In this Post, I Try to Explain to the Rest of the World Why Canada Melted Down Over the Death of a Rock Singer

Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been struggling to explain why the death of Gord Downie has hit Canada so hard. The best comes from the New York Times which understands that America has no analogue to a person of Gord’s stature. It says this in an obituary:  “Imagine Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe combined into one sensitive, oblique poet-philosopher, and you’re getting close.” That’s pretty good.

I wrote this for the Postmedia chain of papers.

Dear Rest of the World:

You’re probably looking at Canada (if you look at us at all) and wondering how an entire nation can be consumed with grief over the death of a singer. A rock singer, no less.

“Seriously, Canada? And even your Prime Minister was crying? And now some people are talking about a state funeral for this guy? What’s up with that?”

It’s … hard to explain. But let me try.

First, we’re not ashamed about any of this. You see, The Hip was Canada’s house band and their frontman was our defacto poet laureate. To put it another way, if there was a World Cup of Rock, Canada would send The Tragically Hip.

Second, The Hip taught us about ourselves. Gord and the band were unabashedly Canadian without being jingoistic or wrapping themselves in the flag. How many people learned of Hugh MacLennan or David Milgaard through Hip lyrics? How many people across the country were sent to atlases to locate Bobcaygeon or Algonquin Park? And then there were all the hockey stories: Bill Barilko, references to the 1972 Canada-Russia series.

If there isn’t already an undergraduate course that teaches Canadian history, politics, geography and sociology using the lyrics of The Tragically Hip, it’s just a matter of time.

Read the whole story here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

8 thoughts on “In this Post, I Try to Explain to the Rest of the World Why Canada Melted Down Over the Death of a Rock Singer

  • October 19, 2017 at 8:29 am

    This may be insensitive, but I’m going to say it, because I know many people are thinking of it but are holding back. One thing about Gord Downie’s passing is that it takes the focus away from all the constant “Me Too” postings that are flooding my Facebook page

    • October 19, 2017 at 10:23 am

      Ya dude insensitive is a word , probably doesn’t really cover what your comment is
      If others bother to read it you might get more descriptive replies. How could he be so rude to die yesterday how inconvenient for you. Maybe you should just do a “mean tweet” to get it out of your system.

    • October 19, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      Dear Scott….
      You know what… You are not worth the time of day!

    • October 20, 2017 at 12:39 am

      Most people are capable of empathising with both.

  • October 19, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Canada is a relatively small country populationwise, living directly in the shadow of the world’s biggest and loudest cultural behemoth. One of the consequences is that it’s been intensely difficult for us to figure out who we are as a nation: how do you really build your own distinctive culture when it’s being crowded out by a juggernaut? And even when we think we know who we are, there’s still a deeply insecure strain to our national psyche, a part of us that still obsesses over the approval of our big brother to the south. We tend not to really embrace our own musicians, our own TV shows, our own films, unless they become popular in the United States as well.

    Somehow, though, Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip upended all that, and became iconic and beloved at home without ever needing another country’s approval to give us “permission”. For once, it didn’t matter. We certainly pondered and discussed America’s failure to catch on, but we came to a very different conclusion than we ever had before: instead of our usual “I guess this really wasn’t very good after all if the Americans don’t love it too, so we don’t love it anymore either”, it was suddenly “I guess the Americans just don’t get how good this is, so we’re just going to let it be our own special thing and hold onto it even tighter.”

    We needed somebody to pull that off, and Gord did. That, to me, is one of his greatest achievements.

    • October 20, 2017 at 10:21 am

      Well said Craig! Given the Canadian cultural landscape, it really is an amazing feat that they accomplished.

  • October 19, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    So did buffalo and Niagara Falls New York


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