It has been a year today that Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip passed away from terminal brain cancer. In memory, I wanted to share a piece I wrote about him, the band, and me. It was originally published in the Albany Times Union on August 26, 2017 and here it is in its original form. To all the fans who are still mourning this shining star's passing, I am with you.
Growing up in a small town five miles from the Canadian border, Massena NY, I have more in common with our northern neighbors than I ever realized shortly after moving to Albany, New York. When I was a kid I said 'eh' in place of yeah, right, agree, or just as part of a sentence and it was completely normal.
I love hockey (go Habs!) and I love poutine. But those are such Canadian clichés at this point, though very much a part of everyday culture, that I’m a bit sad I have to spell that out for those folks who have either never been to Canada or simply didn’t have the opportunity to grow up so close to the border. Canada is so much more than that.
When I travel overseas it’s more often than not people assume I’m Canadian. I still have a touch of the Northern NY/Canadian lilt and when I go home to visit my accent is fully back within a day as if I had never left.
What has never been a cliché is the Canadian band The Tragically Hip. The lead singer, Gordon "Gord" Downie, is dying of incurable brain cancer and the band completed its last show of a 15 show tour on Saturday the 20th in their hometown of Kingston Ontario. I have seen The Hip six or seven times but was unable to make a show on this final tour. I was heart-broken and still am.
On Saturday I hosted a party with about 40 people in attendance and couldn’t have had a better time. I enjoyed every moment with every single person who attended, and part of that is because I had Downie in the back of my mind. That night, he was singing a final good bye to the legions of fans that have been with them since the beginning. If that isn’t something that resonates with everyone, I don’t know what is.
“First thing we'd climb a tree And maybe then we'd talk Or sit silently And listen to our thoughts With illusions of someday Cast in a golden light No dress rehearsal, This is our life. Ahead By A Century, The Tragically Hip”
We all know life is short and we should appreciate every moment, but how many of us have those moments where you reflect on your immediate surroundings, and really, truly, feel the gratitude for who is standing next to you? I did many times on Saturday, and I admit I had to take a few moments for myself and split away from everyone to sit in my office and simply think about the last concert I attended, the people I was with, and the tears I knew were being shed all over Canada and northern New York.
I’ve read a lot of articles and blogs over the last couple of days that have brought tears to my eyes, but have also put me on the defense just a little as a Hip fan. Yes, they are Canadian. Yes, their fan base is mostly Canadian. However, they have been the sound-track to most of my life and most of my friends’ lives, and I feel they are mine too. My guess is there are a lot of Americans across the country, just on this side of the Canadian border who feel the same way and are in mourning for the inevitable loss of Downie.
I will give you this one though, Canada. There’s no question he loved his country and that love is reflected in so many of his lyrics. (Those of us who grew up so close to you love you too.) I hope that as the news of the Hip continues to spread further and further, that a new legion of fans will discover their music and the powerful, sometimes eccentric performances of Downie. To call him an original would be a severe understatement, and I’m so very grateful for the impact they’ve had on this American.
Music transcends borders in the same way every nationality, race, and ethnicity was affected by Prince or Bowie’s music, it’s not to be owned or claimed. As of Saturday the live music had been silenced, and soon Downie will be too.