undergone surgery to remove the bulk of the tumor, followed by six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, but a complete recovery was unlikely. “Unfortunately, one day it will come back,” he said at a Toronto press conference.

With the news of Downie’s diagnosis came one final opportunity to celebrate a cultural institution. On July 22nd the band will embark on a final Canadian tour to promote its 14th studio album, Man Machine Poem, which came out in June.

59854aSuperstars at home, the Tragically Hip have never achieved fame beyond Canada’s borders. Nine of their albums have reached the top spot on Canadian music charts, but in the United States, the band has never broken the Top 100. “This band could have been U2, if not for some unlucky breaks,” Barenaked Ladies singer-guitarist Ed Robertson told Rolling Stone. “The quality and the appreciation of this band is not unique to its Canadian-ness. It’s just happenstance that they’re not as big as the biggest bands in the world.”

In 2014 Rolling Stone listed the band as one of 20 Hugely Popular Musicians Who Haven’t Gotten Famous in America (Yet), and in a 2011 cover story featuring the Sheepdogs, the then-unsigned Canadian winners of RS’ “Choose the Cover” contest, author Austin Scaggs drew ire with his mention of the “awful yet extremely popular Canadian band, the Tragically Hip.”

“Having met them, none of them have ever [struck] me as people who wanted to be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine,” says Dallas Green, a Canadian musician who performs under the alias City and Colour, and was previously the lead singer and guitarist of Alexisonfire. “I think they’re just happy to be able to [continue performing], and that’s another reason why I love them.”

“[Interviewers] always ask us about our success or lack of success in the States, which I find absurd,” Downie once said. “While that is a story of the band, there are so many other stories.”

The more significant story of the Tragically Hip is one of mutual respect and appreciation between a country and one of its most prolific rock bands. The group’s lyrics often portray long-forgotten moments from the nation’s shared history, familiar scenes of Canadian life and, of course, hockey. The 1992 hit “Fifty Mission Cap” tells the story of Bill Barilko, the Toronto Maple Leaf defenseman who scored the 1951 Stanley Cup-winning goal before perishing in a plane crash. “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)” is dedicated to a mid-20th-century Canadian novelist, and “Wheat Kings” tells the story of David Milgaard, a Canadian wrongfully accused of murder.

As the Tragically Hip have paid tribute to their native country, Canada has celebrated them right back. In 2002 they earned a place on Canada’s Walk of Fame, and in 2012 their hometown of Kingston, Ontario, renamed the block outside of its downtown music venue Tragically Hip Way. In 2005 they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and in 2013 the band was featured on a Canada Post stamp. A change.org petition with nearly 70,000 signatures seeks to award the band with the Order of Canada, considered among the highest honors in the land, and Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson has declared the date of the band’s final show in the city, July 26th, as Tragically Hip Day.

maxresdefaultAs news began to spread about Downie’s medical condition, many took to social media to pay their respects. Fellow Canadian musicians Sloan, Billy Talent, Nickelback, Death From Above 1979, Arkells, Hey Rosetta! and Matthew Good offered tributes and well-wishes to Downie. Even the Trailer Park Boys, who starred in the music video for the Tragically Hip’s “The Darkest One,” tweeted that they were “sending all our love and best wishes to the magnificent Gord Downie.”

“Gord Downie is a true original who has been writing Canada’s soundtrack for more than 30 years,” tweeted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “I am lucky enough to have seen many Tragically Hip concerts throughout my life, and Gord Downie is someone I have an extraordinary amount of respect for,” the Prime Minister later elaborated at a press conference. “His status as an extraordinary Canadian creative force and icon is not to be understated. Mostly, he’s just a great guy, and I know I speak for all Canadians when I say, ‘We’re with you, Gord.'”

Downie’s generosity is often cited by those who know him personally, including Green, who met the singer in 2008. Struggling to finish a song he began writing in high school, Green found inspiration while listening to the Tragically Hip’s music, and after completing the track, he got in touch with Downie to ask if he would be interested in singing on the 2008 single “Sleeping Sickness.”

“One morning I got to the studio and he was already there,” he tells RS. “He had gotten up at six in the morning and drove from Kingston to Hamilton [Ontario] to sing and hang out with me at the studio. I’ll never forget sitting there with my headphones on, right beside him, watching him sing words that I wrote on one of my songs. It was one of the most surreal, magical experiences I have ever and will ever have. And then he just got in his car and drove back.”

The Tragically Hip’s final, 15-performance cross-Canada tour will begin in Victoria, British Columbia, and make its way east before concluding in Kingston on August 20th.

The nation’s public broadcaster, the CBC, will air that final show live. Small towns and major cities across the country have already announced public viewing parties, giving their citizens one final opportunity to celebrate their national treasure together.

Though Downie’s future is uncertain, Green and Robertson take some solace in knowing that the music will live on.

“This is one of the greatest bands of all time,” Green says. “And I don’t mean Canadian band – I mean they’re one of the greatest bands of all time. Their history speaks for itself. And Gord, specifically, he’s one of the greatest songwriters I’ve ever heard.”

“They’re a fucking amazing band, with one of the greatest frontmen ever in rock & roll,” adds Robertson. “It doesn’t go away after the last Hip tour. It’s not diminished at all by the fact that they’re bigger in Canada than anywhere else. The music stands for itself. It’s there, ready to be discovered and appreciated by anyone around the world.” 

“An Inch An Hour”

I want a book that’ll make me drunk

Full of freaks and disenfranchised punks

No amount of hate, no load of junk

No bag of words, no costume trunk

Could make me feel the same way

An inch an hour, two feet a day

To move through night in this most fashionable way

There’s this fucking band you got to see

They used to scare the living shit out of me

No frothing dog, no cool insanity

No rock and roll, no christianity

Makes me feel the same way

An inch an hour, two feet a day

To move through night with very little else to say

But I’m helpless less with the people than the space

No struggle town, no bemused Trudeau

No solitary walks through vacant lots in moon glow

Tonight the winter may have missed its mark

You can see your breath in springside park

Coffee coloured ice and peeling birch bark

The sound of rushing water in the dark

Makes me feel the same way

An inch an hour, two feet a day

To move through life with very little else to say

But I’m helpless more with the people than the space

I mean I’m helpless less with the people than the space

You see, I don’t know Neil, I don’t know Neil

Another use for thermometers: Drinking coffee hotter than 149F ‘probably’ causes cancer or means you’re dumb

Drinking coffee, tea and other beverages at temperatures hotter than 149 degrees Fahrenheit may lead to cancer of the esophagus, the World Health Organization reported Wednesday.

bill.murray.coffeeBeverages that are too hot can injure cells in the esophagus and lead to the formation of cancer cells, said Mariana Stern, an associate professor of preventative medicine and urology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

But a cup of joe at the right temperature might not be so dangerous, and it could even be beneficial. Scientists said coffee at cooler temperatures is safe to drink and may decrease the risk of liver cancer by 15%, according to the research published in Lancet Oncology on Wednesday. Previously, the International Agency for Research on Cancer ruled coffee was a “possibly carcinogenic” in 1991.

“This gets the word out for more people to be aware that coffee is a healthy beverage and that it’s part of a healthy diet,” National Coffee Association President Bill Murray (right, not exactly as shown) said. “It’s an opportunity for people to drink a little more coffee and create more business.”

The research involved Stern and 22 other scientists from 10 countries, who examined about 1,000 studies on more than 20 types of cancer. They determined that drinking very hot beverages are “probably carcinogenetic,” with a higher risk of developing cancer of the esophagus.

CDC researchers link cancer cells from parasite to human tumors

Scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have discovered cancer cells originating in a common tapeworm may take root in people with weakened immune systems, causing cancer-like tumors. It is the first known case of a person becoming ill from cancer cells that arose in a parasite – in this case, Hymenolepis nana, the dwarf tapeworm.

dwarf.tapewormThe report, in the Nov. 5 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, raises concern that other similar cases, if they occur, may be misdiagnosed as human cancer – especially in less developed countries where this tapeworm and immune-system-suppressing illnesses like HIV are widespread.

“We were amazed when we found this new type of disease – tapeworms growing inside a person essentially getting cancer that spreads to the person, causing tumors,” said Atis Muehlenbachs, M.D., Ph.D., staff pathologist in CDC’s Infectious Diseases Pathology Branch (IDPB) and lead author of the study. “We think this type of event is rare. However, this tapeworm is found worldwide and millions of people globally suffer from conditions like HIV that weaken their immune system. So there may be more cases that are unrecognized. It’s definitely an area that deserves more study.”

Puzzling case solved

In 2013, doctors in Colombia asked CDC to help diagnose bizarre biopsies from lung tumors and lymph nodes of a 41-year-old man who was HIV positive. The tumors looked similar to a human cancer, but initial CDC lab studies revealed the cancer-like cells were not human. That revelation kicked off a nearly three-year hunt for the cause of the man’s illness.

Researchers with IDPB, the CDC unit dedicated to investigating cases of unexplained illness and death, initially questioned whether it was an unusual cancer or an unknown infection. The growth pattern was decidedly cancer like, with too many cells crowded into small spaces and quickly multiplying. But the cells were tiny – about 10 times smaller than a normal human cancer cell. The researchers also noticed cells fusing together, which is rare for human cells.

  1. nanainfects up to 75 million people at any given time, making it the most common tapeworm infection in humans. People get the tapeworm by eating food contaminated with mouse droppings or insects or by ingesting feces from someone else who is infected. Children are most often affected. Most people show no symptoms. However, in people whose immune systems are weak, including people who have HIV or are taking steroids, the tapeworm thrives.

Some 3,000 kinds of tapeworms are known to infect animals. But H. nana is the only one that can complete its entire lifecycle from egg to adult tapeworm within an individual’s small intestine. This can lead to large numbers of H. nana in the intestine, especially in people with weakened immune systems whose bodies have a harder time fighting the parasite. Researchers theorize that the mechanism that allows parasites like H. nana to avoid human immune systems may also have allowed the tapeworm’s cells to proliferate unchecked in the Colombian man.

Souse your steak to ward off cancer

After spending all day leaning against an abandoned shed in the woods with just a rifle and a flashlight, my husband got his doe.

That means lots of deer burger, a few roasts and several steaks are now stuffed in our freezer to feed us cheap for a while.

I’m new to the taste of venison and really hate the way it smells when it’s browning, but my husband makes a delicious teriyaki marinade that covers the gamey taste of those deer steaks perfectly.

He leaves mine on the grill until it’s well-done. That’s how I like it. I think more rare meat has a stringy/gummy texture that is most undesirable.

I know my preference is among the minority, though.

My food microbiology professor boasted of eating his steaks near raw: As long as the steaks haven’t been pierced before cooking (which would allow any bacteria on the outside to get inside the meat), the cook only needs to sear the surface to be rid of most things that could make him sick.

Some people shy away from well-done steaks because meats cooked to high temperatures form heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAs). These HAs are thought to contribute to some types of cancer.

There is hope for the devout well-done crowd, though. Food chemists in Portugal have found that the formation of HAs is significantly reduced when beef steaks are marinated in red wine or beer for six hours before being pan-fried.

I wonder how it does with venison?