Earlier this month I had the privilege of seeing Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip perform one last show in my hometown.
Something has come full circle.
In 2008, my friend Amelia and I were at Fort Calgary for the Virgin Music Festival. Headlining was the Tragically Hip, so I got two tickets as an early birthday gift from my parents. Amelia would love it – she’s a wickedly talented musician and artist, always has been.
We’d never been to a concert like this before. I was determined to see the Hip to the fullest extent, and we thought we were good at pretending to be bad ass, so we made it happen.
Amelia and I started our day at the front of the main stage, and god damn it we stayed there, fighting for our spots as other incredible bands came and went. City & Colour, the Constantines, Stars, Matt Good – those are the ones I remember best.
Gord came out and played with the Constantines and Dallas Green earlier in the day; it was mentoring and revolutionary.
Ten hours or so later, the Hip are on. The show is astounding. I’m singing along to everything, snapping these photos on this dorky little digital camera, because it’s 2008 and phones just couldn’t kick it then.
The flash was off, don’t worry.
So the show is exploding and Paul Langlois is right in front of me, he looks so in the zone. We’re situated at the front of the pack, left of centre. There are 60,000 people jostling to be where I am in this moment, but I am taken up and transformed by this music. Something unstoppable begins.
I smile and laugh looking at Paul, as he nails a groovy note, shifting the weight of his guitar.
He smiles back at me and exaggerates the motion.
I can even be a part of this music. Unreal.
Gord comes over a few times to sing with Paul, enhancing the joy of interaction. His passion is contagious.
As he goes, he wipes his face with large cloth handkerchiefs, tossing them to the crowd – but not before playing with them as a cat would his prey.
Gord goes nuts with that mic stand. He rides it like a bucking bronc, drives it like a car, flails it to and fro before snapping it – clean in half. He twirls the broken piece around like a big beautiful baton. I’d hear legend of these antics and I was blown away by the madness – this guy is fucking nuts in a way I could really understand.
Wrapping up the artistic insanity, he did something I could not have expected.
He wraps the broken end in a handkerchief, and climbs down off the stage.
With the gentlest power, he untangles the flailing arms around me, one hand clinging to the bar. He hands me that mic stand.
I notice the bandmates look around at each other, smiling, doing what they love and making people happy doing it. Inspiring people.
I can’t remember if it was before or after, but Gord came back one more time. I was singing along so loudly to ‘Ahead by a Century’, he came over, and sat down on the speaker in front of me with his acoustic. He looked at me again, he was mouthing… something?
I point awkwardly at myself, “me?”
“A… G… B…” He was showing us the chords.
I remember plaid against wood-grain, fingers articulating at a lesson’s pace. Understanding.
We were young people in the front row, not really looking to be inspired, but putting ourselves in such a place that it was inevitable.
Now back to August 3rd, 2016.
The last show. Everyone in that stadium was family, for a short while.
Gord, not short on passion nor antics, speaks his mind.
“There’s a young girl here,” Gord begins, pointing just down, to the front left of the stage, “who knows all the words. She knows them better than I do.”
She can inspire, and be inspired, Gord said, in his way.
For a second that day I thought I had really missed something. Something I hadn’t seen eight years earlier.
The stand, the lesson, the Hip shows I’ve seen, the musical experiences I’ve had because of them.
I am always at peace when I sing my heart out, Cordelia, to the steering wheel, and it was the Hip’s albums – especially Road Apples, Day for Night and their original EP – starting back in high school that made me pick up a guitar.
Something tells me that, for that girl a few weeks ago, and that girl a few years ago, we don’t have to worry about any lessening of potential.
“The music has never been easier to find.” He reminded us all.
“Be good to each other. Take care of each other.”
“You’re beautiful, Calgary, you always have been.”
Sage, gracious words from a man who hushes and humbles a nation.
Thank you Gord.
I’m selfish to be sad that I’ll never tell you in person, but I want you to know you’ve inspired me, deeply.
Your music and poetry continues to inspire me every single day. I am inspired to learn more about my country and my place in it. To sing loudly, write poetry and stories, play my guitar and – now I realize – work on something worth sharing. To share my radical, compassionate and artistic self with the world; chill and be chill.
I know, somehow, that I am on the right path, and you’ve had a substantial and motivating part in it all.
Please know that.
Go with grace, Gord, I know you will.