It’s safe to say that we’ve never seen the kind of outpouring of emotion over the death of a Canadian celebrity like we’ve seen over the last week with Gord Downie. Some have grown tired and weary of the mourning, but they’re clearly in the minority (Note to them: Keep your head down and shut up. Most of the country doesn’t need to hear from you right now.)
Readers continue to share their thoughts and feelings.
I just finished listening to your pod cast on The Tragically Hip. I have trouble reconciling emotions with events in a timely manner. I realized today, as I wept listening to you recount the life of Gord Downie & his bandmates, that I hadn’t yet grieved for him or our loss as a country. Thank you for helping me push through my personal obstacles to fully realize what Gord meant to me.
I was encouraged to share a poem I wrote in tribute to The Tragically Hip about life lessons. It contains 40 different song titles from the band. Perhaps you can publish it and maybe others can enjoy it.
The Tragically Hip,
Listening to their Music At Work is cathartic, it helps put everything In View and gives me the Courage to work through Another Midnight to get Ahead by a Century.
It’s a Good Life if you Don’t Weaken, there will be dark days, each one feeling like The Darkest One in their own right.
Some Thugs with a Mean Streak may make you Scared, some days will be filled with their Yawning and Snarling while making you feel So Hard Done By.
It’s Here, In the Dark when you’ll want to Fly up like a Silver Jet, while being held to An Inch an Hour.
When the Weight Comes Down to crush your Great Soul putting you On the Verge of throwing in the towel or exploding like Fireworks.
Have the integrity, authenticity, and Grace, too stand up and Fight even when you’re Tired as Fuck, stay dedicated until you’re Done and Done.
I know The Exact Feeling.
In the end Are We Family? Maybe, maybe not but In a World Possessed by the Human Mind, life can be a Long Time Running if you’re alone.
So reach out Let’s Stay Engaged, don’t Put it Off, whether you’re in Bobcaygeon or At the Hundredth Meridian or The Lonely End of the Rink you’re all my friends.
If there is Something On your mind let’s talk, even if it’s a crazy idea to Save the Planet.
I won’t Pretend your friendship isn’t A Beautiful Thing.
I won’t Use It Up and Leave, take your time, Take Forever if you need.
Good evening Alan, (lengthy email coming up)
I heard your recent show – I believe a repeat – about the Tragically Hip, including the section dealing with the references to Canadian history in the songs. I have to take issue with your assertion that the song ‘Nautical Disaster’ is about the raid on Dieppe – there’s actually a lively online debate about the song’s meaning I want to draw your attention to. I don’t usually take these kinds of geeky obsessions seriously (“but, like, what does it mean?”) as it reminds me too much of conspiracy theorists who try to see hidden meanings everywhere. I mean, I think artists should have the right to just make shit up if they want to. Michael Stipe once told a journalist that his songs had no greater meaning, and that they were all just disconnected observations, although I think he may have said that so they would stop asking him those questions.
Still, as a former worker at the Canadian War Museum, I think I should speak up. The song couldn’t be describing the Dieppe raid as it wasn’t really a nautical event; most of the soldiers died on the beach, in fact. Unlike in the line “One afternoon, 4000 men died in the water here,” 900 Canadians were killed, (another 1,874 were taken prisoner by the Germans) and the attack took place in the early morning. Now, I couldn’t find anything Gord Downie himself wrote about the song; maybe he wanted the details to be deliberately vague. But remember, this was a guy who could quote a long passage from a Hugh MacLennan novel in a song, and who once called Rick Mercer’s dad so he could nail the pronunciation of a Newfoundland outport town. I think he meant the details to point to something specific: the sinking of the troopship Lancastria on the afternoon of June 17, 1940, off the coast of France. It’s not well-known at all (for the reasons explained in the link below). You’ll find other people online who believe the song is really about the sinking of the Bismarck, for instance, which like Dieppe is much more well-known. But I think its obscurity was all the more reason Gord would have been attracted to it, (much like he was attracted to another unknown hero, Bill Barilko) and used the senselessness of it as a metaphor for a doomed relationship (no pun intended).
There you have it – it’s maybe not conclusive, but it makes sense to me.
Hey Alan, I heard your request earlier for stories about what the Tragically Hip means to us as fans, listeners, and especially Canadians. I’d love to share my story.
It was a May morning on a train rattling toward Prague in the heart of the Czech Republic. My walkman was on and I was listening to Trouble at the Henhouse. Opening a page in my Lonely Planet guide book with directions to the local transit the lyric “Instructions from the manual could not have been much more plain” sauntered by. I headed to a hostel outside of town. I changed the tape. Day for Night Side B now cooed. I was travelling alone for a few months and was pretty used to the simplicity of being a shadow on whatever city I was in. Gord’s lyrics were my constant companion in those discovery days.
Once at the hostel, I gave Caesar his due and got a key for my dorm style room. My walkman was now in my rucksack and I was navigating musty halls. As I neared my room, I heard the faintest traces of Grace Too wafting through the air and reached for my pack to turn off the walkman I had most assuredly knocked into the play position. I reached in, pulled it out, it was off. Faintly close I heard: “That’s what I’m here for.” I was a marionette pulled to the speaker. “I come from downtown!” I blindly said… “Born ready for you!” ………. Outstretched hands became familiar faces, now since forgotten but it was a moment of pure Canadian-ness that words would fail to belie in the effort. Immediately I was most assuredly home yet so, so far away.
That day eventually wore into night, downtown Prague knew us, we ate and drank, then bought more to drink and had returned to the hostel around sundown. Upon our return we found about 25 people on a patio mingling. At some point, from the depths of the hostel a guitar was produced and eventually a circle formed where people from all over the world, whom mostly didn’t speak the same language, sat passing drink and an old acoustic guitar, singing songs from their homeland and telling the story of the songs they picked. When the guitar finally came around to the Canadian contingent it turned out I was the only one that knew how to play. Our little Canadian caucus quickly elected Wheat Kings. We spoke of the significance of the The Hip with reverence reserved for Columbus or da Vinci and hoped they all understood. That night, I like to think we did Wheat Kings justice as the stars hung out low and our voices rang across the Danube. When the night was ending I remember hearing someone in our cabal say: “If you don’t know the lyrics to that song, you should have your passport revoked.”
Thanks always to Gord and the the Hip for being the indelible stamp on my life’s passport.
Hello Alan Cross,
Long time listener, first time writer.
I have heard you on the Ongoing History of New Music saying, “hey, get in touch.” So I thought who better to share my Tragically Hip story with.
I wouldn’t really call myself a fan of The Tragically Hip. Yes, the first song I recorded from the radio was Courage, but then I quickly realized there was no need to record a Tragically Hip song because they played all the time.
I grew up listening to The Edge. I listened for hours a day for all of the mid to late 1990’s. I didn’t not like The Tragically Hip, but I could get my fill of them. I loved Moist, Our Lady Peace, Oasis, Nirvana, Tool, many of the one hit wonders and smaller acts on The Edge. The Tragically Hip was just not my favourite. I had varied tastes along the alternative spectrum, but I liked harder rock. And I didn’t want to be like all the preppy girls who declared their undying love for the Tragically Hip when Trouble at the Henhouse debuted in 1996. I was 15 and I wanted to be cooler than that.
In 1997 when a bunch of my friends were talking about going to see Another Roadside Attraction at Molson Park though I wanted in. I remember my best friend at the time said “But you don’t even like The Tragically Hip.” I had complained about the ubiquitousness of their singles too much I guess. However, this was a live show we were talking about. And I had it on good authority (ie I had heard on The Ongoing History of New Music) that The Hip put on a great show. Gord Downie went on wild tangents during some of the songs and it was something you really had to see. Somehow I ended up there – but it was a long day and we were there with parents, so we were at the back of the crowd. I probably had a wicked sunburn and by the time Gord was going into tangents I was getting a little bored with the day. The Hip were just not for me.
In 2000 I went to University. The music on the Edge had changed, I wasn’t into a lot of the new stuff they were playing. I had moved and life had changed. I’m not sure I listened to the radio at all for nearly 5 years. The most I thought about The Tragically Hip was when Hurricane Katrina went through and we all thought geez, no one is ever going to play New Orleans is Sinking again.
Then the Tuesday following the May long weekend in 2016 I woke up the same way I do most mornings now – AM news radio on the alarm. They said Gord Downie had an incurable brain tumor and The Hip was going on one more tour. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t name any of their singles since [email protected] and I hadn’t thought about them in a long time, but I was stunned. And very soon after I fired up Spotify to see what I could find. I own no albums. There was never any need!
I found Yer Favourites. I found the soundtrack to my high school years. Those ubiquitous singles that had played all the time in my bedroom and always when I was driving around with my friends. And here they were. Only they were fresher now that I hadn’t heard them in almost 20 years. And they spoke to me a little more, maybe because I’m now older than the guys in The Hip were when they wrote most of them.
I knew I would never try to get tickets to the last shows. There were many more fans who deserved to be there much more than me. I bet that someone would televise it. Thank you CBC! I attended a wedding during the concert and watched it the next day. Thank you PVR! My mother watched some of the show with my kids. My 3 year old started talking about the man in the shark shirt with cancer in his brain. Thank you mom.
And then…back to life as usual. I heard there was a solo album from Gord. I saw he was getting the Order of Canada. I occasionally thought I wonder if they’ll do anything more. I wonder how Gord is doing.
Then last Wednesday around 10:45 I checked my Twitter feed. I follow 4 people on Twitter – 2 of my kids teachers, my public library and Margaret Atwood. Margaret Atwood had retweeted a story that Gord Downie had died. We’ve been streaming not just the greatest hits album this weekend, but going a little deeper into the catalouge too. It’s a weird thing for me, who has never really been a Hip fan. But I am a fan of Canadian culture and the Hip are undeniably that.
I am glad they went out with a bang. Gord could’ve just said that’s it – I want to spend time with my family and I only have so much left. He could’ve gone quietly and I would’ve seen a news story and been surprised. When Chris Cornell died last year I felt sad, but not affected. Gord left me affected, pondering, searching.
Gord knew how to do things with class. He knew how to make his mark. I certainly have a huge respect for the man. It would be wrong to say that I will miss him, but I have come to realize how much I was touched by him and his band. A final gift he gave to many of us.
This is a little longer than I thought it would be, I could just file it away with my journals, but I guess I will send it still. The point is for all the people counted as watching the final show on CBC, for all the fans in the cold and rain at Nathan Phillips Square there are more out there like me, quietly taking in The Tragically Hip’s finale, and as you quoted Dr Seuss, “smiling because it happened”.
I’m Catherine Jepson, thanks for reading.
I want to thank you for all the Gord and Hip coverage. It’s been huge for me in the mourning period. I’m 34 and Gord and the Hip have been my life’s soundtrack. I remember being a kid waiting for my Mom in the vehicle with my Brothers (back when you could leave kids in vehicles without making the evening news) and the killer whale tank rant was on the radio! I remember looking out the window at the lit up IGA sign and thing “what the hell is this?” Hanging on every word.
I was hook from that moment on. I even performed a monologue of double suicide in school. My teacher only approved it when I promised not to say the swearwords (burning bag of shit, cheap fucking apartment). This was a promise I would break once on stage!
Then Coke Machine Glow came out. I have to say, since We’ve lost Gord this is the album I’ve turned to most. It deepened my love for Gord and solidified him in my mind is the greatest poet of my generation. Whenever I listened to the Hip with someone I would always point out the words and the possibility of double meaning. Is it his music that he listens to while working or is it his music at work affecting people. Loved it.
One more thing I think should be talked about is Gord live on stage. He was mesmerizing! You could not take your eyes off him. We watched a human totally free of restraint and we felt like we were getting a glimpse into his mind with his rants. Always a great trip!
This email went longer than I wanted! I truly appreciate what you are doing and from my broken heart to yours Thank you!!
PS. At the quinte hotel is a must-watch for all Hip and Gord fans!
My name is Susan,
I have never written a memorial for anyone that wasn’t a family member or a friend, but today I wanted or maybe needed to write and express my grief in some way like so many others have for Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip.
Like many Canadians, especially ones that lived or grew up in Kingston, I didn’t have just one Gord Downie and Tragically Hip memory, I had several but a few that stood out when reflecting upon on how someone touched your life.
I realize now I took that for granted, I figured Gord and the boys would always be there providing their special brand of music that I loved and wanted to listen to over and over until I knew every word on their albums. For me, there are no other bands I could say that about.
I attended Queens in the early to mid nineties and would see the band perform at smaller local venues and see the guys around town. They always seemed accessible and friendly, like the neighbours on your street.
One memory that stands out was getting off work at Stages and a coworker took me to a late night jam session with some local band members that she knew and went to school with. When we got there I noticed Johnny Faye was on drums. We had too many drinks to be shy when we volunteered to be the back up singers and the guys were kind and patient with our drunken singing as we took over the mics to sing some Doors songs.
When I travelled to Toronto from Kingston to see my friends and family, sometimes I would see the boys on the Via and would shyly say hello as I walked by to take my seat. This was before cell phones and electronics, so you either had a Sony Walkman or you read. I was an English Major so I was always catching up on my reading. I remember one of the times, as Gord walked by my seat and saw the book I was reading(don’t remember now)commented that it looked intense. I don’t pretend to know him, but he seemed open to connecting and engaging with people.
A few years later, after moving back to Toronto and settling in Riverdale, I would take my son to Withrow Park and see Gord there with his children. He had this funny looking custom bike: a banana seat bike with a police motorcycle shield attached to the handlebars somehow. We would smile and nod at each other like we knew each other from some where or just long time neighbours that were busy with our kids/lives and would catch up another time. My oldest son, now goes to Queens and grew up listening to The Hip, and attended the memorial/vigil in Kingston last week.
In 2009 and I was 8 months pregnant and thanks to my husband , we had scored Tragically Hip front row seats at Massey Hall. Gord was singing Coffee Girl and was doing his usual riffing in between the song when he looked down and commented that I was very pregnant and saw my husband with his arm around me and commented on how much hair he had on his head and what a lovely couple we were and how happy to be ushering in new life. My husband is the same age as Gord was. My husband noticed a few months later that my baby son was clapping for the first time in the back seat to the music we were listening to…it was the Hip. Another generation of Hip fans has been established and now 8 years later, a rabid hockey fan and a goalie to boot!
Love and miss you Gord. You live on in us. Peace to you and your family.
And the news coverage keeps coming.
Rick Mercer Remembers Gord Downie
Choir! Choir! Choir! Event
From the Toronto Star:
Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman wanted to pay tribute to late Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie after learning of his death.
And so the directors of Choir! Choir! Choir!, a Toronto-based singalong collective, invited fans to Nathan Phillips Square on Tuesday night to honour Downie the best way they could — through his music.
“When we lose some of the great ones, if we can provide a space where people can come together and share the music and feel connected in a difficult time, then we’ll do it,” Adilman said. “It just felt like the right thing to do and I feel like these tributes are happening all over the country and big or small, they all matter.”
An Official Gord Downie Day?
From 102.1 the Edge/Toronto
Fans of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip have crafted a Change.org petition to get a national day of recognition for the late singer, to be called “Gord Downie Day.”
Spearheaded by Vancouver radio station JACK 96.9, the petition states that they (and by extension, all Hip/Downie fans) “feel that this quintessential Canadian icon is deserving of a NATIONAL day of remembrance and celebration.”