This isn’t the post I intended to write this week, or the post I imagined I would write on this word. Things change, however, and though I may be completely freaked out by change, it still happens. So I adapted, and am writing a slightly different Word Wednesday post.
This week, one of the bands I have grown up with announced that their lead singer, Gord Downie, has terminal brain cancer and that the studio album and supporting tour will be their last. Judging by my Facebook feed, I am not the only one saddened by the news. Part of the nostalgia is due to the fact that I literally grew up with The Hip on the radio. Their first big album, Up to Here, came out in 1987 – I was an impressionable grade-schooler at the time and anything that got airtime on stations my parents listened to had a big impact on my musical preferences. There’s a reason that a lot of the music I love was made before I was born – I blame dad and his affinity towards classic rock for my love of The Beatles, Jethro Tull, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, The Guess Who, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Band. My adoration of The Monkees is entirely the fault of Much Music for re-running their television show in the after school slot when I was a kid and Davey Jones’ adorable grin capturing my young heart. I was also in love with New Kids on the Block around the same time so take from that what you will. As I’ve grown older, my musical tastes have turned towards the East and West Coasts – with Great Big Sea and Spirit of the West respectively taking a place in my heart. I also love Blue Rodeo, Rush, The Tea Party, Barenaked Ladies, and The Trews – proving that the Canadian Content rules for radio play have definitely worked on me – it’s hard to become a fan of bands you don’t hear on the radio, or at least it is for someone my age who grew up before streaming content was a thing. (I’m sure I’ve missed some bands here but you get the idea.)
The Tragically Hip became the soundtrack to my formative years – songs like New Orleans is Sinking, 38 years old, Fifty Mission Cap, Wheat Kings, Ahead by a Century, and Bobcaygeon were played at parties, at the cottage, and just hanging out with my friends. I learned to drive listening to these songs on the radio, I got into a huge argument with my first boyfriend over the significance of Bill Barilko, and I’ve been known to time trips to Bobcaygeon so that I leave at 9:15. I’ve seen The Tragically Hip live a few times (nowhere near as many as Great Big Sea but it’s widely acknowledged that I *may* have a slight obsession with them) and they have never disappointed me. I’m going to be trying for tickets for this last tour because I want the chance to say goodbye, to thank them for all the memories, and because I think that music as a shared experience is one of the most primal ways we can connect with others. I deliberately left out one of my favourite songs by the Tragically Hip when I listed them at the beginning of the paragraph – the one that has been quoted a lot since the news of Downie’s cancer became public – Courage (For Hugh Maclennan). Indeed, I think it does take courage to announce a goodbye tour that is actually a goodbye tour and not just because the band is going their separate ways.
The word courage is one I’ve been planning to feature for a while and though I hadn’t planned on using the song as part the explanation, it works well. I’ve long been fascinated by the root of the word courage and the connection to the French word for heart – coeur. Etymologically speaking, this is because it was believed that the heart was the centre of all emotions and thus courage came from the heart. Indeed, there is a longstanding belief that music and the heart are interconnected – Beethoven believed that music should “strike fire in the heart”. The word courage comes to us from Middle English (denoting the heart as the seat of feelings): from Old French corage, from Latin cor ‘heart’.
Courage ( cour·age) noun
- The ability to do something that frightens one.
- Strength in the face of pain or grief.
Today, it is the second definition that strikes me – to be strong in the face of pain or grief. Yes, music fans are losing an icon, but the members of the Tragically Hip have been together for over 30 years and are losing their front man, their friend, and their most recognizable member. To be facing this loss and still announcing a cross-Canada tour takes courage indeed.
Update: Last night – October 17th, 2017, we lost Gord Downie. I say we because over the course of the day it became apparent that this was a national loss. The flag on the Peace Tower in Ottawa is at half mast until the funeral or memorial service, RIP Gord was trending on Twitter all day, and I spent most of the day listening to the Hip on repeat. I did get tickets to that final tour, and on August 10th 2016, I headed down to the Air Canada Centre with my friend Crys. We had dinner and whisky at the Irish Embassy, toasted Gord, and enjoyed a night full of glorious music. Memories were made and more than a few tears were shed. One of the coolest moments was the on the ball spotlight work during Fifty Mission Cap – when the lines “They didn’t win another until 1962 / The year he was discovered” came up, the banner for the 1962 Stanley Cup win was illuminated. It was a little thing but as a Leafs fan, it was pretty cool. The whole night was magical, and I will forever have it in my head. CBC aired the final concert of the tour live on August 20th, Dad’s birthday. We took the big tv up to the cottage, and hosted a group of friends for a viewing party on the lake- another uniquely Canadian moment courtesy of the Hip. So although I mourn Gord’s passing, my sadness is mixed with gratitude for everything he gave Canadian music fans. He who walks with the stars is now forever a part of the constellations that reveal themselves one star at a time.