The news broke across the airwaves earlier this week that a beloved Canadian has passed away: “Gord Downie, frontman of The Tragically Hip has succumbed to his battle with brain cancer”. I heard our country gasp in the short pause that followed.
Despite the knowledge of his battle with cancer being revealed well over a year ago, Gord Downie’s passing came as a shock and I felt a great welling of sadness as if our nation collectively wept a loss of one who belonged to us all. Our true Canadian brother.
I never met Gord personally and yet felt as if he was a dear friend all these years. I first heard his haunting voice and unforgettable poetry on a MuchMusic video for “New Orleans is Sinking” and I was completely hooked! The Tragically Hip were my favorite band! I was so proud that I told myself I discovered them and introduced them to all my friends here in Montreal and all over the world. The truth is that the magic Gord and this band of exceptional storytellers brought the world had a power well beyond anything I could have promoted with my love of their music.
I feel blessed to have experienced the final show of the 5 nights at The Spectrum of Montreal and been in the crowd dancing my ass off at Another Roadside Attraction in Parc Jean Drapeau. These intimate opportunities disappeared shortly afterward as the band became monumental in popularity and only multiple nights in our stadiums would accommodate their impact on us.
So, I continued to eagerly await each new album, despite the choices top 40 pop radio made in playing not playing more of their songs. I occasionally bullied people into listening to the less known songs and urged them to read what I considered some of the most brilliant lyrics ever written. To my great sadness at the time, not everyone GOT the Tragically Hip and so I stopped talking about them, while secretly loving everything they did.
Canada is blessed with amazing musical talent and Gord Downie’s work now lives on forever within the laudable company of fellow lyrical greats: Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and hundreds of others.
I imagine you are up in heaven now talking to Elvis and he’s asking you to explain this memorable lyric:
“They shot a movie once in my hometown
Everybody was in it from miles around
Out at the speedway, some kind of Elvis thing
Well, I ain’t no movie star but I can get behind anything
Yeah, I can get behind anything” (from Blow at High Dough)
Another Canadian jewel, George Strombolopolous has already podcasted out an amazing tribute cover of Bobcaygeon by Blue Rodeo and it is so very much filled with the love we all have for Gordon. My heart goes out to his family, his band, and all of us who are so very blessed to have hundreds of songs to remember him by.
R.I.P. Gord. Thank you for giving us more Courage. You are loved and missed!