Talking about why the Tragically Hip are an important Canadian band is, admittedly, cliché. And not particularly novel. But I'm going to do it anyway.
I've been working on how to play a stripped down version of "Three Pistols" lately, and was looking up the lyrics. I knew it was about Group of Seven painter Tom Thomson, but I wanted to check up a bit more.
That led me to The Hip Museum, the go-to source for interpreting Gord Downie's sometimes abstract lyrics. They actually have two entries on "Three Pistols", the second of which is a fairly lengthy discussion of Tom Thomson's life and influence, and the relevance to the song.
"Three Pistols" would be a hell of a song even if it had a different subject, but the genius of The Tragically Hip and Downie is to infuse their songs with lyrics that send you searching. So a guy who's not all that interested in art winds up spending an hour reading about one of Canada's great painters. It's a rare talent that can combine cultural importance with mass appeal, and I don't know that we'll see that combination in quite the same way ever again.