Why does it hurt so much? Why did I cry over losing someone I didn’t even know? What is it about Gord Downie and the tragic loss of his life last night that has struck such a chord with me, and with so very many of us?
I’ve seen so much in my newsfeed today about how The Tragically Hip was the soundtrack to university for so many of my peers. And they were. I’ve also seen people speak a lot about what a true patriot he was, educating a population about Canadian history through his music in a way only Gord could. And he was, and he did.
People have spoken about his heart, his true love of and passion for Indigenous rights, using his final days to preach a gospel meant to inspire a nation to act. But I don’t think any of that is why we cry for Gord today.
Our Prime Minister wept today speaking about Gord Downie. “We are less of a country without Gord Downie in it,” he said. Gord was beloved, not because of the things he did but because of who he was and what he meant to us. “He was my friend,” he said. “He was everybody’s friend.”
That’s why we cry for Gord today.
I remember the very first time I saw the Hip play live. It was the first Kumbaya Festival held at the iconic Forum. They headlined that show. They sang six songs. Gord wore his ‘Save The Humans’ t-shirt and lamented the killer whale tank. I was in the front row at that show. There is footage of me and my frizzy hair and braces and Barenaked Ladies t-shirt clapping like the 16-year-old fangirl that I was. I screamed in unison with the crowd when he belted out “Looked up to the lord above and said ‘hey man, thanks’.”
He was an amazing artist to see live, to watch as he riffed with seemingly nonsensical words that all strung together to mean something to him but were a mystery to most of us in the audience. Sometimes he’d just break out into wails and screams. At that show at the Forum, he walked across the speakers on the stage like a bridge, for no particular reason. There was no bullshit. He was who he was, take him or leave him.
I think that’s why I loved him so much. He was talented, he was kind, he was a bit weird and he was totally unapologetic. He was accessible to so many of us who loved his music and his quirky showmanship.
Yes, when I think of the Hip, I think of weekends at my friend’s cottage, driving back and blasting Fireworks as loud as we could. I think of rocking out to New Orleans Is Sinking at the college bar. I hear those songs and I am sent right back to the days of my life that were so transformative, so impactful and so very difficult in so many ways. I didn’t know where I was going in life. I didn’t know who or what I’d be. All I knew back then was that my life was undergoing an incredible shift from child to adult, and the Hip was there, either in the background or at the forefront, in some capacity, the whole time.
I was lucky enough to score a ticket to the farewell show. I cried. I wept. I was already mourning the loss of such greatness, the end of an era, and the end of the soundtrack that saw me through the most impressionable days of my life. For so many of us, the pain hurts worse than other megastars who we’ve recently lost, because something about the Hip was different. They played stadiums here but were virtually unheard of across the border. They were our gem, our find, our talent, our very own rock stars.
Maybe that’s why, when my husband called to tell me the news, I literally stopped dead in my tracks and lost my breath and immediately started crying. We knew he was sick. We knew he was on borrowed time. But the news came as a shock nonetheless.
That he toured the country after his diagnosis, that he made it a point to say goodbye and thank you to his fans speaks volumes to who he was and why we loved him so much; because he loved us. He loved his fans and he loved this country. We mattered to him. So, he mattered to us.
This news has hit a massive chunk of my newsfeed the same way. Most Canadian websites were all about Gord this morning. The news is everywhere, and so is the heartbreak. We, as a country are feeling this loss. It’s weird we’re all so affected given that we never met him. But Gord was real. He was so very real. People felt like they knew the real Gord because he didn’t hide who he was to anyone. It made it easier to feel connected to him. It made it easier to be drawn to him. And it makes it so much easier to feel the gravity of losing him.
So, this morning, after the news sunk in, I did exactly what his music told me to do. I looked up to the lord above and said ‘hey man, thanks’ for Gord Downie.
(Photo Credit: 983maxfm.com)