Last weekend I did what millions of other Canadians did – watched The Tragically Hip’s final Man Machine Poem concert broadcast on CBC Television.
It was hard to overlook the significance of that evening. Lead singer Gord Downie was up there performing with the same passion, wit, and wisdom as usual, but with one difference – we all knew that he’s been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. What a courageous, generous man. And what love there was between the band members who stood up there with him.
I have to confess I wouldn’t win an award for being the most loyal Hip fan. I’m mostly familiar with their music from the late ’80s and ’90s. I don’t own any posters or life-size cardboard cutouts like I did for another singer who shall remain nameless, one who inspired me to learn the moonwalk… Oops, I think I just gave it away! 😉
But the Hip provided the soundtrack for my life in another way. I first heard their music in 1994, when I was in my fourth year of university. That was the year I finally started to feel like I could take my nose out of the books once in awhile and enjoy life. Over the next few years, their songs are intertwined with my memories:
- Listening to the album Fully Completely in my dorm room in 1994 – commenting on how every song is good, but what is “Locked in the Trunk of a Car” really all about?
- Attending Another Roadside Attraction at Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver on July 13, 1995 – marvelling at how witty and entertaining the Hip were onstage.
- Riding in a van to Swan-e-Set golf course in Pitt Meadows to work as a television assistant during the 1996 West Coast Classic golf tournament – trying to politely listen to the driver’s storytelling and hear “Ahead by a Century” on the radio at the same time.
- Taking a Greyhound bus to Kamloops in 1997 – listening to a cassette of Road Apples all the way there.
Recently I found a great article on The Georgia Straight website that matches all my memories of the Roadside Attraction event. Author Steve Newton describes Gord Downie’s performance way better than I could, so I’ll share a quote:
As usual, concertmaster Downie held the Tragically Hip’s reins in a loose grip, mostly allowing the riff-driven beast to run wild, but reeling it in when the time came to lecture some goof on the hazards of tossing shoes at the stage. At one point, the charismatic crooner gestured at an airplane that was circling intrusively above, trailing a banner advertising a fast-food franchise. “Hey, look everybody,” he proclaimed, “[Band manager] Bruce Allen!”
Now cancer has tossed shoes on the stage and interrupted life like an intrusive airplane overhead. But with his signature charisma and wisdom, Downie has cared for his audience and kept the show going.
A common saying is that we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to things. I’m inspired by the way Gord Downie has responded to his health challenges by sharing The Tragically Hip’s music and poetry one more time – with courage and grace, too.