Last night, an entire nation came together to celebrate and honour one of our greatest treasures. And in the most Canadian of ways, we also paid an emotional tribute and said what might have been a last goodbye to one of my musical heroes, Gord Downie, and my first musical inspiration and favourite band, The Tragically Hip. I watched the CBC broadcast of the show in the open air at the Distillery District in Toronto with a packed crowd of Hip faithful spanning generations among a beautiful mosaic of Hip t-shirts, signs and Canadian flags interspersed among the crowd. One week ago today, I also had the bittersweet experience of seeing Gord and the boys play their final show at the ACC in Toronto.
As it is widely known, Gord Downie, the band’s bold and fearless frontman, and a Canadian music legend, has been diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer. In no uncertain terms, our Beloved Gordie is dying and in the way that only certain tragedies and challenges have the power to do, it has been a sobering reminder of the fact that we don’t get to live forever, that our time here is limited and that sooner or later, whether we are ready or not, our time to go will come.
For Gord, a young man at the age of 52, that time is approaching faster than anticipated and in response, he chose to give us all the most incredible gift imaginable as he poured his heart and soul into these last shows across the country.
Watching Sunday from the familiar seats at ACC where i’ve seen many a Hip show, I was gripped with an immediate feeling of sadness and nostalgia from the first note of Blow at High Dough, the opening tune. Truth be told, it was an intense experience given the context. It was heartbreaking, and gut-wrenching at moments.
And it was also incredibly inspiring…
Inspiring not only because of the generosity with which Gord and the band have allowed us in to their sad and unforeseen parting, but also because it is one of the single most undeniable expressions of #COURAGE i’ve ever witnessed.
For Gordie to give The Hip faithful fans one last tour and an epic grand finale to soak up the goodness and hear their favourites is great, yes. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about the gift of his willingness to do it with his soul literally being bared for all to see. It’s about the fact that with the context for the shows looming large, that we have all been given a chance to bear witness to this larger than life Being’s untouchable, unrelenting Spirit on display in the face of the greatest human challenge. And most of all, it’s about the fact that he has done it with pure class and shear Grace, Too.
For me, personally, the significance of it runs deep. The story goes back to my early twenties when I was in University on course to becoming a law student. Some of my older brother’s friends were Hip fans and I didn’t know or care much about them, or about live music and rock’ n’roll for that matter. But somehow, somewhere amidst all the exploring and discovering that time of life brought, I found myself at a Tragically Hip concert and it is no exaggeration to say that the course of my life was forever changed.
The reason being that soon after, I found myself at another Hip concert, and then another one, and then another until I was so lit up by what I’d experienced and so taken by the feeling of being part of these crowds of people all singing together with lighters held up in the air, that I was literally forced by something greater than my own will to go out and buy a guitar so that I could just know what it felt like to play and sing #WheatKings. And several years later, I officially hung up my suit jacket and tie to follow my heart and that whimsical muse to a life far more adventurous and fulfilling than anything my pre-musical epiphany mind could have ever dreamed up.
After seeing the band live last Sunday and again last night – led by a shiny, metallic suit and royalty-befitting feather and top-hat-clad Gordie (who was in top form by all accounts) – for what will likely be the last Hip concert I get to attend in this lifetime (maybe we can do it on the other side, Gordie) – I’m now much more clear in my understanding of what happened to me at those first shows all those years ago.
Yes, I was moved by the music and the Hip’s uniquely Canadian and one hundred percent original brand of rock’n’roll. Yes, I was in awe of Gord’s lyrical mastery and the word-smithery of one of the great #Poets of our time. And yes, anyone who’s ever seen a Hip show knows there’s something instantly captivating and entrancing about that wirey frame’s way of gliding and twirling across a stage as only a man possessed by something out of this world could do.
But there was something more…
And that’s what I get more now than ever. That special something that took me over at my first concert – that beautiful, indescribable, ineffable, eternal something that lives in every one of Gordie’s lyrics, every song, every quivering melody sung, every seemingly senseless rant, every mic stand tango, every move and glide, and in the heart and soul of a man who is undoubtedly #AheadByACentury – is the essence of life, the human spirit and it is truly eternal.
And thanks to Gordie, we got to be reminded that that in each of us. We got to see what it looks like when a life here is lived so #FullyCompletely by that something greater such that the way we are, how we live and what we do is no different when we’re young and wild and there’s only a few people watching, than when we’re older and wiser, standing in the naked Truth in front of our whole world getting ready to take our final bow.
Thank you, Gordie for one more beautiful, poignant, and unequivocal reminder.
Thank YOU. Thank you. Thank you, forever.