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Remembering Gord Downie Canada’s Poet Laureate

by Elyse V

It’s hard to find the words to do the memory of Gord Downie justice. He would have known the perfect words. Although, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have used them to talk himself up so I’ll try. Gord was the uber intelligent and creative poet and lead singer of The Tragically Hip. Although the marriage of poetry and music is not unique, the way Gord did it was.

He wrote songs that told a story with specific Canadian references that made you think and taught you about our country and its heritage and quirks. We sang along even if we didn’t know what he was talking about. He made you feel so patriotic, but not in the we’re-number-one kind of way. You identified with the story and the storyteller and it united us regardless of where in Canada you lived. They were just regular, hard-working, unpretentious guys. They also never bought into the idea that you have to be popular in the USA to succeed. Like Canada was less than somehow. They were happy to be ours.

In Gord Downie We Trust

There was nothing like seeing The Hip live. I saw them six times. I can still see Gord frenetically dancing in a way that embodied every lyric. Seeing it on video didn’t convey the whole experience. You had to see it live to catch every nuance of his performance and feel the energy. The live “Killer Whale Tank” version of New Orleans Is Sinking is an example of Gord’s legacy as the ultimate live performer/freestyler/storyteller. You never left a Hip concert feeling cheated.

Gord was diagnosed with brain cancer in December 2015. The news didn’t become public until May 2016 when Neuro-oncologist James Perry held a news conference. “It is my difficult duty today to tell you that Gord Downie’s brain tumour is incurable.” I still remember hearing those words and every moment of that moment. The incredible sadness for him, his loved ones and us fans. He gave so much and had so much more to give. He deserved more time. The flash of memories and the tears that still flow today.

Armed with will and determination

Incredulously, The Hip embarked on a Canada-wide farewell tour that ended in their hometown at the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston, Ontario. The last concert was broadcast live and viewed by fans everywhere. Toronto Police Department summed up the final show with a simple tweet: “Dear world, Please be advised that Canada will be closed tonight at 8:30 p.m. Have a #TragicallyHip day.” The tour and that final show were captured in the documentary, Long Time Running.

Gord Downie died October 17th 2017. “Gord knew this day was coming – his response was to spend this precious time as he always had – making music, making memories, and expressing deep gratitude to his family and friends for a life well lived, often sealing it with a kiss…on the lips,” the Hip and Downie family said in a statement. A tearful Prime Minister Trudeau said “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it.” It’s still hard to believe all that beautiful, magical energy is gone.

Before his death, The Assembly of First Nations honoured him for his work on reconciliation by giving him a Lakota spirit name: Wicapi Omani or “man who walks among the stars.” Since his death, Ontario created a new poet laureate position for the province.  The bill was dubbed the Poet Laureate of Ontario Act In Memory of Gord Downie . It was introduced by Windsor-Tecumseh NDP legislator Percy Hatfield and passed by the legislature. His legend continues.

Look up to Gord above and say, hey man thanks

It’s been three years since Gord’s untimely passing and he is still gifting us with his brilliance with the release of Away Is Mine, a new double album featuring electric and acoustic versions of each of the 10 songs. “This won’t be his last release, but these are the final ten songs Gord sang before he passed away. The last time he ever sang into a mic,” Gord’s co-writer Josh Finlayson and brother Patrick wrote in a joint statement. “That’s pretty special to us.” That’s pretty special to us too.

Today, on the third anniversary of his death, Canadians everywhere will pay tribute to the life of our much cooler friend Gord in their own way. Thanks for all you gave and continue to give us. We miss you.

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