I woke up this morning to the radio news telling me Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer.
We’ve had many significant losses in the music department these last few months, many of which have touched my heart and my history, but this one cuts me to the quick. I am not a fan girl type, I roll my eyes at those that scream so loud they drown out the actual music I came to hear, but I am not exaggerating when I say I cried at this news.
I know he’s not gone yet, but I have been able to think of little else since I heard. Part of this reaction, I’m sure, has to do with my own husband’s brush with brain-shaped mutiny; but only a small part. I abandoned my to-do list and just spent two hours in the garden listening to the first four The Tragically Hip albums back to back (and the first one is NOT Up to Here, Global News guy). I’m sure I’m not the only one, and surely these will not be the only words written about Gordon and Johnny and Paul and Gord and Rob today. I will stridently avoid the lyrical references that are racing through my brain right now, and just give you my story.
The Hip, for me, have been formative. I was secretly writing poetry when I discovered this band that wore theirs on the sleeve. You could do that? And make obscure historical and literary references at the same time? While playing rock?
For a misfit smart girl with a penchant for good drum beats and clean riffs, The Hip gave me more than just music; they were the example I needed of incongruity being an asset, one I could own with the kind of passion that allows a man to dance with his entire body. I could be a poet and a math whiz. Nothing wrong with wearing my baggy corduroys and Chuck Taylors to school and still enjoying getting dressed up for church on Sundays. And if something grabs your attention, talk about it. Write about it.
Wheat Kings was one of the first songs I learned on guitar. New Orleans is Sinking was one of the first I sang on stage (impromptu, with a great house band–and I nailed every word. I was 19.) Bobcaygeon is my husband’s song for me. I use Hip lyrics when teaching poetry workshops.
But beyond the music, these are people who stayed people instead of morphing into raging rock gods. Not that I know any of them personally, but by all accounts (including my sister’s of hanging with them back stage after a show) they are a polite, considerate, fairly private bunch of guys. I don’t want to idolize them, but these are the kind of humans I can get behind.
And then: the band announces to the world that their voice is not long for the world, and in the same proverbial breath, announces one final tour. Giving up? Pssh. That’s for sissies and Americans.
So, Boys, you have been in my bloodstream from the beginning. Another Roadside Attraction ’97 will forever be part of the definition of me. Thank you for giving me permission to be a poet, a guitarist, a dance-from-my-soul freak. Thank you for giving me songs I can scream and cry and croon. Thank you for answering this circumstance, not by declaring defeat, but by giving more of yourselves.
Prayers for you, for your families. And if there is anything else I can give, in gratitude for what you have given me, say the word.