Could a tweet sum up October 17th 2017 any better?
The nation, fans of The Tragically Hip or not, was taken aback on October 17th when the news was confirmed: Gord Downie had died. The nation seemed shocked, despite knowing for quite some time that the frontman was suffering from terminal brain cancer.
I was writing a tribute to Leonard Cohen at the time, as it has been one year since he died. In that moment, when I found out Canada’s other true troubadour was also gone, the atmosphere changed. It was somber. I no longer wanted to write. I didn’t want to accept that a year after a monumental literary hero of mine had died, another was now gone.
The Ongoing History of New Music Podcast, hosted by Allan Cross, released a two-episode feature on Gord. He couldn’t have nailed it any better than he did. This podcast was everything I wished I’d written, and when he said he saw a tweet that summed up Gord Downie’s death perfectly, he was right: “Canada closed, death in the family”.
The Tragically Hip and Gord Downie are never far from mind when “Canada” and “music” are mentioned in the same sentence. Cross discusses this in detail throughout his podcast feature, reminding us that Fully Completely is basically one giant history lesson of Canada.
The excerpts of interviews included in the feature were flawless. They speak to how much Gord loved what he did and how, at an early age, he possessed what most musicians rarely do: a never-ending, marital love for music.
Gord was always proud to be in a band, even when nobody knew him. He said the following about the feeling he would get during band practice, “I just worked on a secret and wait until you hear it”. This quote demonstrates a belief in the power of music that the majority of musicians simply don't possess. Luck is often dubbed as what separates one musician from the next, but I have a new theory that it's not only luck, but also a belief like Gord's. The belief that what you are doing as a musician, and as an artist, will move somebody else emotionally.
Allan tells a story of the band playing at an empty bar when the group was first starting out. After the set, the band had a couple of beers with the few people there. Gord’s response to what it’s like to be in these situations was no short of perfect:
The one thing about bands is that…they’re always funny…and that humour comes from these bottom-of-the-barrel moments that would crush people, even if they knew that they happened to you. So, you help each other through these things, and you forge them.
It takes belief in the music and art to trudge through moments like these. If Gord needed to be summed up in one word – it’s belief. Belief in art, poetry, music, playing live, and the greatness of Canada.
Cross further ends his two-part series with all that really needs to be said about Gord Downie and the art he left, “Yo, Gord. Hey, man, thanks.”
Mike is a University of Ottawa honours graduate with an English background. Currently a student in the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College, he also writes for Breaking the Trend and Spotlight Ottawa. Mike strives to increase the publicity of the Ottawa music scene – which he is a part of through his band, Lost Acres.