Jeff opened my ears up to enjoying country music and listening to The Cure and The Smiths. He talked about bands I had never heard of before. One in particular stood out among the rest. That band was The Tragically Hip. The Canadian rock band from Kingston, Ontario. You know how sometimes when you hear a certain band or song, you are instantly transported back to a specific moment in time? Almost like the soundtrack of your life? The Hip is one of those bands for me. I remember early on in our dating era, Jeff was SUPER excited for their new album. On July 14, 1998, Phantom Power was released. The first time I heard Gord Downie's voice, I was riveted. I didn't want to stop listening. God, that man can sing. We listened to that cassette tape in Jeff's Ford Ranger over and over and over again. It was so damn good. From the first single "Poets" to the haunting "Bobcaygeon," every song was, well, music to my ears.
The first time I saw them live, they were at Pine Knob in late July. We had pretty decent pavilion seats, and I remember looking over before the show started and realizing that Jeff was sitting next to Dino Ciccarelli. Not only were we surrounded by Canadians, we were surrounded by hockey players and Red Wing players that I grew up obsessed with. To say we were happy is an understatement. Already overflowing with an excitement that was about boil over, Gord D, Gord S, Paul, Rob, and Johnny came out on stage. It's so hard to put into words what a live experience with The Hip is like. Gord Downie has such a presence. He exudes liveliness. He sings his heart out, and dances his butt off, and talks to people who aren't there (or maybe they are? Who am I to say?). He shoots hoops and talks to the microphone stand and carries around a signature hankie and paints pictures. He. Is. Mesmerizing. I loved watching him. I loved his black shirts and vests and his hats. When you are at one of their shows, there is no one more alive than Gord. I loved watching him and listening to him. Thereafter, we tried to go to their shows every time they came into town. We recruited Carrie into loving them as much as we did and we went to their concerts together.
Over the years they released several more albums and Gord even released a few solo records. All the while his words and songs reading like a book of poetry. Believe me when I say, this man is brilliant. On May 24th of this year, I received an email from the band with the subject header, "An Important Message From The Band." Thinking they were announcing a new tour, I quickly opened it up to read it. I couldn't have been more wrong. The email was a statement letting their fans know that Gord Downie had been diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor called glioblastoma. Brain cancer. They were going to embark on a 15 show tour of Canada for one last go round. I stared at my phone, teared up and immediately texted Jeff and Carrie, asking if they had read their email. I couldn't think straight. It didn't make sense. Iconic rock stars aren't supposed to get a diagnosis like that. Especially one as seemingly untouchable as Gordon Downie.
A little heartbroken that they wouldn't be coming to the Detroit area, we tried to get tickets to a couple of shows close by. Even though we knew that it was going to an emotional roller coaster, the three of us wanted to experience it one last time together and this time bring Charley along. But of course, all the shows immediately sold out. Of course they did. It would have been absurd if they hadn't. We were super bummed. Then the CBC announced that they would be airing their final concert in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario live. LIVE. Have you ever heard of such a thing? This band is so well loved and their country is so devastated by the diagnosis of this one man, that Canada was basically shut down for 4 hours while they aired the band's final show live and uninterrupted. How phenomenal is that?
We made a night of it. Carrie came over and we watched as Ron Mclean (in a Hip t-shirt) and The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau (in a Hip t-shirt) discussed their love for the band and Gord in particular. Thousands of Canadians who couldn't make it to the show gathered from all over to watch the live stream of the concert together in parks, arenas and their homes. We watched as Gord came out in his shiny outfit and his JAWS shirt and feathered hat. We watched him sing and perform his heart out. For nearly 3 straight hours. He took breaks every now and then and spoke a few times, thanking the fans for pushing him. They did an unheard of 4th encore and ended the show with my most favorite song, "Ahead By a Century." It was perfection. You could feel the outpouring of love from an entire nation for this one man and his band. It was absolutely breathtaking. Passion like that is so rare, if ever seen. It was something to behold, let me tell you.
I feel so grateful that I was able to share in that experience with some of the closest people in my life. People are going to remember that show for years and years. Even though the event that brought everyone together is so tragic, it was an exquisite thing to be a part of and witness.
Thank you, Gord. Thank you for your words and music and your impeccable showmanship. Thank you for letting us celebrate you. Thank you for letting us say goodbye and wish you well. Thank you for bringing an amazingly close friendship between 3 people even closer. Most of all, thank you for being a part of the soundtrack of my life, because after all, no one's interested in something you didn't do.