Gord Downie: My thoughts on brain disease and memories

To be honest readers I wasn’t going to write on the passing of Canada’s beloved troubadour. To add my singular voice to the cacophony of tributes flowing out from every corner of the world seemed pointless.

But then I remembered an author who in my darkest hours had helped to pull me from the muck and mire of my own brain, and along this path the music of Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip also featured heavily in my thoughts.

I can still remember the day that almost collectively as Canadians we gasped “Oh No” a brain tumor that can’t be true. Yet as the days marched on we Canadians as a nation rallied behind this man, this band, this idea of Canada. The Hip announced what sadly turned out to be their last collective tour and I thanks to the generosity of my friend Jeff attended the final show here in Winnipeg.

I to be honest find this very hard to write, the emotions are bittersweet. Seeing the man in full flight once again was glorious. If you have never seen The Tragically Hip live the experience is very hard to discribe. It was something that I, a sesoned veteran of the live music scene, had never witnessed. To see The Tragically Hip is like watching a live poet, with Tourette syndrome and a bottle of Mezcal let loose on the public.

Gord was never just random however, staggering around unaware of his surroundings. To my mind Gord knew exactly where he was and he was hell bent on creating a unique experience for each and every show. To the best of my knowledge The Hip never played the same set list back to back. And even if they had this is no cookie cutter band.

To see a wild man like Downie in full cerebral rant with the band calmly matching his volume and tempo, Gord giving no visual cues that I could spot to let the band know what he was planning speaks to the level of professionalism and quality of the performers. They like us in the audience were along for the ride.

I must admit that I came a bit late to the Tragically Hip fold, I had known and liked their music from the 80’s playing in t he background at parties, and weeks at a friend’s cabin were I grew up in North Western Ontario. Road apples was the latest out then, I instantly took to Little Bones, “two fifty for a highball and a buck and a half for a beer. Happy hour, happy hour is here. Instant intangible classic in my mind.

Flash forward to August 1, 2016 Winnipeg. The Tragically Hip on the Man Machine Poem tour. Gord being literally and emotionally from my point of view supported by the band members and the crowd. That show was so bittersweet, any time I got to see The Hip was special, but Gord had lost a small but very noticeable step in his performance. He was still Gord alive and wild but somehow illness had robbed him of acuity and vitality. The doctors had apparently told him not to do this goodbye tour. What I and his fans saw was a very public FUCK YOU CANCER, I WILL NOT LAY DOWN AND DIE.

The performance was sublime in so many ways, the effort of the man was plainly apparent. The band as always keeping his back as with concerts of old in full flight. This time gently nudging the man in the directions he needed to go.

And then it was over, the final song I ever heard The Tragically Hip play live was a haunting version of Ahead By Century. A song which a few scant years ago I barely understood. Or to be honest knew the words to, thank you Jeff and Shannon for taking me in this amazing journey with a man who refused to be humbled by issues of reducing mental capacity.

Those of you who know me well will also know that I have been dealing with mental health issues. To this end I have sought out help and amazing resources from around the world. Authors, like minded lovers of nocturnal bandit mammals, medical and councelling help and yes the struggles made public of Gord Downie.

We all have a very singular path to walk in life, our own secret road. But as we all know paths cross and combine and sometimes drift apart. The things I am taking away from my personal walk with Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip are these. Everone has to walk their own path alone, who they invite or simply let join them on that path will always affect each and every one of them.

Once a person drifts off your path in time you get to choose the things you want to take from the experience for good or ill. If a person is poison do not drink from that path or wish it back. That is folly.

Be gentle and kind to one another, accept and give love freely. It costs nothing to give a smile or lend a hand.

Remember always that mental illness lies, depression can kill. But above all you are loved and are always are capable of love and giving it back. Isolation is a self made tomb.

Always remember as I will this refrain from the final song I heard live. Tears are coming now.

No dress rehearsal this is our life.


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