the lyrics of your life can be struck by a single chord. your heart a cadence of melancholic refrain. the soundscape that is the song can capture your sentiment in a triad of moments – transmitting you back in time through the power of nostalgia. such a melody lets you linger there in the space between. longing for the chorus as it spins on repeat. it’s as sweet as the vintage vinyl it was recorded on and as sorrowful as the mixed tape that never made it to the airwaves. unknowingly, when you hear a song by happenstance it attached itself to a memory which in turn becomes a one hit wonder on the soundtrack to your life.
gord downie was the fourth poet songwriter (preceded by leonard cohen, bob dylan and patti smith) i discovered in my passionate pursuit to understand the grit of writers who had the imagination to intertwine their words with song. naturally, i became acquainted with the tragically hip first and downie’s individual word portraits thereafter.
i was 18 years young when the song poets debuted at number one on my life chart. i had just started my summer job to help pay for my university adventure. the guy on my shift played it for me. he was talking tough and i wasn’t anti-social enough. we didn’t know what we were doing other than we were singing and falling in love.
after a year around the sun, in the long grasses over time, our love (or lack thereof) had become splintered legions. summer followed and wheat kings became a tragic anthem for a brokenhearted pretty thing who had fallen for another hip boy. needless to say i put my cd collection away.
alas, infinite love would devour me once more.
nature had turned a new season and with it came a boy. he had a favourite band whose blues-tinged sound had, by now, become a stapled repertoire in my adolescent affairs.
so, there we were at 5am on a school night. instead of studying we were flirting. scared by the tragically hip was crooning through his crackled speakers. in the afterglow of an autumn’s morning violet light my muse du jour leaned over and whispered, “i could make you scared if you want me to.”
to which i replied, “i’m not prepared, but if i have to.”
he kissed me and that memory to this day is still as imperfect as a million works of art.
as joni mitchell sings in blue, “songs are like tattoos.” thus, if music culture is more than skin deep, and indeed it is, then the tragically hip are the stompin tom of my generation, intrinsically etched into a bright constellation somewhere high above bobcaygeon.
gord sang poetry while his band mates brought said lines to life. he danced to the rhythm of his own symphony. he told stories. he put history to melody. he animated our country through the art of song. he sculpted our culture into octaves when others said we didn’t have one. he looked to the north emphatically moved to take up truth and reconciliation as his cause with unwavering fatal forte. gord was, and the hip are, the founders of the all canadian surf club, denim jackets and long hair.
gord downie gifted us infinite ballads, a banquet of words and an immortal identity of an enigmatic dark canuck. in closing, his work taught me to see what tomorrow brings. to reveal myself, one star at a time. to love fully and completely. to live with courage, and grace too.