For those who aren’t familiar with Canada’s greatest rock band, let me give you a quick history lesson. The Tragically Hip is a band who came around in the late 1980’s and hit the country with one rock anthem after another. Not only were the songs catchy, but the lyrics were heavy and introspective and thought-provoking and many of them told important stories. If that was all that the band was known for, that might be enough for a pretty decent career.
However, frontman Gord Downie was one of the most eclectic and electrifying singers in the entire world. He could sing a song with passion and force, but then ad-lib incoherently non-stop in a manner that made you think he was either stoned out of his mind or legitimately insane.
There’s a very fine line between insanity and genius, and after 20+ years of amazing music I’d dare say that not only is Downie genius, he’s become Canada’s unofficial poet laureate and the band has unofficially become “Canada’s Band”, delivering the soundtrack for our country.
So why am I writing a story about a rock band? Well…as mentioned this past Saturday saw them play was is more-than-likely their final concert. Why? It’s not about them splitting up or retiring. No, word came out a couple of months ago that he was diagnosed with a terminal form of brain cancer.
Long-time readers of my blog already know that my mother passed away a few years ago from cancer, and while the disease has eventually ravaged her entire body it all started with a brain tumor. So needless to say, this story hit me pretty hard.
I’ve been a fan of The Hip (as their commonly known to by their fans) since I first heard New Orleans is Sinking back in 1989. And for me, this song NEVER gets old…
Album after album came out over the next decade and I always found at least one song I could crank up, which is probably similar to how a lot of Hip fans felt. I was fortunate enough to see them three times in concert over the years and even saw a Tragically Hip cover band (called Little Bones) twice during that period, as well. So yes…I would consider myself a very big fan of theirs.
When word of their final concert came out that it would take place in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario, the country’s biggest independent entertainment company (CBC) said that they were not only going to show the concert live on television (and unedited by commercials!!), but they would also show it simulcast on their YouTube channel, their website, and their radio stations across the country. CBC reported yesterday that over 11.7 million people watched the concert on Saturday night (in comparison, the opening night of the Rio Olympics garnered 2.4 million viewers).
Once the information came out about the live broadcast of the concert, towns and cities across the country scrambled to set-up viewing parties so fans could show their love and respect for this incredible band. While just under 7,000 fans packed the the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston to watch it in person, over 20,000 fans packed Springer Market Square a few blocks away. In my home city of Halifax, Nova Scotia over 5,000 fans packed the downtown’s Grand Parade to enjoy the concert on three big-screens.
As the concert came to an end, I teared up. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve been near-tears in the days since (and while writing this post). There is just something about Gord Downie and the influence he has had in my life over the past 25+ years added to the way brain cancer has affected my life that combines to make me extremely emotional. It was actually during the song Grace, Too that it really hit me like a ton of bricks. Near the end of the song, Downie screams in anguish. During this performance, though, he seemed to be letting out all of the pain and hurt and frustration and anger and sadness that he was holding inside of him. He screamed out “NOOO” over and over…as if it were a big F*CK YOU to cancer. But in the end he realized that this wasn’t a battle he could win, and the emotion simply overtook him. The link below goes to a video of this part of the song…
The photo at left should really tell the story. Knowing how cancer affected my mom, I can only imagine just how this disease is affecting someone so full of life and innovation and art as Gord Downie. All-in-all, it was simply gut-wrenching to watch, but also empowering in a way.
At the end of the day, Canada was closed on Saturday night…and I don’t know if the country will ever be the same again.
But there will ALWAYS be the music.
#FUCKCancer #InGordWeTrust #ThankYouGord #TheHip #TheTragicallyHip
The Tragically Hip’s final setlist:
“50 Mission Cap”
“At the Hundredth Meridian”
“In a World Possessed by the Human Mind”
“Tired As F*ck”
“My Music at Work”
“Twist My Arm”
“The Last Of The Unplucked Gems”
“New Orleans Is Sinking”
“Boots or Hearts”
“Blow at High Dough”
“Locked In The Trunk Of A Car”
“Ahead By A Century”