Ever since I heard “New Orleans Is Sinking,” I’ve appreciated Gord Downie’s lyrical genius. As I listened to other Tragically Hip songs I learned about Downie and the things that he was interested in. Expanding my Hip knowledge is like asking me if I have read the encyclopedia, how can I finish something that is so deep?
Take “Wheat Kings” for example, a song that I always thought was about the Brandon Wheat Kings until I read the lyrics and learned about David Milgaard who was wrongly convicted for murdering Gail Miller. Milgaard would spend “twenty years for nothing,” because he did not commit the crime and would even have twenty chances for parole being denied every time.
In 2012, Downie said in a CBC interview with George Stroumboulopoulos, “I don’t think you can throw over science and research for ideology.” Downie, lead singer of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip, was speaking on the cutting of funding and support to small communities in Canada and how it affects their well-being. Something that can lead to long-term issues like cancer, an issue that Downie knows all too well. Downie’s ex-wife, Laurie survived breast cancer and Downie has terminal brain cancer.
The announcement of his diagnosis was followed by the band releasing a schedule of nationwide tour dates finishing up in Kingston, where the group has a street christened after them.
As Downie and the Hip toured Canada this past Summer on what was termed a final tour it made me think about what he was going through. I pondered a man who has spent his life exploring his country, standing up for the people in his country, making people realize that those people need help and even though the Hip are one of Canada’s most cherished bands he’s never let that get to his head.
He’s opened people’s eyes to social injustice – to things that matter not just something random or nonsensical. Obviously the world is going to miss someone like this.
However, the world is going to miss a man who asks questions. A man who gets people to asks questions of themselves as well. Questions that we might not ask unless a poet like him framed it in a melody.
A question like “how do we start dealing with our well-being?”
No, not just about eating the right things and going to the doctor more often, I don’t think that’s the message I get from looking at his last hurrah. His lyrics seem more cutting and shrewd to be so simple as take care not to get the common cold.
He strikes me as the man who says “when I’m gone pick up where I left off and take care of one another.” The man who in what could be his last year of his life toured his home country making people smile and spreading the good will of a band that never quit. For a man who is so intent on keeping his personal life private, he made this last chapter the most documented part. As someone who is private I can’t imagine announcing something like cancer on a website like he did, knowing that millions of people suddenly know. With the advent of social media the diagnosis would be known almost instantly throughout the world. His condition could never be private again. Downie could never keep this secret again.
Maybe at this point though, it didn’t matter anymore. There’s nothing left to hide. It’s all up to us to continue what he started. It’s all up to us whether we are Canadian or American or whatever nationality to look out for one another. To keep the hope for humanity alive. Downie’s hope that the fight against social injustice doesn’t stop with him. Everyone, especially the people of Canada, continue to learn, love and take care of their land. I’m proud to be a Hip fan even though I’m American. I’m proud to have been introduced to Downie’s words before he left this world and to have been influenced by a man who never forgot that everyone matters no matter what they believe in because at the root of it all, we are human.