(This is not a traditional sports piece like my other work on here. Gord Downie, for many, was as much a part of sports in Canada as he was of music. He was transcendence personified.)
“Music brings people together. So my function in anything I do is to help bring people closer in.”
– Gord Downie (1964-2017)
And his words.
The pulse of a country. The soundtrack of its people, — children, teenagers, and adults alike — Gord Downie had no target audience…
We ALL listened.
The evening of October 17, 2017, brought with it news jolting a nation into a state of shock and mourning — Tragically Hip frontman, Gord Downie had passed away after a courageous battle with Glioblastoma, an aggressive form of terminal brain cancer he was diagnosed with back in May 2016.
Despite staring death in the eye for almost 18 months, facing his inevitable demise, Downie’s passion and commitment to life never wavered —— it only grew stronger.
The announcement of a 15-show farewell tour quickly followed the May diagnosis. Despite an impending reality nobody was prepared to face, it gave a country that had collectively adopted his songs as their generational mixtape one final chance to say Thank You.
Even knowing the outcome to be inevitable, we all hoped it would never come to pass (and so soon after losing John Dunsworth to boot — may I also say the finest trailer park supervisor this country has ever seen). I’m sure Gord would agree.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider Gord Downie a “different kind of dude.”
He was “Canada’s humble genius” (Ron MacLean’s words, not mine).
Downie personified what made Canada so special. His selflessness guided him to help those without a voice — Gord happily lent them his. He loved Canada for all it was…and all it could be.
“We are less as a country today without Gord Downie.”
– Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Oct. 17, 2017)
Some of us recall cottage nights to Bobcaygeon — others harken back to the days of lacing up to Courage in hockey dressing rooms. Our stories were connections — not only to Gord and the band we more aptly knew as The Hip — but to one another. Friendships conceived in the mind of a lyrical genius who made us all feel like we were his close friend. Our Buddy Gord.
I myself did not start out the biggest or most emphatic Hip supporter. Ask those close to me, they’d laugh at the thought of me jamming to a Hip playlist. You could say I was not Ahead, but Behind by a Century…
…But as time wore on, the elegance of Downie’s words began breaking down barriers I had, for far too long, hid behind. Blinded by forces that, to this day, I truly cannot explain. Perhaps they were my attempt to be different, and not be drawn into some patriotic fad.
Instead what I found was rhythmic poetry from the mind of a man who wanted nothing but for everybody to love, and simply connect with one other through music. He saw the good in all of us but was never shy to point out our collective shortcomings — the need for reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples being one of his more publicized pleas.
Through it all, Gord Downie never veered off course. His spoken word and lyrical wizardry, apart from representing the purest form of Canadiana I can think of, served as a reminder to never be comfortable with how something may or may not be. When united under a common belief, humanity is capable of defying even the gravest odds.
While I may have been tardy to the party, I’m happy I finally arrived. And in doing so, I finally began to see, actually feel, the connection Gord and his fellow band members worked their whole lives to create.
The road ahead brings opportunity, promise, and hope — Gord’s dream of a better Canada is now a joint effort. It’s up to each and every one of us to do our part as we look to leave the world a better place than how we found it.
Love a lot more. Hate a lot less. Aim to raise the collective happiness of everyone you encounter, not only within the borders of our beautiful country — but also the world.
And witness a new world — a better world — reveal itself, one soul at a time.
That’s precisely what our buddy Gord would want.