This past week a whole reservoir of love flew from Canadian pens and keyboards towards Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip. The man, machine, poem and his band have made us cry and reminisce as they toured one last time in the wake of Downie’s incurable glioblastoma — terminal brain cancer.
The Hip finished their tour last night in Kingston, Ontario, the band’s hometown. CBC live streamed the whole thing.
Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip, a Canadian treasure
For any non-Canadian readers: Gord Downie is an amazing performer and all-around badass who never held anything back on stage, who made you feel like being Canadian was cool, powerful and poetic. Whose lyrics could be mumbled by drunks and intellectuals alike and shone a light on all the idiosyncrasies and secrets that make up this big land north of the 49th parallel.
Gord is a founding member of The Tragically Hip. They started playing in 1984 and he has always been their lead vocalist and lyricist. Just read through some of the lyrics from his 2001 solo album, Coke Machine Glow and you can see that the man really was a poem.
As a young liberal arts student, The Tragically Hip’s songs were a part of the musical wallpaper of my high school and university years. It was on the radio as you drove from Lennoxville to Montréal. New Orleans is Sinking was playing in a Halifax bar before your friend’s band got up to play. You woke up hungover and put on The Hip while you made pancakes.
The Hip’s records were like a friend you could trust. Whether recovering from a broken heart, a broken family or a broken world, you could always put on The Hip’s records as a safe place.
American bands and albums are nice, but Gord made a narrative path for a generation of Canadians to tread on, with our own problems and possibilities.
I just wanted to share how we celebrated The Hip’s final concert, like many other Canadian across the country, with a bunch of friends and a backyard projector.
Weeks before we had made plans to all gather in the backyard of our friends’ house.
The day before our friend Gab had gone around to all her neighbours’ houses in the North End of Halifax with cookies and simultaneously invited them to the concert while pre-apologizing that it was going to be loud.
Yesterday morning, Rob and I drove out to Burnside to rent a ridiculous six thousand dollar projector that used to belong to The Trailer Park Boys. We then hit up Long & McQuade in Dartmouth to rent a pair of Yorkville speakers.
As we were loading them into the back of the van, an employee idly kicked an empty space along their rental wall and said they should consider sweeping the space since it’s never clear — everyone in the city was renting gear to stream The Hip’s concert and had cleaned them out.
In the backyard, we glued four white shower curtains together to make a twelve-foot square screen. We stapled the glued curtains to two 2″x4″ beams to hold the top and bottom of the screen straight.
Using some ‘industrial strength’ twine from the dollar store we lashed the screen to the side of the house out of the second floor bedroom and bathroom windows. There were cables coming out the windows, out from the basement. A computer might have fried because there was no grounding.
The concert started at 9:30pm Atlantic and friends and neighbours arrived, bringing air mattresses, lawn chairs, chips and beer. There was a keg.
Gab is a talented designer and made these awesome candy shish kabobs. Another friend, Allie, brought a legendary spicy cheese dip, the recipe for which she rescued from a restaurant chain she used to work at before it closed down.
People make things happen
When people come together, whether it’s to build a rocket ship or have a backyard concert, awesome things happen.
So I love that I was together with friends, celebrating The Hip. I love that the set list was 30 songs long and included three encores. I love that they played ‘Bobcagyeon’, ‘New Orleans is Sinking’, ‘Wheat Kings’, ‘Grace, Too’, ‘Ahead by a Century’, ‘Tired as Fuck’ and so many others. It makes me happy that #InGordWeTrust is a thing.
This morning I woke up to a Tragically Hip Spotify playlist. I love these photos I took last night even though it was so dark and they’re so grainy and objectively not good at all.
I love that Downie used the national stage last night to bring attention to first nations communities up north.
“Prime Minister Trudeau’s got me, his work with First Nations. He’s got everybody. He’s going to take us where we need to go… It’s going to take us 100 years to figure out what the hell went on up there, but it isn’t cool and everybody knows that. It’s really, really bad, but we’re going to figure it out, you’re going to figure it out.”
“A promise to this country. I mean the Prime Minister… We’re in good hands folks. Real good hands. He cares about the people up north, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore. Trained our entire lives to not hear a word of what’s going on up there. But what’s going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe even worse than it’s ever been. So it’s not on the improve and we’re gonna get it fixed. But we’ve got the guy to do it. To start. To help.”
Almost five years ago now, on October 21, 2010, Downie came to Bishop’s University with his other band, The Country of Miracles. They put on an amazing show that was attended by maybe a hundred people.
I was just starting my third year of university and shooting at the concert so I could write an article for the university newspaper. Gord let me get up close and made me feel like a real concert photographer even though I was a self-taught kid who barely knew how to use a camera.
The theatre had just flooded a week before and it was a miracle the show was able to go on at all. The river had risen 7.3 metres and 900 people left during evacuation.
The piece I wrote has long-since been swallowed by The Campus archives, but I’ll always have the photos and the memory.
Thanks for everything, Gord. You were the coolest guy. Ahead by a century. You helped a whole country figure itself out.