Tribute to Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip
When the news hit last month that Gord Downie had passed away, there was a collective national gasp, followed by an agonizing groan. We had known for some time that he was battling aggressive and incurable brain cancer. Nevertheless, it was a shock to hear the finality of the narrative. My brother Stuart, who lives in New York kept sending me text messages saying he couldn’t believe that Downie had actually died and was angry with the fact that in the US, nobody knew of his passing, and if they did, they didn’t care that much. In Canada we have some great musicians that have large followings, not only in the US, but around the world. Artists like Rush, Leonard Cohen, Barenaked Ladies, Arcade Fire, etc. are very well known, and loved around the globe. But for some odd reason, the Hip never fully penetrated the US or the vast international markets as their aforementioned brethren did. I think, however, that that was a large part of the appeal to us, their Canadian music fans.
The Hip had fantastic music to match their sharp poignant lyrics, awesome story-telling skills, and stunning stage presence. In addition to the coolest of band names, was their magnetic, enigmatic at times, and somewhat possessed front man, the great Gord Downie. We the north had the best-kept secret in The Tragically Hip, and frankly, we liked it that way. Last year when the Hip played their final show to say thank you and goodbye, in their hometown of Kingston, the CBC decided to run the concert commercial-free across the country. Our Prime Minister was at the show, wearing a Tragically Hip t-shirt no less. The entire country watched the show as if it was game seven of the Stanley Cup final and our favourite Canadian team was playing for the cup.
Not surprisingly, Gord and the Hip loved hockey, deeply cared about aboriginal issues and weaved great stories into great songs that made us tune in and pay attention. They were the archetypal Canadian rock band. They exposed us to strange stories about Bill Barilko, put Bobcaygeon on the collective cognitive map, made us feel what it’s like to be locked in the trunk of a car and in a strange spooky way, kind of foreshadowed the 2005 New Orleans’ flood by sixteen years.
I proudly own every album they’ve made and though I don’t listen to them on a super-regular basis, when I do listen, I always think, “I love this band, I love these guys”!
Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip will be missed, fully, completely.