Last Tuesday evening, October 17, Gord Downie, the extraordinary lead singer of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip, passed away from an incurable form of brain cancer. A large portion of the United States went about their day, ignorant of the death of one of Canada’s most lauded artists. But the majority of Canada, a small portion of the U.S., and myself, cried at our breakfast tables after we opened our phones and saw the updates from the band’s social media accounts.
No dress rehearsal / This is our life. (Ahead By a Century)
In college I had a good friend who was from Canada, and she introduced all of us to Gord and the Hip, and I instantly fell in love. We saw them at the old Austin Music Hall on their Phantom Power tour in 1998. I took Christian and his sister to see them at Stubb’s, probably when Music @ Work came out in 2000. At La Zona Rosa in 04, with the Sam Roberts Band opening. We worked our way to the fronts of these shows, getting as close to Gord and the band as we could, eardrums be damned.
I, I am of you / And you are always in view / And I, I am my will / And you are in everything I do (In View)
Christian and I last saw them in concert at La Zona Rosa again in the fall of 2007, the World Container tour. I’d been out of college for years. My Canadian friend had long moved away. Christian and I were married and expecting. The concert fell on the same day we found out the little bean swimming around my tummy was actually two little beans. We were giddy with the news and happy to be seeing one of our favorite bands. We parked ourselves in the back of the venue for this one, but I remember all of it so clearly, down to the hat Gord wore.
To see The Tragically Hip perform was something special. Gord Downie was a true artist at work. He loved it, and it showed. He danced and gyrated and twisted and just plain embraced the fact that he had your attention, and by god he was going to keep it. It was amazing every time.
Makeshift we are / We imagine us here and here we are (As Makeshift As We Are)
I haven’t been a die-hard Hip listener for years, I’m ashamed to say, but these songs evoke a nostalgia that makes me ache inside. It was the news of Gord’s brain tumor and impending death that sent me riffling through the discography again. This music is youth, it’s college, it’s spring time. It’s carefree, it’s no responsibilities, it’s study time, it’s 4-hour long classes in the painting studio. It’s moving on from campus life to relationships, it’s saying goodbye to friends, it’s road trips in my crappy car.
I found myself crying for Gord, for his bandmates, for his family and friends. I cried for the girl I used to be and the memories this music holds. It’s the soundtrack of my young adulthood.
What we have here are all flaws in progress / Where all songs are one song and that song is Don’t Forget (World Container)
There’s a new documentary, Long Time Running, chronicling their legendary final tour in 2016. Due to Gord’s death, the film was released in select theaters on October 21. I was unable to make it, but the doc will be available worldwide on Netflix starting November 24. I expect to bawl through the entire thing, just like I did the trailer and the live stream of the final Kingston show.
I put together a Spotify list of my favorite Hip songs. Listen to it for a crash course, or I can tell you to just listen to the albums Fully, Completely or Live Between Us.
We’ll miss you, Gordie. You were so, so great.