I was more than a little late to the Tragically Hip party. I didn’t come to Canada until 2015, but you don’t have to be here long to figure out how important they are to this country and its social and cultural fabric. I checked them out passingly and I really liked what I heard. ‘My Music at Work’ has powered me through so many late nights, and tracks like ‘Bobcaygeon’ have a habit of coming on the radio at just the right time.
Even when The Hip became impossible to ignore, I didn’t feel caught up in the moment. When Gord passed on October 17, I made a solemn note of the day, but I never felt like I’d known him the way the rest of Canada does. Social media outlets were flooded with tributes, recollections and memories of Downie and The Tragically Hip. That all changed over the weekend, however. I attended a screening of Long Time Running, at the First Ontario Performing Arts Centre, Downtown St.Catharines. Their screenings were nearly sold out each night, which speaks to the signfiance of the passing of this Canadian icon. Long Time Running is a documentary following the band through the ins and outs of their final tour. The film captured many moving and powerful moments. But, there was one thing that stood out above everything else. It wasn’t Gord’s neurosurgeon fighting back tears as he shared his sombre news at a press conference. It wasn’t the hundreds of thousands of fans crying, slow dancing and cheering in front of their favourite band. Could not be the three encores he did for fans at their final show in Kingston.It wasn’t even the stories they all had to share about what The Hip meant to them. No: above all else, what hit the hardest was Gord’s beaming, undefeatable smile, which shone through every fibre of his being. His sense of humour, about himself and everything else, never wavered. His passion for his work was evident in every step he took.
It was undeniable, Gord Downie loved every minute of his life, and he loved every single one of the millions of people that supported him, even until the very end. It would be easy to say that Canada is a little less bright for his passing, but the truth is that the light he shone while he was with us will never fade. May his spirit carry through Canadian culture for future generation to relish in.
So rest in peace, Gord; we’ll be singing along until there’s no one left to sing.
Dan Clemens, Contributor
Below we have an obiturary dedicated to the late Gord Downie.
Him? No longer here, now? No…
I believe that courage is the enabling virtue, the virtue that makes all others possible. In other words, it’s a kind of root good — without it, it’s hard to do any other kind of good in the world. He was and will forever be the paragon of Canadian musicality; a national icon of literary and artistic excellence.
Before today, I don’t think I could have given a satisfactory answer to the question: what is it, to be truly courageous in the face of death? How can anyone stare into the wild eyes of the unknown that is death, so coolly — to walk like a matador towards it, to be anything but ‘chicken s***’? And now we all know.
Perhaps most tragic of all is his relative youth, coupled with his obvious vigor and life-giving presence across a national landscape. Thinking of courage, and of this most-human tragedy, I think of the lyrics to the eponymous hip song:
Consists in the necessity
Of living with the consequences”
Interestingly, there is merely living (i.e. continuing on) despite the consequences one faces; and then there is (also) a continual and defiant living, the unperturbed continuation of a robust and generous existence. Glioblastoma never diminished his super-capacity to love.
In the inescapability of consequences lies tragedy — to a point. But there is always the possibility to convert bleak fate into triumph, via courage. That said, I will forever remember Gord as a matador. I confess that I can’t appropriately eulogize or offer an obituary for a man I haven’t met. I’m just a fan, one forever spellbound not only by his professional work but also by his elevation of both living and dying into artforms.
Final thought: poetry and opacity often go hand-in-hand. Poetry, like life, “does not owe us pleasure; (but) it does offer us meaning”. Following the ‘matador’ line (in Flamenco) Gord adds: “…And turn breezes into rivulets…” — or, to turn wind into water. I can’t claim to fully comprehend the true meaning offered here. I can only offer an interpretation: despite the inescapable, one-directional transition of life into death, Gord somehow turned the breeze of death into rivulets of life.