“Thanks for Listening. Have a nice life.” – Gord Downie
The last thing the world needs right now is another musing about Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip.
There are articles in papers and publications around the world from the New York Times to London’s Guardian. All wonderful articles, telling the story of this band from Kingston, Ontario who never quite broke in the States…but never seemed too upset about it. Stories of their mythology and their mystery.
It is no secret that Gord Downie, a quintessential Canadian Troupadour, has a brain tumor that is expected to take his life…and that the Tragically Hip, the band he fronts, decided to have one last tour across Canada to celebrate their work and their love of creating with each other.
I know…I know…again,
The last thing the world needs right now is another musing about Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip…but…I just…
And I am not a die hard Hip fan. I like their music very much…but I don’t own an album…BUT BUT I can sing almost all the words to “Ahead By A Century”…though that is not a real feat as it is as recognizable to most Canadians as, well…actually…Oh Canada. Seriously. But since Downie announced his cancer and the band began their tour I have been enraptured. My husband George (who is, incidentally, A DIE HARD HIP FAN) and I tried like demons to get tickets to one of the shows that sold out in minutes and like millions of Canadians, found ourselves shit outta luck. And then, one day, the universe gifted us and a couple of tickets made their way to us…and they weren’t even too much money, believe it or not. And my education began. Every time we drove somewhere…which was A LOT…George would play an album for me…and I would ask questions about the songs…and he would ask me to Google the meaning behind songs like “Fiddler’s Green”…he thought he knew…but wanted to be sure. He didn’t want to pass on bad info. And I was astounded at their songbook…so many wonderful and interesting pieces of music.
I was really taken with the idea of an artist seeing the end of their life nearing and having the strength and purpose to orchestrate that ending…much like Bowie. Where Bowie did not tell us he was going till he left, Gord told us and then let us celebrate and commiserate with him. I found the idea of being of a strong enough mind and body to collaborate on what is probably your final artistic endevour, with the knowledge that it is almost truly the end…and being in the moment…and letting it drive you with joy, sorrow and truth…simply captivating. It is really an honour to be a part of in some way.
So, of course, three days before the show in London, I got a job. A job that left me unable to go to the show. I was gutted. I wanted to make sure George still went…and did my best to buck up and be supportive. But I was still gutted.
George made reservations at a bar in Stratford as soon as he heard they were going to show the last concert in Kingston, the Hip’s hometown. For those of you from outside of Canada who may not know about this, our national TV station, the CBC, preempted the Olympics in prime time to televise the concert, without commercials, for almost three hours. I love Canada. Anyway, I went back to learning…reading everything I could…watching old clips…talking to friends about the Hip and the way the band and Gord affected their lives. And got very excited about this final concert. I wondered how the TV watchers would feel a connection to the concert. Again…as I told you…captivated.
When we arrived at The Hub in Stratford I discovered that George had been one of the first people to call…wanting, I think, to make up for the fact that I missed the “in person” experience. Our seats were right in front of three of the biggest TVs I have seen outside Jumbotrons. The people who joined us and that ended up being there with us were all from different parts of our life…dancers, drivers, contractors, musicians, stage managers, actors… and then there were the other people we didn’t know who filled up the joint…so many different people of different ages.
What an amazing concert…and with the wonderful coverage by INSIGHT (the production company that I worked for on “Canada Sings” who also does “The Amazing Race” and the Junos, among other things) it was like we were right there…in HD. With the 6 teleprompters on stage helping Gord through his paces and his band mates at his side, he looked like an artist in his prime…we all saw him look down while he sang a number of the songs to read the words, but what of it. Fleetingly, I thought it was strange that the tumor was stealing his words…but not his notes. I sat with my mouth open for almost three hours…and then near the end…as the bar got really whipped up…we pushed back all of the tables and danced and danced. People of all ages…of all backgrounds…and we all sang along…again, I am best on “Ahead By A Century”…but I muscled my way through “Scared” as well.
It was such a public private moment…and Gord Downie took it all in…and performed for us like no one I have ever seen before. It was very theatrical….and moving…and funny…and scary…and sad…and thrilling…and sad…and wonderful.
And then he did encore after encore…and the CBC (who said they would cut it off after 11:00pm) ran until almost 11:20pm…because, seriously, who would cut this performance off?
He didn’t talk a lot…he kissed and hugged all of his band members a number of times…but when he did talk it was funny and honest…and he expressed the hope that we would all support our prime minister…and then he thanked us all for listening, and wished us all a nice life.
And then, he turned out two more encores that contained 8 songs in all. Sometimes he looked weak…and then you realized he was acting. Sometimes he looked sad and mad…and we wondered if he was acting…but reallly? He just was.
And we danced and sang our shit out to “Ahead by A Century”…and it was over. And as we saw the house lights come up there was this emptiness. There just was. I leaned on the table that we had pushed away to make room to dance and felt the way time just moves on. Which is a relief and a heartbreak at the same time.
It was an amazing experience… this country wide “love in”…that I was so thrilled to be a part of…to learn about this band and this man that I really didn’t know a lot about. I remember standing beside him at Soulpepper during the Global Cabaret a few years ago and Albert Schultz introduced me to him…and I thought, “He is taller than I imagined.”…but that was about it…and now? I know so many more of their songs…and stories about their lives…and how they work together. What a group and what an artist. A gift.
So, thanks to you Gord Downie…for letting us into your final creations. Again, what a gift. Have a great life. I do believe that you have earned it.