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Michael Barclay – The Never-Ending Present: The Story Of Gord Downie And The Tragically Hip






My lovely wife came home from work with this beautiful artifact tonight. She said “I brought something for you…” She knew I needed this. We all do. My lovely wife rocks.

Herein lies an almost-100 page tribute issue, and it looks gorgeous.

Hie thee to yon local newsstand, fellow Canucks (and anyone else fortunate enough, this week, to have MacLean’s on their newsstands), and grab thy copy forthwith!

R.I.P. Gord Downie (1964-2017)

We knew it was coming. In a way, the nation has been bracing itself and mourning him since his glioblastoma diagnosis announcement, in 2016. I was just arriving at work this morning when my lovely wife texted me the news. I sat a moment in the car and just quietly offered my thanks and a heartfelt goodbye.

We all have Gord stories, and Hip stories, and all of them we hold dear. We were there. We know all the words, every note. We revelled in each new story and instant-classic line in every song. Gord has been so much a part of our fabric for so long that when the Hip ended that farewell tour it still didn’t even seem real.

Today’s news also seems unreal, though we know the truth. Gord was a gentleman, a true poet, a man pushing towards the edges to see what was there while showing us our own nation and history. Endearingly for us all, he was also one of us.

Thank you, Gord. For everything.

Coke Machine Glow

On the heels of our Gord Downie Tribute posts yesterday, I thought I’d also share this cool memento, gifted to me years ago.

Back in 2001, Gord had just released his solo album/book of poetry called Coke Machine Glow. Of course, I was all over it, super-excited. I bought both the CD and the book and devoured them. The tunes on the CD are awesome, of course, and the book contains the lyrics from the songs, as well as other poetry.

And then one day I met up with my long-time buddy, Brother Brian, and he just sort of unceremoniously said “here, you’ll want this” and hand me a copy of the book. When I was about to thank him and say I already had it, he held up his hand and said “you don’t have it like this!” I looked closer… the book had been autographed by Gord!

Immediately I needed details. Where did he meet Gord? What did they talk about? Sadly, Brian hadn’t met the man. He’d been in a Chapters book store the day after Gord had been there for a book signing, and they’d had copies left-over. So he snagged one for me, knowing I’d be over the moon.

Now that, folks, was understatement. What a beautiful thing. THANKS, BRIAN!!


I’m total pro, that’s what I’m here for

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.


Gord Downie Tribute

Following the news of Gord Downie’s brain cancer, we’re doing a group post of Tragically Hip Things. Each will take their own approach, surely.

Go read posts by BOPPIN   DEKE   SARCA   GEOFF   MIKE (guest review)

This is not a eulogy. This is a celebration, and a message of strength, power and love to Gord, his family, his band-mates, and his friends. 

For my post, I am not choosing my Top Ten moments (haha as if I could keep it to a list of ten, get real!), and I will not be recounting my tales of getting to see the band perform live (I’ve already done that, in these pages).

Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on Gord the poet, the master of words. However far out there he’s gone, he’s made everything he sang about us, our lives, our country. It’s always like he’s giving back to us, thanking us, when it seems like we’re the ones thanking him.

I’ve chosen some of my favourite stanzas and one-liners from his lyrics. Believe me, this is the tip of the iceberg. So many times, over all these years, I’ve found myself going back and re-listening to the endless examples of greatness in his writing. I catch myself singing along to songs and then I realize just how brilliantly put-together the words really are (let alone the music).

Ahead By A Century

First thing we’d climb a tree
And maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently
And listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday
Cast in a golden light
No dress rehearsal,
This is our life

No dress rehearsals. We go every day into this life and do our best. It’s so easy to get on auto pilot, to let all the things you have to do slow you down or become negative. Instead, go into it knowing it’s what you want to do, what you’ve chosen to do and, yes, what you have to do, and try to do it with some grace and style. There’s no second chance at any of this. This isn’t just a song lyric, it’s a friggin’ manifesto.

Wheat Kings

they add, “you can’t be fond of living in the past,
’cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re gonna last”

And for damned sure. Live this moment and make the next one better. Go forward like that.

Use It Up

Use it up, use it all up
Don’t save a thing for later

Quoting Raymond Carver, this line has been the KMA tagline (at the top of the screen) for quite a while now. I love this thinking.

It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken

Let’s swear that we will
Get with the times
In a current health to stay
Let’s get friendship right
Get life day-to-day…

…For a good life we just might have to weaken
And find somewhere to go (Go somewhere we’re needed)
Find somewhere to grow (Grow somewhere we’re needed)

I’m sure you’re sensing a theme, here…


If there’s a goal that everyone remembers
It was back in old seventy two
We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger
And all I remember is sitting beside you

You said you didn’t give a fuck about hockey
And I never saw someone say that before
You held my hand and we walked home the long way
You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr

Isn’t it amazing anything’s accomplished
When the little sensation gets in your way
Not one ambition whispering over your shoulder
Isn’t it amazing you can do anything

He nails hockey, relationships, life in this country, philosophy… Every Canadian who read those words just sang it in their heads, guaranteed.

Fiddler’s Green

September seventeen
For a girl I know it’s Mother’s Day
Her son has gone alee
And that’s where he will stay

The wind on the weathervane
Tearing blue eyes sailor mean
As Falstaff sings a sorrowful refrain
For a boy in Fiddler’s Green

A great song. And I really do know someone (my Mom) for whom September 17 is Mother’s Day (my sister’s birthday). If I’m the son, though, I don’t know how far alee I’d say I’ve gone… 🙂


Don’t tell me what the poets are doing
Don’t tell me that they’re talking tough
Don’t tell me that they’re anti-social
Somehow not anti-social enough, all right

and then later…

Don’t tell me what the poets are doing
On the street and the epitome of vague
Don’t tell me how the universe is altered
When you find out how he gets paid, all right

Seems a natural, for this post. I love how he sums things up so succinctly, seemingly so easily. Rough and tumble, right on the edge at all times. Every listen, I know I’m in the presence of a master.

The Luxury

Sometimes he jumped from poetry to something so common, still made powerful…

The Golden Rim Motor Inn
Soft water and a colour TV
I’m so consumed with the shape I’m in
I can’t enjoy the luxury
The luxury

She says, “Why are you partial to that Playboy con?
When you can see me naked any time you want?”
If I had loads of money to make me tame and sour
I could pay you to remind of my baby by the hour

My goodness. So many writers would give anything for stanzas as real as that. And Gord’s got a career full of them…


He also does ennui really, really well..

I left your house this morning
About a quarter after nine
Could have been the Willie Nelson
Could have been the wine

When I left your house this morning
It was a little after nine
It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves one star at a time

Drove back to town this morning
With working on my mind
I thought of maybe quitting
I thought of leaving it behind

I went back to bed this morning
And as I’m pulling down the blind
Yeah, the sky was dull, and hypothetical
And falling one cloud at a time

Honey, Please

And sometimes the ache was so real…

When all the poetry of the earth
Might be all there is
Might still have some worth, yeah
But I can’t dance to it

Honey, everything we need
Is on the other side of this feeling
This feeling
Honey, right here underneath our feet
Under all the stars of the county everything we need
Honey, please

Vancouver Divorce

Sitting here at the Horton’s,
so you know this is important.

And every Canadian just nods…

Trick Rider

I’ll be your friend, your last refuge
When things get weird
And weird breaks huge.
I’ll stroke your hair,
I’ll dry your cheeks
When failures come
And no one speaks

Yes yes yes.

And lastly, this one comes to mind because that’s where my mind is, with this news. I wanna stay positive. I do! But this crossed my mind as worthy of inclusion:

At The Hundredth Meridian

If I die of vanity, promise me, promise me
If they bury me some place I don’t want to be
You’ll dig me up and transport me, unceremoniously
Away from the swollen city breeze, garbage bag trees
Whispers of disease and the acts of enormity
And lower me slowly and sadly and properly
Get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy

At the hundredth meridian (hundredth meridian)
At the hundredth meridian (you’re going to miss me)
At the hundredth meridian (trust me)
Where the great plains begin

Fireworks (again)

I think this one thing is always supposed to stay
Oh this one thing doesn’t have to go away

For me, it isn’t ever gonna go away. None of it. I’m a lifer. Gord. The Hip. If it all falls apart tomorrow, I’ll be listening until I die. I could have listed a hundred more lines. They’re all of a sum total, the works of a great writer.

We’re with you, Gord.

All of you, your loved ones and friends, and this whole community and nation we call home.

Much love, strength, peace and power in these times.

I’ll always be listening.


Gord Downie

Woke to the news in my email this morning:

Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 52 years old, has terminal brain cancer.


Fuck cancer.

And this, after his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis. They have four children.

And the band is about to drop their 13th record, in a couple of weeks. I’ve already got my calendar marked for that.

Here is the CBC story about it.

Here is Gord’s official statement on it.

This really nailed it, for me:

“”You write about what you know,” he told CBC’s Wendy Mesley in 2012. “And I love this country. I love my idea of this country. Where I go and the people I’ve met, underlying everything is that commitment to finding the common good.”

Boppin says he’s “already cried a few tears and now it’s all positivity and tons of Hip tunes.” That’s much better than me. At the time of this posting, I’m still reeling a bit (and tons of Hip tunes, but that’s no big news, I play tons of Hip tunes by default anyway).


Fuck cancer.

And fuck you, 2016.

Stay strong, Gordie. We’re with you fully completely!

CanCon Reading

I’m sure you’re all wondering what to read this year.

Well, here are 5 music-related books by Canadian authors that I think are absolutely essential.

Having read each of these several times, I recommend that you do too.

Give ‘er!


Michael Ondaatje – Coming Through Slaughter

Hands-down, Ondaatje’s best book. And it’s about jazz. I love jazz. Read this now.

Gordon Downie – Coke Machine Glow
Ah, Gordie, can he do no wrong? Awesome poetry from left field. 

Dave Bidini – On A Cold Road
Bidini’s one of my fave Canuck writers anyway, and this one is a gorgeous, honest appraisal of life on the road in this big old lug of a country of ours.

Hawksley Workman – Hawksley Burns For Isadora
Hawksley’s the man, a poet, a rocker, a genius, and a freak, and this collection is a must.

Leonard Cohen – Stranger Music
Collects a whole bunch of Leonard’s writing. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Own this book. Make a shrine for it in the corner of your living room. Light some candles. Embrace.

You’re welcome.


Happy Canada Day!



Happy Canada Day!

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