Gord Downie has sung his last concert. If everything progresses as expected, this will be the end of The Tragically Hip as a band. You don’t recover from glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).
Where to start? For Americans, The Tragically Hip are my Anglo-Canadian cohort’s Grateful Dead, our Santana, our Leonard Skynard, our Bruce Springsteen. A band with roots entwined in the experiences and ethos of scattered urban points of light in a vast northern wilderness, where we all grow up knowing that the vast roaring wilderness outside our cities and civilized places will kill you – and not even blink. Where it can be a long, isolating distance between little towns and hamlets, and for whom the technology of rail, flight, and internet has made possible the knitting together of a country.
Where we have been deliberate in cultivating our nationalism and in growing cohesiveness – not always complete! A country a hundred years younger than the US, but with deeper, longer, twisted-with-time roots in First Nations cultures, overlaid and mixed up with successive waves of first European, and later Asian & South Asian, Central American, African and Middle Eastern waves of immigration. A country that is a simmering, changing melange of a place/time/thought, for whom the never-ending cultural danger is being absorbed into the American mass.
A country that has come to the practice of cultivating national heroes relatively late. A country who is still gelling into it’s current working form. As described in the early eighties on Peter Gzowksi’s Morningside radio show as “as Canadian as possible under the circumstances“.
So how do the Hip fit in and why is everyone (Anglo-Canadian) having this big nostalgia-er-celebratory moment?
Because for many now-fifty-somethings, the Hip were the soundtrack of when we were getting established, both ourselves and as a country. In the nineties, they matured from a blues band to doing some really thoughtful music that told stories of our time and place. They reinforce who we are and where we’re going. Now, one of our own is going down and is choosing to celebrate while still alive. It’s part of that Canadian of ethos of rolling with the circumstances you are given. Gord Downie is using his illness for a greater good, that of raising awareness of brain cancers, and helping raise funds for more research on GBM. Hell of a class act.
Me? I’m going to be rolling around in the music for a while. It may not help my focus on things programming, but it will sure as hell help me hold my sense of home while in the American South.