I remember sitting down and writing to myself on the day that Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer was announced a couple of years ago now.
Today I am in a similar place, except this time much more emotional, and heavy, as our nation lost an iconic leader, not only musically but offstage as well. Gord represented our country as an artist who wrote about what it means to be truly “Canadian”.
When I was in high school I remember the first time The Hip really hit me. I was in the backseat of a friends car skipping class, which was not a regular routine for me ha… Anyways we were in the backseat, passing around a bottle of crown royal and my friend put on this tape. I remember it sounding familiar, like i’d heard it on the radio or something, so I asked him, “Hey is this The Tragically Hip”? He shook his head back in confirmation. I can’t even remember what song it was, or why, but I can say that I knew it was that voice, that voice of Gord Downie, for I had heard it throughout my childhood, on the radio, before the hockey game, at a party etc… but until that moment I had never really listened closer, in fact I ignored it.
To be honest, I hated Gord Downie’s voice growing up, I used to change the station when The Hip came on the radio, but something changed for me in the backseat of that car, and I’m so happy it did. Immediately after that I went to our local library in Fort Saskatchewan and rented this DVD of The Tragically Hip Live in Toronto. I got home from school that night and must have watched it over 4 or 5 times. That DVD changed my life, it was the first time I really heard the songs Bobcaygeon, Ahead By A Century and Courage, it was the first time I really heard Gord Downie sing. From that moment on I was hooked, in love, and obsessed.
3 years ago, I was in Toronto, I was doing a Cameron House residency, and playing there every Wednesday night, it was the first residency I had ever done outside of Alberta. My friend Jude, who knew Gord very well had been coming out to my shows and invited me out to this festival called Field Trip. The band she was managing “Gord Downie and The Sadies” were playing it… I immediately said yes of course I’d love to come!!
I will never forget the first time I got to meet Gord, it was that weekend. Jude took me back to their trailer after the set, and there he was standing outside of the door, majestic as ever. He had a white cowboy hat on and seemed to be at least 8 feet tall when I looked up to his face and we made eye contact. He reached out his hand and calmly said “Hey, I’m Gord..”. I answered back “Hi Gord.. I’m Joe… so nice to meet you..”. My stomach was swirling like a rollercoaster and then he invited us inside to chill for a bit and suddenly this peaceful calm came over me and I was ok. He had a very warm, quiet and welcoming manner to him. Although I was maybe there for all of 5 or 6 minutes, it still feel like an eternity today. I got the opportunity to thank Gord for his gifts and what he has shared, and to me that was such a special moment in my life.
The next summer we spoke again in Edmonton where we both played Interstellar Rodeo, I got to introduce my sister Nataya to him as well, and she felt the same presence as described early. We left with smiles on our faces.
I gotta say, Gord has been one of my biggest musical influences ever. As a singer, his melodies, phrasing and commitment to each word have taught me so much. His voice and words are one of the main reasons I write the way I write and sing the way I sing. He continues to be such an inspiration every time I go to create something of my own, there is always a piece of Gord in it… And I think he knew that all along when he went to work… That he was just passing something along, that he loved and learned from somewhere else, to give to someone else.
Goodnight to the man who walks among the stars, I love you, thank you for everything.