Rest in peace, Gord Downie — a raconteur of Canadian stories who gave a soundtrack to his country.
Downie died Tuesday at the age of 53, after a battle with a terminal brain cancer known as glioblastoma.
Diagnosed in 2015, he and his band The Tragically Hip embarked on a Canada-wide tour the following year, making 15 stops in Victoria, B.C. and ending in Kingston, Ont., the group’s hometown.
Gord Downie, remembered, on Globalnews.ca:
Over three decades, Downie and the Hip recorded songs that touched Canadians from coast to coast.
Here are some of their most memorable works, as chosen by Global News staff:
‘New Orleans is Sinking’
“‘Hey North, you’re South, shut your big mouth.’
A reminder to always be aware of your surroundings, something Gord and the band must have been thinking about at the time they released that song, as they were lifting off into their full trajectory of awesomeness!” — Ross Lord, Atlantic correspondent, Global National
“I didn’t even know what the song was about and I didn’t care because ‘New Orleans is sinking man, and I don’t want to swim!’ One of the greatest lines you’ll find in any song.” — Mike Drolet, Toronto correspondent, Global National
‘Ahead by a Century’
“I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t the biggest Tragically Hip fan… that is, until Aug. 18, 2016.
My phone rang at 5 p.m., on the other end was my buddy Ryan saying he had snagged two tickets to their show in Ottawa, which would be the penultimate show on their farewell tour. I hesitated for a few moments and then Ryan said, ‘Dude, I have two other people who want these tickets,’ so I finally said yes.
One of the best decisions of my life.
The seats were right behind the stage which gave me a unique perspective, seeing what they saw, feeling the emotion of the crowd as they poured out their love for Gord Downie and the boys, as he poured out his soul on stage.
While they sang ‘Ahead by a Century,’ one of my favourite songs, I snapped this picture showing the dozens of cell phone lights held up instead of lighters. It sits in my house as a reminder to the love a city and a country have for the Hip.
The second picture is Gord Downie leaving the stage for the final time.
The spotlight has now faded, but his light never will. RIP, Gord.” — Mike Le Couteur, parliamentary correspondent, Global National
“Music is the time and places it evokes in our memories.
My first exposure to the Hip came as a kid in small-town Ontario. My sister was living in Kingston, of all places, and found a job in TV in the U.S.
The show she worked on booked the band, even though no one on staff had heard of them except the Canadians. She brought a promo copy of ‘Day for Night’ home. I had never heard anything like it.
When I listen to the opening notes, I’m taken back to that place, listening to it on her old stereo, discovering something I never knew existed. A song of anticipation and urgency; the slow burn that gives way to the crash of the chorus; it’s a journey of juxtapositions.
When I heard Gord shout, ‘I come from downtown,’ last summer on the Hip’s final tour, my own small-town/big-city contrast crystallized. Wherever I hear it, this song is home.” — Tristan Staddon, managing editor, Global National
“A long time ago, before cell phones, I went to a music festival at the Race City Speedway in Calgary to see The Tragically Hip.
I went to the festival wearing a safari helmet — this is something you did in your 20s — and the band was playing ‘Grace, Too.’
At one point, I tossed the hat on to the stage, and Gord Downie noticed. He picked up the hat, put it on his head, then did a somersault in it.
If only I could have caught it on a cell phone.” — Chris Gailus, Global BC anchor
“Arguably Downie’s finest vocal performance, with a gently swinging arrangement from the rest of the group, showcasing their subtlety when they’re so often known for their barnburners.
I see this moment as the culmination of a journey towards maturity and their ‘elder statesmen’ phase that started with the Day for Night album and gained footing with ‘Ahead by a Century.’
Gorgeous.” — Sean Boynton, online news producer, Global BC
“A poem, really, about survivors’ guilt and PTSD. Its lyrics about a long-forgotten tragedy were eerily contemporary:
‘Now I was in a lifeboat designed for ten and ten only,
Anything that systematic would get you hated.’
A song so dark and haunting yet so beautiful that you almost don’t even know it’s hit you – until those last lines.
‘Our conversation is as faint as a sound in my memory,
As those fingernails scratching on my hull.’
I still shudder whenever I hear that line.” — Leslie Stojsic, executive producer, Global National
“‘Courage’ was my introduction to popular Canadian music.
I remember being seven years old, watching MuchMusic, and seeing Gord Downie work himself into a trance as he sang the song while wearing a Boston Bruins sweater.
The lyrics didn’t carry significance for me as much as the sound did — a raw, yet sensitive rock music that I would come to associate with the Canadian sound, and expect to hear when the Juno Awards rolled around every year.
The song took on new significance for me in 1997, when director Atom Egoyan released The Sweet Hereafter, arguably his finest film.
It tells the story of a rural B.C. community that was the site of a devastating bus accident in which numerous schoolchildren were killed, and the efforts by a lawyer to bring the families some closure.
Actress Sarah Polley provided a haunting cover of the song for the film.
Polley’s voice lent the song a haunting quality, and added deep emotional resonance to a film about a community trying to move on from a tragedy. It hit home for me how much endurance is a part of the Canadian identity.
Now, when I hear ‘Courage,’ I think not just of the film, or of Downie himself. I think of the resilience of Canadians.” — Jesse Ferreras, national online journalist, Global News
‘Blow at High Dough’
“‘Blow at High Dough’ was the song that really introduced Canadians to The Tragically Hip, and perhaps more importantly, the voice of Gord Downie.
When the video appeared on MuchMusic, a generation of Canadians were hooked on the band as it would become the first of many singles to hit the charts. The song’s opening line — ‘They shot a movie once, in my hometown’ — could be envisioned to be about anywhere and nowhere all at once, allowing all Canadians to relate to it.” — Kevin Nielsen, national online journalist, Global News
“Because it tells the story of David Milgaard.
It was a case I followed before I even went into journalism and to this day have a keen interest in legal cases involving the wrongfully convicted.” – Robin Gill, B.C. correspondent/weekend anchor, Global National
“Fantastic match of music to lyric. Powerful song. And how evocative of your high school is this line: ‘…where the walls are lined all yellow, grey and sinister / hung with pictures of our parents’ prime ministers…”
I’m as old as Downie. I first saw the band when all they did was ’60s covers — Doors, CCR, etc. — and I still have their first vinyl record. They came to my university (Guelph) to play pub nights in front of 400 people. And as a club DJ for most of the ’80s and into the early ’90s, I was thrilled their stuff rocked a dance floor.
Their top ‘dance hits’ for me: ‘Blow at High Dough,’ ‘New Orleans Is Sinking’ and ‘Fifty Mission Cap.'” — David Akin, chief political correspondent, Global National
“It’s one of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar (it helped that there’s only three chords) and every time I hear that loon call it transports me back to the cottage campfire in the Ottawa Valley (just east of the Paris of the Prairies). I find myself listening to it more since I moved overseas a few years ago.
The Hip isn’t well known outside of Canada, but the BBC published an article on Downie’s death and tried to explain the Canadian love affair: ‘…more than any other artist, they have reflected the sense of what it’s like to love and live in a small, beautiful, overlooked country.” — Jeff Semple, Europe bureau chief, Global National
“I remember the exact minute I fell in love with The Tragically Hip.
It was Ottawa in 1992. I was driving down Bronson, and pulling into the Carleton campus to pick up my girlfriend (a soon-to-be ex, as it turned out). Road Apples was playing on a cassette. I parked and listened to the second-to-last song – ‘Fiddler’s Green.’
That moment is crystal clear in my memory. I’d known the band for a few years, but I remember thinking, ‘Holy s***. This album is incredible.’
Fan for life.” — Mike Armstrong, Quebec correspondent, Global National