A few days ago I watched a thing on television. A middle-aged guy named Gord Downie and his band, The Tragically Hip, played their final show in front of six thousand people — give or take eleven million — and it was a pretty big deal.
It felt like everybody I knew had something to say about it. I saw their tweets. They shared lyrics and tributes. Some of them burned through their cellular data plans to stream Saturday’s concert because they couldn’t get to a television. Even our prime minister, clad in a black T-shirt bearing the band’s name, showed up and sang along. I knew about Gord’s bleak health outlook, but I don’t think I truly understood how many people’s lives were going to change when they woke up in a post-Hip world on Sunday. I wasn’t trying to be a contrarian by abstaining from the discussion, but I had nothing to add because I never listened to The Tragically Hip. The phenomenon was lost on me.
In spite of that, I didn’t want to feel like I was missing out on things. If I couldn’t be conversant about The Hip, I could at least have something to say when asked about this Big Important Event. It was a cynical reason to watch, but without any pretence at least I wouldn’t have to waste much of my time.
When I finally turned off my television about twenty minutes past midnight, the show was over and it was almost two hours past the point I intended to change the channel. Nothing was dramatically different in my world, though. I didn’t have an epiphany that made me realize I should have been listening to this music all along. I didn’t suddenly come to understand the sui generis nature of the band. And I didn’t feel any more Canadian than I did before I tuned in. But I was still glad I watched it.
Absent any personal connection to the performance, all I saw was a man — Gord — in shiny clothes and a quirky sock-scarf singing and dancing and sweating and eventually crying. I enjoyed it. The music didn’t resonate with me, but I went in without any expectation that it would. When the band wrapped up with Ahead By A Century — the only song of the night that I recognized — the last line hung in the air amid the applause.
“And disappointing you is getting me down”
I have no doubt that any disappointment felt by the millions of Tragically Hip fans is only that their final goodbye came long before they were ready to let go. I can’t empathize, but I am sad, both for them and for a man — Gord — whose days doing what he loved are now behind him. Although I may not get it, I do understand that the gestalt of The Hip — the band, the music, the tour, and Saturday night — helped define and foster integral elements of our national cultural identity. It was a thing we were proud to call our own. Viewed through such a lens, it’s easy to see how losing that thing is enough to get anybody down.
Featured photo: Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press