Gord Downie was the lead singer of the Canadian band, The Tragically Hip. He passed away at the age of 53 Tuesday night. I never met him, but this feels very personal. It’s like the loss of a friend.
Here is the thing about The Hip, they were Canada. Recently BJ wrote that Robert Frost speaks to Americans in their DNA. Well, that’s pretty much The Hip and Canada. If I had to explain why that is, obviously you would talk about their songs and how they reference hockey, Tom Thompson, and the prairies, and the Opera House in Toronto. But that’s not quite it. It’s more than that. It’s a feeling.
Gord was a poet. It’s that simple. He was able to distill emotions and paint pictures with his words and through the songs of the band. He tapped into the Canadian identity. When I was young, maybe around 10 or 12, there were these stickers put out by a liquor company (I think) that said ‘Proud to be Canadian’. I remember being puzzled by that. What was it to be a ‘proud Canadian’? It seemed like a weird concept. We are not a flag waving, wearing-our-Canadian-pride-on-our-sleeves kind of country. Here is the thing – we are now. Maybe not like our neighbours to the south, but we are definitely loud(er) and proud(er) of it than we used to be back in those ‘sticker’ days. For my generation, Gord and the Tragically Hip helped us find our way to being proud Canadians.
The Hip did a farewell concert tour last year (after Gord announced his cancer diagnosis), and the CBC broadcasted their last concert. Nationally. Across the country. Commercial free. People gathered in bars and in living rooms and cottage campfires to watch. Even though I was sitting on my sofa in my apartment, I knew I was watching and singing along with the rest of the country.
I’ve seen the band countless times, but my favourite memory is from the last time that I saw them, January 2015 in Windsor. It was the first time that (my now husband) BJ and I went to a concert together. The band started playing “Wheat Kings”, BJ put his arm around me and we swayed and sang along to the song. It was one of those moments where you want to hang on to it forever.
Then there was Gord Downie. He gets served a terminal brain cancer diagnosis and he goes on to do a farewell tour with his band, record new songs, write a book. He used his time left to shine light on indigenous rights and issues. He was incredible and brave and inspiring.
Thanks Gord, for the songs and the memories. Thanks for helping us find and celebrate our Canadian pride. Thanks for showing us the path forward to make us a better country. You will most definitely be missed.
Late breaking story on the CBC
A nation whispers, “We always knew that he’d go free”
They add, “You can’t be fond of living in the past
‘Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re going to last”