Good­bye, Gord

Northern Pen - - EDITORIAL -

Gord Downie stood on stage. A white Tshirt. Sil­ver pants. His trade­mark white hat. A coloured scarf around his neck.

The crowd was loud and clam­our­ing for more.

It was the fi­nal show of Trag­i­cally Hip’s Man Ma­chine Poem tour. Many ex­pected it would be the band’s last per­for­mance.

Downie raised the mike and launched into a sig­na­ture mono­logue.

But in­stead of lament­ing the Hip or dwelling on his own health, the singer used the plat­form — a farewell con­cert on na­tional tele­vi­sion — to call out Prime Min­is­ter

Justin Trudeau and speak about Canada’s mis­treat­ment of Indige­nous peo­ple.

Downie said of Trudeau, who was in the crowd wear­ing a black Hip T-shirt: “He cares about the peo­ple way up North that we were trained our en­tire lives to ig­nore, trained our en­tire lives to hear not a word of what’s go­ing on up there. But what’s go­ing on up there ain’t good. It may be worse than it’s ever been, so it’s not on the im­prove.

“(But) we’re go­ing to get it fixed. And we’ve got the guy to do it, to start, to help.”

Gord Downie died Tues­day, Oct. 17 af­ter an in­cred­i­ble life.

In his 53 years, he penned a large part of Canada’s mod­ern song­book, re­flect­ing his unique lyri­cal ge­nius. He en­ter­tained mil­lions with his out­spo­ken­ness and quirk­i­ness, ad­vo­cat­ing for causes he be­lieved in.

Dur­ing his fi­nal 17 months af­ter an­nounc­ing he had glioblas­toma, an in­cur­able brain cancer, Downie fronted the Hip for one of the most suc­cess­ful con­cert tours in Cana­dian his­tory.

He did so with stub­born­ness, de­ter­mi­na­tion and pas­sion.

But Downie wasn’t quite ready to exit the stage.

His amaz­ing en­core to that fi­nal con­cert was self­less — rais­ing money for brain cancer re­search through Sun­ny­brook Hospi­tal in Toronto and con­tin­u­ing to ad­vo­cate for indige­nous rights through ini­tia­tives like last fall’s haunt­ing “Se­cret Path” project.

Pack­aged as a solo al­bum by Downie and a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire, “Se­cret Path” told the tragic story of Chanie Wen­jack, a 12-year-old who died in 1966 af­ter run­ning away from a res­i­den­tial school.

It re­ceived crit­i­cal ac­claim — in­clud­ing three Junos — and re­fo­cused the spotlight on Canada’s Indige­nous peo­ple and the mis­treat­ment many suf­fered at res­i­den­tial schools.

In a work­ing life filled with song — songs wo­ven into the fabric of Canada — Downie may have saved his most im­por­tant mu­sic for last.

As fans lis­ten to songs like “Wheat Kings,” “Courage” and “Nau­ti­cal Dis­as­ter” in trib­ute to Downie in the com­ing days, it’s the con­ver­sa­tions they have about Indige­nous peo­ple that will, hope­fully, con­trib­ute to a bet­ter Canada.

Many of those con­ver­sa­tions weren’t tak­ing place be­fore Downie spoke at that fi­nal con­cert or prior to the re­lease of “Se­cret Path.”

Gord Downie will be re­mem­bered as a great Cana­dian. He per­son­i­fied his own lyrics: “armed with will and de­ter­mi­na­tion, and grace, too.”

Good­bye, Gord. Thanks.

The crowd, per­haps louder than ever now, will for­ever long for more.

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