The Hip, Downey, Goodbye

Here’s yet another ditty from the archive:

The story broke last week that the lead singer of The Tragically Hip, Gord Downie, had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in late December.  Despite the news, the band will embark on a cross-country tour to promote their 14th studio album Man, Machine, Poem that features stand-out singles like “Tired as Fuck” and “A World Possessed by the Human Mind.”  While tickets for the Calgary show have been said to be as high as $200, it’s a relatively small price to pay to catch a fleeting glimpse of a Canadian icon.  When the band rolls through the city on August 1st, it will be about more than just the music.

The Hip are the greatest Canadian rock band of all time.  And while you could point to Neil Young, Bryan Adams, or Rush, consider that the commercial success of those bands below the border made them an American commodity.  For The Hip, it was their inability to cross-over into the American market that made them uniquely Canadian.  It also shouldn’t be overlooked that neither of the aforementioned acts have produced a notable album since the 90s, while The Hip have been consistently churning out content over the course of their 30-something year career.

The band, of course, owes much of their success to their leading man’s lyrical brilliance and otherworldly showmanship.  It should come as no surprise why Downie has become so ingrained in the Canadian ethos, armed with the mind of a writer and the heart of a poet, he has integrated images and the historical events of our great country into his music since the band emerged on the Kingston, ON music scene in the 80s.

In Downie’s lyrics there is always a foreword looking curiosity about the human condition.  If most music wants to appeal to your heart, then Downie was always trying to access your brain too.  In interviews he was soft-spoken and methodical, when he paused it was as if he was sifting through years of experience for the most honest, reflective answer.

It was the type of intellect on full display in his music, combining the abstraction of a late night poetry reading with the head-bobbing accessibility of a rock song.  His on stage person is like no other, possessing a manic energy that embodied the torment of a true artist.  When they played at Fort Calgary a few years ago, Downie took time from the show to espouse his political views, or to describe the sun setting over the Calgary sky line, this was his way of breaking the barrier between himself and the audience.

The tour will end, fittingly, at the Rogers K-Rock Centre in the small Canadian college-town where the band got their start playing small concert venues. The address:  1 The Tragically Hip Way, Kingston Ontario.  It will be one last hurrah for Gord and the boys, and undoubtedly an emotional event.  A violent seesaw battle between mind and emotion, and shouting and crying, and bleeding and laughter.  This concert, and the bands legacy, should remind that its not what we take with us that is important, but instead what we leave behind.

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