My heart breaks today.
The Tragically Hip has long been a favorite band of mine since the early 90s when my Uncle Michael introduced me to them with the song, “Blow at High Dough.” Ever since that moment I’ve been mystified by the raw, poetic storytelling of Gord Downie. He was one of the very best lyricists in the history of rock ‘n roll, painting gorgeous vistas of remote Canadian towns, emperor penguins, mysterious hockey player disappearances and true nautical disasters with his words. And on stage, he was one of the most engaging, theatrical performers I’ve ever seen, with a voice like no one else.
But Gord also transcended entertainment. He showed the world what courage looks like in the face of adversity when he went on tour after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. And he spent his life spotlighting social injustices, like the long-supressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system in Canada.
In his home country, Gord occupied a place of honor that doesn’t have a close parallel in the United States. He was and always will be, a philosopher poet-king who represented Canada in ways no one else could, illuminating its triumphs, as well as its dark corners with grace. Growing up in Central NY, just a couple hours from our Northern neighbors, I was lucky to be in the splash zone of Hip adulation. They often played Buffalo and Syracuse, so I got the chance to see them live many times. Every single time I did, I walked away thinking I’d seen the best concert in my life. Watching Gord perform his poetry on stage made me feel connected to music, to community and to life in ways few artists ever have. Fully completely.
Goodnight, Gord. Thank you for activism, your music, your beautiful words. You will be very much missed.