On the morning of Tuesday, May 24, I got up around 5:20 like I do every workday. Staggered around. Checked my phone. Saw email from Aaron trying to arrange a day for group posts about Gord Downie. Didn’t think much of it. Aaron does stuff like that. Looked backwards in my email. Saw one from Brian. Cancer. Okay. That explains the group post. Still wasn’t overly concerned. Scrolled back one more. Opened the email message the band sent to their mailing list.
Later that day, a friend took a picture of one of his Hip concert stubs and posted it to Facebook. This inspired me to do the same:
The first was one of my most anticipated concerts. It came at the height of their status as Canada’s Band and came after a long string of skipping Saskatchewan on their cross-Canada tours. (Anyone concerned that Downie’s health will affect the quality of their upcoming shows can rest easy – they’re back touring like they did in their prime.)
I remember lots of little things about those shows – an audience willing to murder the Rheostatics to get to the Hip, Sheryl Crow’s dog at Roadside, Gord shaking a banana. But looking at these tickets now, the most interesting story they tell me is that they stop at 1999. For all the shows I go to, it’s been over 17 years since I’ve seen them.
As is the case for an awful lot of people my age, the Hip are – as I mentioned – Canada’s Band. They got big as I got into high school and ever since have remained something that Canadians share. Something we have in common.
Weird thing about Canadians. We celebrate failure in America as much as we covet success there. The Hip’s inability to break through in the States only made them OURS that much more. Of course YOU wouldn’t get it. It’s a Canadian thing. Only WE get it. And yet it seemed like every story I read about Downie in the past week had to reference the band’s 1995 Saturday Night Live appearance as though it was a career highlight and not a favour from Lorne Michaels to Dan Aykroyd.
Everyone has their story. My boss at the pizza place where I had my first job used to see them at a dive bar in Saskatoon when they were first starting out – they’d come to town and play for a week, no cover charge. I was so envious. He was likely lying, but still. Envious.
I read someone online this week who said that nothing outed him as an immigrant like the lack of a deep attachment to the Tragically Hip.
I think this was supposed to be about my favourite Downie and/or Hip moments or songs or something. Not doing that. Don’t know from moments, can’t rank the songs. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The Hip as a concept, as an entity, means more than any one song. Or ten songs.
And I’m not the right guy to do it anyway. As the years went by, I listened to new Hip albums less and less. Still bought them all, but didn’t give them all a fair shake. Stuck to what I already knew. It’s very strange to think there have been about as many Hip records released after the last time I saw them as before. I still think of Phantom Power as being one of their newer albums.
I often think about things ending. I unload the dishwasher and consider that at some point, I will unload a dishwasher for the last time. I wonder if I’ll know when it happens?
But I had never really considered that the Hip could end. It feels like they’ve been around for as long as I can remember; and more importantly, they’re a Canadian institution. Part of us. Saying they could end is like saying Canada could end. Sure, it could happen, my logical brain gets that, but my emotional brain says that it won’t happen in my lifetime. Right?
Of course they’d have to end at some point, right? All bands end. They have to. All people end. 2016 has made sure we remember that.
I look back at the morning of the 24th and wish I could blame my naiveté on being half-awake. Group post for no reason? That’s fine. Cancer? Sucks, but that happens. Probably no big deal.
Couldn’t wrap my head around it. Still can’t, really.
Alan Cross said that we’re not allowed to eulogize Downey yet. I’m trying not to. But we’re all celebrating his life, his career, his art, his band, him. And you know why. Nobody wants to think about why, but we all know why.
After a 17-year self-inflicted drought, I got a ticket to the August 1 show in Calgary. Spent too much money. 8-hour drive – each way. Thrilled to see them again, incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity. And we all know why.
You were very kind to read all that, so here are some pictures of my Roadside program and sampler CD for your amusement.