It was like hearing about an old friend.
Brad got up from bed and tossed me my phone while I rolled myself up into a burrito with the blankets. As I blearily blinked at my phone, scrolling through the notifications I received overnight, I saw it.
“Oh no,” I whispered.
“What is it?” Brad asked, still half asleep.
“Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer.”
It’s been national news for days now. The lead singer of one of the greatest bands in our nation’s history, a band that is iconic Canadiana, diagnosed with brain cancer late last year, the band doing one last tour this summer to say goodbye, a country heartbroken. We never anticipate losing someone as influential and prolific as Gordon Downie.
In the back of my mind, part of me thinks it almost fitting that the band waited until after the May long weekend to announce the news. Few backyard barbecues, camping excursions, journeys to the beach, trips to the cottage, are complete with music from The Tragically Hip serving as a soundtrack. It’s almost as if they wanted to give us one last weekend accompanied with the warm winds of an impending summer, before a degree of sadness became attached to their music.
There isn’t a time that I can remember when the Hip weren’t a part of my life. I guess I can thank my parents for having radical, kick-ass taste in music for that. Their music featured heavily in my youth, especially when away from home. Whether it was on a drive to New Brunswick, or playing late at night by the camp fire, they were simply always there, the songs from Fully Completely and Road Apples on repeat until the tape deck gave out. Whenever a new Hip album came out, you’d better believe that Dad had it in his possession within weeks.
I always enjoyed the music of the Hip, but naturally, didn’t begin to appreciate the lyrics that accompanied the entrancing riffs until I was older. Their songs explored the themes of Canadian geography and history, water and land, all motifs that became heavily associated with the Hip. Songs such as Bobcaygeon, 38 Years Old, and At the Hundredth Meridian – which referenced the Christie Pits riot, the real-life escape of 14 inmates from Millhaven Institution, and line of longitude that separates much of Western Canada from the Central and Atlantic regions of Canada respectively – received heavy air-play on Canadian radio, but also had something to say, something to teach us. Yeah, the music was fantastic, but you might learn something as well.
Despite having been a fan since I was a child, I’ve never seen them live in concert, always thinking to myself, “I’ll see them the next time they come through town. The Hip will be around forever.”
It feels almost cold to be looking forward to this upcoming tour. While born of the release of a new album, also born of the band and Gord’s desire to say goodbye to their fans, to Canada. I don’t want to look forward to this because it’s seeing a dead man walking. But I am. Because as Gord wants to say farewell to all of us, I want to say goodbye to Gord as well.
And thank you.
More than anything I want to say thank you.