Tuesday May 24, music fans across the country woke up to impossible news: Gord Downie, singer of the Tragically Hip had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at the age of 52.
52. Gord Downie. Cancer. Terminal.
I was gutted.
Hearing that one of the artists I have been awed by since my early 20s has terminal cancer was a huge and awful blow.
May 24 will always be a hard day – it’s the anniversary of last day we spent with Mom before she passed of lung cancer in 2012.
Double whammy; for this kid anyway.
Maybe Gord’s diagnosis made it a harder day. Maybe it made for an easier outlet for grief. Maybe the two events combined just made me unapologetically sad. In any case, it was a tough go.
This all probably sounds strange. And, to be clear, I’m not equating the loss of my mother to the eventual loss of a beloved artist I’ve never met because there is no comparison. I think waking up to this news did make me think about loss, and grief, and it brought back the journey through cancer that we took with my mom four years ago in a way I hadn’t expected.
Watching on social media as the country responded to the unthinkable news about the Hip’s front man made me also think about our artists and writers and musicians and how they can be intimately woven into the fabric of our daily lives; if we are the sort to look to music, books and poetry for any kind of inspiration.
Tom Power from CBC Radio 2 said that when Canadians were talking about Gord Downie on social media, it was almost as though we were talking about a friend, not a huge celebrity icon like Prince or Bowie. Things are different here in Canada that way, Tom said. Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip for many of us are present in our daily lives. They help us define what makes Canada Canada. This news was a staggering blow from coast to coast to coast.
The messages from fellow musicians spoke to the relationships Downie has had with peers and mentees alike:
“So we must honour the people we love + let them know everyday. Gord we’re feeling helpless, but we are here for you. At your command, fella,” say the Arkelles.
Hey Rosetta captured the experience of hearing the news perfectly: “Slapped awake by news radio this morning – we love you Gord Downie, and we owe you magnificently. Steady on skipper.”
“gord downie is the poet laureate of the Canadian soul,” say Stars from Montreal.
Dave Bidini from the Rheostatics wrote his tribute to Gord and the Tragically Hip years ago with On a Cold Road, but on Twitter, he posted: “words are impossible now. yet, love to the kid we ran with; who led us into a world of wild sounds + strange colours; dark, beautiful, true.”
And then there was this article by Ron McLean yes – Hockey Night in Canada Ron McLean. It says everything much more eloquently than I ever could. Check it out here: http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/music-life-gord-downie-wherewithal/
Gord Downie has given this country, our musicians and everyday people like me, so much. I’ll never forget the first night I saw him up there on stage, doing his thing. There’s this new band we should check out, I’m sure someone said. They were playing the Misty Moon. It was probably 1989; the year The Hip released Up to Here.
My memories from that show are few, but I do remember watching this guy up there, thrashing away on stage, like he was channeling the music. I remember thinking this is the closest I’ll ever get to seeing Jim Morrison live. I laugh at that now, but Gord Downie had something going on. Something real. Something I envied from the first time I ever saw the band perform.
If memory serves – and it probably doesn’t – there were not many people at that show. I remember a friend and I joining two or three bikers on the dance floor as they were getting their groove on. I remember watching the band and thinking I can’t believe there aren’t more people here! I remember being completely blown away.
The next time The Hip played The Moon there were more people in the audience, and the time after that, we were squished up against each other in a sweaty, malleable mob as Much Music videographers shoved and pushed us out of their way, vying for the best camera angle. Word of how wicked-good the Hip was, had caught on. And then there was the time they played Concert on the Hill and I got my glasses kicked off my face from some guy crowd surfing. I wanted a black eye just so I could tell everyone that I got it at the Hip show and there were so many shows after this one too; Another Roadside Attraction in BC and on and on and on …
I was happy to hear that the Hip are doing one last tour this summer. They’ve been a band of brothers since high school – of course they’re giving it one last kick at the can! What else would they do?
Courage Gord. Courage.