On Tuesday morning, right after celebrating Victoria Day, Canadian rock music fans received some terrible news: Gord Downie, the lead singer for The Tragically Hip, has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
Downie, 52, is beloved from coast to coast, known for his energetic onstage performances and true dedication to Canada. Anyone who’s ever been to a Hip concert can attest to the vibe of the crowd. Arguably, The Hip is the most “Canadian” band out there, with Canadianisms peppered throughout their music and countless references to Canadian locales.
Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agrees with that assessment.
Downie and the other members of the band — Paul Langlois, Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fay — are planning a 2016 farewell summer tour to honour Downie and the band’s legacy.
Here’s a selection of Downie’s lyrics, illustrating his love for Canada. (Note: these barely scratch the surface, there are so many.)
“That night in Toronto, with its checkerboard floors, riding on horseback and keeping order restored” — Bobcaygeon
“Writing a song about Lake Memphremagog and tonight I don’t believe there words to spare and be a tip and a nod; admitting it’s half the defeat” — Problem Bears
“I think it was Algonquin Park; it was so cold and winter dark. A promised hibernation high; took me across the great black plate of ice” — Bear
“What’s a windswept face, the elusive presence of the sun, to the hard Canadian?” — The Hard Canadian
While Downie’s diagnosis is a sad thing, The Hip has created some of the country’s best rock tunes, and we’re choosing to celebrate the band for all that it’s given to music.
Break out your Canadian flags, because we’ve put together a Spotify Tragically Hip playlist for all the fans out there:
Toronto’s rock radio Q107 started the hashtag “#GordIsGreat,” and fans have been replying to that on Twitter with their favourite Hip songs. The radio station is taking Tragically Hip requests all day Tuesday.
Blair Bartrem, Program Director at Q107:
“My favourite Tragically Hip song is Bobcaygeon. It’s clean, easygoing and its effortless groove rolls on like stream water over rocks. It feels like Canada.”
Adam Ricard, Announcer at 102.1 The Edge:
“The first thing that sticks out in my mind when it comes to The Hip, putting aside what a kind, funny, interesting and intelligent man Gord is … is the song Fireworks. I had just started playing it at around 6 p.m. on Feb. 27, 2010, right at the very second Sidney Crosby scored the overtime winner in the gold medal game of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic hockey tournament. Moments later, thousands of people spilled out into the streets and celebrated at Yonge Dundas Square. I loved that moment so much and that song will forever be linked to it in my mind, a song about a goal everyone remembers as the new goal everyone remembers was happening. It felt serendipitous.
‘..We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger…'”
Carly Meyers, Host at 102.1 The Edge:
“My song is Wheat Kings. As you may know, I ran away from home a couple of years ago. In what ended up being a bout of clinical depression (which I didn’t realize at the time), I quit my job and my relationship. I had 600 songs on my beat up iPhone 4, one of which was Wheat Kings.
I couldn’t listen to the song because it made me homesick. It brought me back to Canada, to my family, to my friends. To campfires and cannonballs and long prairie drives. One night Wheat Kings came on shuffle while the phone was hooked up to a crappy speaker. I was in India, and earlier that night I was feeding children who literally lived in potato sacks in the street. I was burnt out, and broke. I had been robbed twice that month. I had met a girl from Belgium who immediately tried to change the song.
‘Not the song with the birds! She’s going to cry and talk about Canada for the next hour!’ she said. ‘IT’S A LOON!’ I said. ‘AND CANADA IS THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD!’
I did cry, but they were happy tears, because there was a time when I never thought it would happen, but I realized it was time for me to go home.”
Brian Ellis, Host at 101.5 The Wolf, Morning Show
“My favourite memory of Gord and The Tragically Hip would be when they performed in The Wolf’s backyard with Big Music Fest in Bobcaygeon in June of 2011. The sun went down and a sold-out crowd lit up to the sweet sound of Bobcaygeon in Bobcaygeon, Ontario.”
Matt Diamond, Host at 101.5 The Wolf, Afternoon Drive
“I’ve worked in rock radio for nearly 15 years, but more importantly have been a die-hard fan of The Tragically Hip for as long as I’ve been listening to music. The Hip were always one of those bands that my brothers and I agreed upon. We’d pack the car with our tent and “adventure kit” and drive to Barrie or wherever they were playing that summer, and rejoice in knowing every single song in the set list, let alone on the CD player. It was almost a religion to our core group of friends. I know people who have seen The Hip over a hundred times.
It’s so bittersweet knowing it will most certainly be their last album. Millions of fans around the world are reeling with sadness, but being a member of the media as well as The Tragically Hip’s worldwide fan club, I feel the need to celebrate. To not dwell on the future, but to live in the moment, and celebrate a career and soundtrack to some of the most personal and poignant songs I have ever known. I finally got to meet Gord Downie during the last tour for Now For Plan A. I told him how much I loved the new record, and that made him smile. Gord seems to be a pretty serious guy, but watching him on stage that night, it was if there was a natural connection between he and his fans, an understanding that this is what he was meant to be. A performer. A ringleader. Someone to be loved by the masses. That’s what chokes me up. The fact that I might not have the chance to witness that ever again in this lifetime. That being said, I will do my best to get online and buy tickets for one of those shows. Hopefully I’ll get to witness the spectacle once more. If not, I have plenty of amazing memories that I will cherish forever.
LISTEN: Q107’s John Derringer weighs in on Gord Downie’s cancer diagnosis