As I begin writing this article I am sitting on my balcony in a small town not too far from Geneva, with a beautiful view of the Swiss alps. I am listening to The Hip – Ahead by a Century, probably too loud. I don’t care , I am feeling rebellious. Rebellious and nostalgic.
Rebellious and nostalgic and another feeling I can’t quite place.
This may come as a surprise to most Canadians, other than those who live or have many friends outside of Canada. Most people in the “rest of the world” don’t actually know the Tragically Hip.
As a Canadian living over here in Europe, I was surprised by the announcement that Gord Downie had terminal cancer. But the second biggest surprise was when I started talking about it around me – “Did you hear about the lead singer of the Tragically Hip?!?!” I said, shocked.
“Who?” was the reply.
“The Tragically Hip! You know! Ahead by a Century? Wheat Kings? Bobcaygeon? New Orleans is Sinking…?”
Yes my fellow Canadians, I know this will come as a shock to you too: it turns out, many things we consider sacred, obvious and significant in Canada are actually not that well-known outside of the country. But in a way, that makes it so much more important to us, because we own them.
Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip are ours.
Their summer tour was an amazing gift to us all. Canadians across the world were able to tune in to CBC and watch their last concert in Kingston.
I just watched this amazing compilation by Maclean’s magazine, of fans singing the last song of the evening… (Hold on a sec, just have to turn the volume up here a bit.)
Watch the video and you’ll notice something amazing.
Did you spot it?
Watch again, carefully… It’s not the fact that people are smiling while crying, singing and hugging… It’s not even the sheer number of people who turned out everywhere across the country…
Do you see any phones or cameras, filming, taking photos? Nope, almost none. Any other concert, event, major celebrity moment, famous person’s public appearance, important event – the phones come out to record the moment and share it with the world later.
Everyone is right there, in the moment.
Every person is 100% present at that very second in time, with the band, with the music, in the experience, together, alone, and nowhere else. Some people dance, but most are just standing, facing the music, swaying a bit maybe, eyes and heart wide open, listening. Recording it with their souls.
We like to think we’ll live forever, don’t we? We like to believe that we’ll live forever, or at least until well into our 90s, and “pass away” in our sleep after having spent a fun day rock climbing or windsurfing or something like that.
53 years old, to be told your days are numbered – that just feels wrong. Unfair.
But the truth is, we’re all just here temporarily. I want to write that maybe the reason Gord Downie’s diagnosis and death hits so hard is because he’s one of us. But that’s not quite right. The truth is, we are one of them. The Hip is our band, a part of our country, our heritage, our generation, and dammit I am so glad we didn’t share them outside our borders.
I saw them in Halifax in 1990, at the Misty Moon. I was 21 years old. Gord Downie is just a few years older than I am now.
Seeing him on that stage, singing through tears, has brought our own mortality crashing down on us as we all realize we are all on a road with the same destination. Suddenly, some of the lines from their songs feel like they were written for this moment.
No dress rehearsal, this is our life.
There’s no simple explanation
For anything important any of us do
And, yeah, the human tragedy
Consists in the necessity
Of living with the consequences
If I had a wish
I’d wish for more of this