“Get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy.” Chills ran up my spine and a tear welled in my eye, never before has a lyric changed its meaning so much and become so powerful. 11.7 million other Canadians seem to have felt the same, the most watched broadcast in Canadian history since February 2010, second only to the 2010 Olympic hockey finals. Blah, blah, blah. You’ve already read this stuff, I know I am late to the deluge of coverage of this event, even though as I write this I see several more news outlets and bloggers still releasing their takes. To be honest I was debating even writing this, let alone publishing it but this entire blog project is as much getting things off my mind as it is practicing to get good enough as a writer to get paid for it and The Hip are on my mind.
1/3 of a country that occupies 1/3 of a continent watched on as a man went through a kaleidoscope of emotions on stage, how could he not? Gordon Edgar Downie stood in front of the millions….AND MILLIONS, of Tragically Hip fans and gave us everything he had and poured every emotion possible out of his soul. Kingston, Canada and the world saw it and we wept with him and for him. All over the globe Canadians and fans streamed the feed on, computers, phones and tablets and felt everything Mr Downie did. It was not just 11.7 million fans it was 11.7 million empaths sharing a moment with one man. I admire the decision to squeeze in this tour, to me it speaks volumes of the character of Mr. Downie, he knew the out come and stood up in the face of death and said “I am NOT tired as fuck. I will not go quietly nor will I go before I have said good bye to everyone. I will not win this fight but I will leave on my terms.” I respect Mr Downie for that. He would not give up and accept his fate without fighting back and going on his terms, my Grandfather was the same way when he battled ALS, “It may take me but it will have to come and get me.” There is nothing more on this Earth that I respect than the willingness to fight on in the face of certain loss, the strength of will it takes to persevere, to put aside all self pity, rage, sorrow and in the case of Mr. Downie the sacrifice of time with family and friends. Hold on a second, is it possible the he spent time with thousands of friends at a time in ten different cities?
If you missed the show, I have no doubt in my mind that there will be a home version released at some point, in fact I would bet heavily on that and the stipulation that a least part of the proceeds go to a charity to help cancer research and/or the plight of the aboriginal peoples. I see no problem with that, take my money. I do not see the Tragically Hip continuing on though, I can envision a tribute album where other vocalists fill in for Mr Downie as the rest of the Hip play, but I do not see someone filling in full time, not this band, not now. There are bands that just aren’t the same unless they are the complete unit we have accepted, like The Beatles you just can’t swap out one member and go on, other bands have and found success after replacing members but The Hip just doesn’t seem like one. Don’t mistake me, I think the remaining members can continue their careers or do other things and be successful but I can’t see a new front man being inserted and the band continuing on, once in a while maybe but not full time.
There was one major beneficiary Saturday night, Justin Trudeau, Mr Downie publicly endorsed him and and bound him to be the man who rights the wrongs done to the aboriginal population and be the leader that will lead Canada into a prosperous and bright future. No pressure Justin, not like it’s your rookie year or anything… Holy shit, I wouldn’t want that job just for the BS of public opinion on how you balance everything let alone having the most beloved Canadian since Wayne Gretzky fully endorse you as the next big thing. Mr. Downie said multiple times with incredible conviction that our Prime Minister is the man and I would wager caused some reconsideration to many that did not support our him. The flip side to that is now Mr Trudeau has to live up to being put on a pedestal in the second largest and most uncensored broadcast in Canadian history. That may have be the most clever bit of public accountability in political history. Well played Mr Downie, well played.
I know that this was not the last news story surrounding Mr Downie, I am hoping that there is one solid sit down interview where he can express what his thoughts were as he stood there and looked out at another sold out arena, knowing that there are millions watching from homes, bars, back yard parties and in the streets and massive gatherings. It doesn’t matter much though, the Tragically Hip did not do right by Mr Downie or the band or the fans, they did right by the Canadian spirit. The spirit that never forgets where we come from or who is important to were we go to go. The spirit that says give back to others before you take for yourself, the one that was outlined by William Shatner, Kathrine O’Hara and Michael J. Fox at the 2010 Olympics closing ceremonies. Across the Great Lakes in Chicago Eddie Vedder made a point of paying tribute to Mr Downie dedicating Light Years to him. I look at Pearl Jam and see the same spirit in the music and the same intelligent writing and for some reason whether it be management or just being too Canadian (like being too blonde I suppose) The Tragically Hip never became the world’s band like Pearl Jam has, they remained our band, a Canadian band for the Canadian people in the spirit of the true north strong and free.
I want you all to sit there for a moment and think about your current job, it is your last day and you have done such a good job that 11.7 million people are watching you in emotional turmoil, you did a good job and you don’t really want to leave but it is out of our hands. On what may be his last day on the job. Mr. Downie gave his everything he had on Aug 20, 2016, he lay his microphone on it’s stand and his eyes seemed to say “I can do no more.” and we thank him.He got his due in the end, he did what he loved for the final time in his home town for a sold out crowd, masses in the streets and the eyes of a nation. Pick your four closest friends and imagine that you could be there doing anything you loved one last time in front of that audience. Being on that stage watching a friend, a brother, as sick and exhausted as he must have been giving every last thing he had to your final time performing together. We saw tears, we shed tears and we are just on lookers, what we didn’t see would crush us as human beings. Cancer ravages one person physically but families emotionally, those four others on stage and many support crew backstage were his family too. The strength to get through that show on all accounts staggers me. The Tragically Hip made an impact by doing what they loved. They ‘made a thing’ and that thing enthralled us, that gives me hope and it should give anyone creating something hope. I will be honest here and say that I have considered quitting this, now I feel that I can never stop because The Hip never stopped and look what they turned into three decades later. Go and live, go and make your thing, go and keep going until you can’t, THAT is what I took away from Saturday August 20th 2016. Go forward my friends and do not look back until the end, you could find as many people behind you as The Hip.