On August 12th, while Gord Downie waved goodbye for what seemed like forever and nowhere near long enough, I stood clapping and cheering along with the 20,000 other people in the Air Canada Center. We clapped and cheered as loud and as hard as any of us could. The sound was deafening – as it should have been.
It couldn’t drown out the memories though. Alex, Quinn and I driving aimlessly around our hometown in my parents Red Dodge Caravan singing our hearts out to “World Container”. Geoff (who thankfully was right beside me), Tom, Ben and Dan fighting to make anyone give a shit about the music we were making while trapped in Kingston.
I thought about how I don’t see any of them enough; except for maybe Geoff – can’t seem to shake him.
But in the middle of that riotous send off to one of the best frontmen, lyricists and poets this country has ever seen, I couldn’t get Paul off my mind.
Paul had brain cancer too, the same kind as Gord. Paul has a family just like Gord does. Four kids I’m lucky to know and call my friends – extended family really – and an amazing wife Debbie, who is the toughest person I’ve ever met.
I thought about how generous Gord’s family must be to share his last who-knows-how-long with all of the fans and how everyone who got to and gets to experience the Man Machine Poem tour will be forever grateful.
Paul would have thought this was so cool. I figure he would have been at the show if he were still here. Drinking, singing along, dancing.
I borrowed Paul’s (or perhaps Debbie’s) copies of In Violet Light and In Between Evolution around the same time I started high school. Soon after, I bought the greatest hits collection Yer Favourites from Chapters. Gord sang me to school often. He told me to have courage and grace, too.
Paul had courage. He was given five years to live after his diagnosis. He lived for twelve. He stuck around for his kids, I figure. Hopefully Gord does too.
As the crowd roared on, I wished Paul had got this sort of send off. The chance to soak it all in, say goodbye. We would have cheered as loud and hard as we could. We would have cried, he would have probably laughed.
I thought about fireworks. Not the song but real fireworks. Paul loved fireworks. Each year on Victoria Day, the neighbourhood would gather in the park to watch Paul’s display. On the Victoria Day after he died, the park across the street from his family’s house was full. Everyone – friends, family, strangers – gathered to say goodbye, donate and watch the show. The fireworks were bigger than ever. I imagined Paul could hear them and that he thought it was cool.
I can’t watch fireworks without thinking of Paul and from now on I’ll think of Gord too.
On Saturday as we all experience the Tragically Hip for, probably, the last time, you’ll probably remember all the people who didn’t get a grand send off, who you loved, who left too soon. When you do, I think you’ll be even more thankful for this one.
For further reading on the Machine Poem Tour and the Tragically Hip I encourage you check out all of these fantastic tributes and reviews. We’re all just trying to say bye and doing a pretty great job doing it.
How we will miss Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip by Michael Barclay for Maclean’s
How the Tragically Hip were always ahead by a century by Ben Rayner for the Toronto Star
Note: There are many more but these are a great start.
I would also encourage those who can to donate to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research so in the future we don’t lose anymore Paul’s or Gord’s to brain cancer. I bet they’d think that was cool.