I can’t even begin to try to count the good wishes and kind words since Tuesday morning and The Tragically Hip Management released a statement. Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer. I know many of my world wide friends will not know his name or the band’s music but believe me when that announcement went live across Canada. It was like an arrow was shot into the collective hearts of a nation.
There are very few artists of any genre that capture the soul of a nation, Pierre Burton, Tom Thompson, Gordon Lightfoot captured the rough and tumble nature, angst of my father’s generation. Leonard Cohen encapsulated the Montreal vibe and took the 70’s not just here but in the heart of the New York jungle with his verses.
To try to understand The Tragically Hip in a few paragraphs is like trying to catch smoke in your bare hands. I don’t honesty believe that Canada has ever produced an artist quite like what he and the band are together. The often misused word synergy comes to mind, if you’ve seen them live or on youtube you’ll know what I mean. Watching Gord Downie on stage is like watching a force of nature dipped in gasoline, set on fire after a huge bong hit and energized by his rabid Canadian fans.
But I digress how does this speak to the nature of Canadians? Well every truly Canadian heart possesses a few key things to live on in the cold of winter and then live in perpetual exuberance in summer. We tend to be a quiet people, not prone to flag waving, but we are tough as hell. There is a reason why Logan aka Wolverine is Canadian. We will not stop, we earned the respect in every war Canada has been dragged into by other nations.
Canadians like Gord and The Hip have a very multifaceted soul, this country is not a Melting Pot, but rather a cultural mosaic. Very hard to get your head around at first but if you travel across the country by car or train you’ll see that every community is distinct. Some Metis French, some Quebec separatist, some Hutturite German. Across our breadbasket, Ukrainian, Finnish, Polish. Every little town and hamlet a different community, but tied together in this huge ides called Canada.
Somehow The Hip have managed to capture the Canadian ideal, the Wheat Field Soul. The hockey rink, that first love, the desperation of a man wrongly accused. The lyrics take Canadians home, but get us live at a Hip Show and you’ll see another animal all together. Gord riffing, ranting, begging, destroying and creating. His off course mid song sojourn from song to song. When he’s live you never ever see the same show twice.
And that I guess is the Canadian soul, rock steady, steeped in the traditions of many cultures. The resiliency that our climate brings, it melds people together expecially in the Prarie where the winter winds can kill in minutes and then in summer we celebrate.
These things the great Canadian artists understand. The things that make every part of Canada different but also make us great.
The power of Canada has never been in military force, but in uniting as a people when the chips are down on last call.
I think of the Fort McMurray fire, Terry Fox and his selfless run across Canada on one leg, and now to rally behind one of our poets and song writers in his family’s moment of need.
If nothing else speaks to the Canadian soul it’s our resilience. Our sports have months long playoffs where people regularly lose teeth, sometimes get an artery cut and almost bleed to death on the hockey ice. Football in fog, mud and the chill of a Canadian cold snap going down into -20c.
But we hardly bitch and moan. Lest to say it’s a dry cold.
These artists really get that Canadian enui, our cold silent nature. All the while giggling at anyone that doesn’t get us.