This whole past week I’ve wanted to write something about the Hip and what appears to be their last show and now it’s a few hours until the concert and I am scrambling. I struggled to articulate feelings on this. I am full of melancholy bordering on dread for tonight. I am going to head down to a community viewing and I know I will get emotional – heck I’m already there. I doubt I will be able to hold it together as Gord Downie stands alone for the last time in front of a large live audience, in his hometown, and experiences how our nation feels about him. I imagine the roar in the arena in Kingston will be deafening. Right now I am listening to Day for Night and the songs have changed from Inevitability of Death to Scared and for some reason that seems fitting.
While I am sure there will be tears, I must remember to celebrate. We must celebrate that at least once in our country’s existence we have collectively appreciated artistic creativity. We allowed a quirky, musical wordsmith to invade our conscious. At the beginning of Live Between Us, Gord dedicates Grace Too to the Rheostatics saying ‘we are all richer for having seen them tonight.’ Well, our country has become richer for having seen the Tragically Hip for the last three decades. Listening and reading stories the last few weeks remind me of the influence that Gord Downie has had on our nation. The Hip is at least partially responsible for ensuring that an artist doesn’t have to make it abroad in order to have a living making original music – just that fact alone has been a cultural boon for our country and we must be thankful, regardless of our opinions of their music.
They have never been my favourite band but they have always had importance to me. I have enjoyed singing and dancing along to their songs and parsing Gord’s lyrics for acute moments of brilliance that describe life and our country in different ways. In some ways, specific lyrical moments have become a part of the sound track to view life from. A few of my favourites include:
‘There’s nothing uglier than a man hitting his stride’ from Vapor Trails
‘I made degenerate art for the religious right on the day that you were born’ from Put it Off (I want to this on the day my theoretical child is born)
‘Me debunk an American myth, take my life in my hands’ as well as the whole bridge from At the Hundredth Meridian
‘Smart as tree in Sault Ste. Marie’ from Born in the Water
There are dozens more little snippets. If you are a fan, you probably have your own list. You get the picture. Gord, through his wordiness and unique melody, has given us a chance to get smarter culturally and learn more about our country. He has opened many doors for us to walk through. Because of Courage I read Hugh Mclellan. Because of Born in the Water I learned more about some ugly pieces of recent Canadian history. I looked up Eric’s Trip and Ry Cooder because of the name drops in songs. The music inspired research because it was smart and tantalizing with clues to new and potentially obscure knowledge.
We owe Gord and tonight we get to maybe repay that with expressions of love and appreciation. I was fortunate enough to see the Canadian Olympic gold medal hockey game on the streets of Vancouver in 2010. I couldn’t even see the screen and only had a vague idea of what was going on in the game. Yet it was a magical experience that I wouldn’t trade for a hi-def, 3D TV experience in my living room. It drew us together as a nation and the opportunity to celebrate victory with 100,000 of my new best friends was such an amazing feeling. Tonight will admittedly be an altogether different experience where there will be celebration mixed with a tinge of sadness as we know the outcome already. But we will come together, a good chunk of our country, in common purpose and it will be our opportunity to celebrate a lyrical genius that served us well.
I leave this entry with a reiteration that I struggled writing this. Others have not seemingly struggled nearly as much so if you are interested in going deep with your feelings, I suggest you read the following:
http://www.macleans.ca/culture/how-we-will-miss-gord-downie-and-the-tragically-hip/ – the notion that we must celebrate this tour and tonight.
http://www.cbcmusic.ca/posts/12527/collaborating-with-gord-downie-tragically-hip – on what it was like to collaborate with Gord Downie
http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/on-gord-downie-my-dad-and-taking-people-for-granted – a beautiful piece on how Gord’s illness compares to the author’s father’s illness and approaching those final moments with grace
http://hazlitt.net/feature/yer-favourites – this is likely the piece I would have liked to have written but Eric Koreen did a wonderful job and was way more articulate
And one last link to a video of Sarah Polley singing Courage from the movie the Sweet Hereafter – I remember an interview with Gord where he said that this was one of the few covers of their songs that he could stomach. It’s beautiful and heart wrenching – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7oQ93GZSxk