I never grew up with The Tragically Hip. I didn't know much about them, really.
I do recall some drunken headbanging to Blow At High Dough and New Orleans Is Sinking when I was in university, but it wasn't until I was in my thirties and met my husband D. - a devout fan of The Hip, that I got fully introduced to Gord Downie and the band.
The first time I saw The Tragically Hip perform was at an outdoor concert in Stratford, Ontario, and truth be told, I wasn't that impressed. Gord Downie was absolutely wild on stage, wiping his brow with a white handkerchief and flailing it about with great drama. It was freezing and my hands were shaking so hard that the beer in my plastic cup kept sloshing over the edge. D. was pretty tanked. That night I heard some guys in front of us speaking French with an Acadian accent, right in the middle of very English Ontario. They were from a village called Rogersville about 45 minutes from where I grew up. We figured out that we had friends in common. It made me forget all about the cold.
A month later I saw Downie again at a fund raising concert for the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper organization, this time solo with his guitar. The concert was held at the Sydenham United Church in Kingston, Ontario, on a crisp fall night. When he started singing his voice filled the space unlike anything I'd ever heard. It turned me around, I was smitten. That was also the night I met my in-laws for the first time, we joined them for dinner before the concert. I was nervous, freshly divorced and wondering how D.'s mom would react to him hooking up with an older divorcée.
"Eleven years ago - almost exactly - Gord and Mark collaborated with dancer Andrea Nann and poet Tanis Rideout to present the “Heart of a Lake” Tour. With song, movement, and spoken word, they went into the heart of Lake Ontario’s most polluted communities. The shows were intimate and touching. They inspired communities to dream big and to imagine better futures for themselves. They were life-changing evenings for all of us. Gord gave us that."
~ Krystyn Tully, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper blog
There's also the time we splurged on a Montreal getaway to see The Tragically Hip perform at the Metropolis. We were so close to the stage that we could see the beads of sweat stream down Gord Downie's forehead. That was awesome.
There was at least one more time at Ottawa's Bluesfest with Bro-in-Law and Sis-in-Law. We got all decked out, I wore thick black eyeliner. That was the first time Sis-in-Law took a bus and experienced the festival crowds. She was glowing. She was beautiful.
Last year D. and I saw Gord Downie perform The Secret Path at the National Arts Centre. It is one of the most intense and moving performances I've ever seen or experienced. There wasn't a dry eye in the place.
And of course there's our wedding day. Our wedding reception was held in our home. The living room was transformed into a dance hall by pushing the furniture against the walls and draping red Christmas lights over the mantel. Tunes were queued up on an iPod hooked to speakers. I was busting a move and caught D. as he passed through, "Come dance!", I yelled above the music. He stopped and said that only one song would get him on the dance floor, and he pulled up Bobcaygeon by The Hip. It was the soundtrack to our first summer together as we stargazed up north. I melted. We danced. D.'s family - also devout Hip fans - sang along, serenading us from the sidelines. Out of our entire wedding day I think this is the moment that stands out the most.
Last August, during The Hip's final concert, D. and I danced to Bobcaygeon in our living room again as they performed it for the last time at the K-Rock Centre in Kingston, broadcast live on national television.
This past year and half I've watched Gord Downie radiate Love, but most of all I think he radiated Truth. There is a collective mourning happening across the country right now and though I'm sure the reasons for grieving are diverse, maybe the sadness is so prevalent because losing Truth hurts. Especially one as celebrated and unapologetic as Gord Downie's.
Maybe that's why I'm crying tonight.
A friend of mine posted on Facebook that Gord Downie showed us how to live and he showed us how to die. May we grieve, and then may we rise up to live and die in our own Truth. I still don't know much about Gord Downie, but I bet he'd dig that.
May you rest in peace, Mr. Downie. Thank you, and may you rest in peace.