Gord Downie: Being Canadian

Though I promised a blog post on my trip to London (it’s coming), I want to add my thoughts to the Niagara of outpourings in the wake of Gord Downie’s passing. It is deeply strange to be abroad and to hear about the passing of the man who is, in my eye, the definitive Canadian cultural icon — even if we all knew it was coming. Trying to describe the importance of The Tragically Hip, and Gord, to Canadian popular culture is a task better left to people with completed liberal arts degrees and a few years in Canadian journalism (or better yet, regular Canadians with none of that) but what I do know is how The Tragically Hip makes me feel: Canadian.

In fact, listening to The Tragically Hip is — barring select camping and cottage activities (usually accompanied by The Hip anyways) — the only time I feel distinctly Canadian. The — words fail me; whatever it is — that he was able to share seem to unite my fellow Canadians and me.

I have only grown closer to The Hip as I got older, unlike so many artists who fall out of favour and get shuffled out of rotation; they are always there. Man Machine Poem and Downie’s final* solo album Secret Path will both go down in music history as near-perfect final contributions to discographies of already outstanding pieces, right there with Leonard Cohen and David Bowie. Those along with the rest of The Hip’s catalogue helped me to mentally prepare for leaving Canada, and they have been invaluable since I left. Many a depressed and lonely night has been mended with “Grace, Too” and the ensuing masterpiece of Day for Night played loudly and sung poorly and proudly in the shower.

One of the first songs I learned to play and sing was “Bobcaygeon”, and I can’t help but play that heart-wrenching, simple song, every time I pick up my guitar; like so many others — I know. When it comes on a car radio, I get quiet and misty-eyed at best, or I become a puddle at worst. Not long after, I learned a rendition of “Wheat Kings” and Christ, as soon as I’m able I swear I’ll nail a version of “Locked In The Trunk Of A Car”.

If I may be so bold, The Tragically Hip is a bright spot on Canada’s short cultural history, much of which is not so bright. Subjects which The Hip and Gord spoke out about, and rallied people towards the right side of history, for an end to horrors, for reconciliation, for love and for understanding.

And so now, I lose my composure in a bar in Copenhagen, where I type this, surrounded by jovial Europeans who while comforting, would need an entire Canadian history lesson to sympathise. I am comforted on hard days, by memories of friends and family, singing the beautiful songs we can all recite at a moment’s notice, around a campfire guitar player, or in the back seats of crowded minivans.

I want the Canada of the future, or whatever it is or isn’t, to be something that Gord would be proud of. DJ tell’s me to stream the CBC before bed and so I will, and I will miss Canada and my fellow Canadians, and people in the place most of us call Canada but who don’t identify with the label. My heart metaphorically flys back over the Ocean and I send all the love in my heart to Gord’s and The Tragically Hip family.

* Almost 20 min later – As is the case with these things I found the first error: Gord actually has a new album coming out soon from some studio sessions at the end of last year and the start of this one called Introduce Yourself, which I forgot about and is tremendously exciting.


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