MONTREAL - Kingston native Paul Langlois has spent decades rocking out bars, theatres, and arenas for music fans in Canada and across the planet as the guitarist for The Tragically Hip. The son of a French-Canadian, Langlois has been a Habs fan since the day he came into this world.
We caught up with the Hip axeman recently to find out more about his love for the bleu-blanc-rouge, his friendship with Kirk Muller, and more.
You're from Kingston, where it's possible to grow up a fan of the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Bruins, and more recently, Senators. How did you come to be a Montreal fan?
PAUL LANGLOIS: I had friends, Gord Downie included, who liked the Bruins. I never did. And my dad was French - his first language - so it was bred into me to love the Habs and it was bred into me to hate the Leafs. Our oldest daughter... I think I was away too much, because she's a Leafs fan. How did that happen? But I actually liked the Leafs once Doug Gilmour joined them. They became my second- or third-favorite team. And I always liked the Sens, but being a Habs fan was just bred into me. So I liked them from the age of zero up.
So it predated your friendship with Kirk Muller.
PL: It did. I was so happy that he came to play for Montreal. I played minor hockey, not at his level, obviously. He's a year younger than me, and there was a big front-page story when he was about 14 or 15 - he'd scored 222 goals or something in AAA minor hockey, so we all knew who he was. We went to different high schools, but I played soccer against him and we've been friends for a long time. All of us in the band were friends with him, same with Dougie Gilmour. He's a year older than me. We always followed [Muller's] career.
Do you have any stories about Kirk you could share with us?
PL: He is a very socially gifted individual. He's so nice to people. I've never seen anyone, honestly, walk into a room and make more people feel good about themselves. It's his specialty.
He invited Gord [Downie] and I to come out [and play hockey] in Kingston, must have been in the early or mid '90s. Gord was a goalie - quite a good one, he won a couple of Ontario championships with his team in Ernestown. All these NHL players, most of them younger than us, would get together in the summer. We played, and Wendel Clark happened to be running that, he had a summer place in Kingston. I ended up on the other team, and I had a chance for a breakaway. And all I heard behind me was Kirk on my team, and he was like, "Let him go! Get out of the way!" And the seas just parted. I was skating as fast as I could, but I'm sure I looked like I was in slow motion. I was allowed to go up, and I didn't score. But that's the kind of guy he is. Just a great guy, he's always been great to us. And we've always just enjoyed the relationship with him.
We were going to ask if you played hockey growing up…
PL: I played in the church athletic league, and then I played in the Kingston Minor Hockey Association for a while. I was decent, but not AAA level. I played with [Headstones singer and Flashpoint star] Hugh Dillon.
I was decent, but in my opinion, I was a lot better than [Blue Rodeo singer and guitarist] Jim Cuddy. We played in a musician's league later, in the late '90s or early 2000s when we first met and I'm pretty sure I'm better than he is, even though he runs the Juno Cup, but I'm better than he is.
Speaking of Hugh Dillon, you both played a show at the Kingston Penitentiary. Do you think it would be a good site for a professional hockey game?
PL: I wonder. There is a yard. We picked the site when you first go through the gates and get in there; the site was more of an amphitheater where the stage is at the bottom of a slight hill. The yard is in the back, and was where they played baseball and had weights, the typical prison yard. It's flat back there, I never thought of it. Nice idea. I don't know how many people you can get in there, but it's an interesting concept.
The Hip are as part of the Canadian fabric as hockey. What is the most Canadian thing to you?
PL: It's a unique experience up here; it's not all donuts and hockey and snow, but we have a mutual experience. I think that just like in any country, there's a mutual love for each other and the place, and hockey's obviously a big part of it. We were hockey fans; we enjoyed it. We killed time with it. We watched it when we weren't playing gigs because we were mostly on the road.
We're lucky, when we were coming up and we happened to write Fifty Mission Cap and have Fireworks and a couple of hockey tunes. We just felt so honored that some teams would play us in their dressing room, or warmups and we got to live that sort of dream.
You guys played your last show on August 20, 2016, to a sold out K-Rock Centre, but there were another 25,000 people watching the live feed of the performance around the corner at Springer Market Square and the CBC estimated that 11.7M people tuned in -- one-third of the country watched that show. Were you expecting that level of support?
PL: It sort of snuck up on us. We were out there on the tour and it was obvious from the very first show that wasn't necessarily what people were expecting. [Downie] wasn't up there crying about it. It was just kind of like, okay, let's just do what we do and play hard and let's make this a rock show and have fun. And I think that surprised and comforted people as we went across the country. We knew it was going to be filmed, broadcast, but it wasn't really until that day…
Fortunately, we were able to forget about it when we got up there, and just play a regular show. We had just played 14 shows every other day, so we were nice and we knew the songs, and we felt good together. So we just played the show like we would any other show. Didn't notice the cameras, didn't notice anything. But afterwards, it was kind of like, hey, it was a pretty big deal. Like really? Like how? Like, a big deal. Oh, yeah. Like, a lot of people watched. Oh really? A lot of people watched? Yeah, Market Square in Kingston, it was packed. Really?
We're just very lucky, and I'm just very happy that Gord got to do it - he really wanted to do it - and that we were able to help him, but that we got to do it as well. With all the situation, it couldn't have gone any better.