Gord Downie was an artist, activist, and great Canadian. His legacy and legend will be remembered for the music he made, the political and social change he sought, and the way he touched music fans from coast-to-coast, across generations, and with a reach that can not be understated.
After a brave, public, and well-documented fight against cancer (glioblastoma), Downie died on October 17, 2017, leaving his family (including four children), his bandmates, friends, and countless fans to remember the man they knew and loved.
If you ever had the chance to see Gord Downie on stage, doing what he loved, you got a look at something special. Whether he was touring with The Tragically Hip, playing his own solo music, collaborating with The Sadies, or any number of other appearances he made during his long and fruitful career, he was the one to watch. To see him dance and move and feel the lyrics and music was almost hypnotic. There were always moments of magic hidden in plain sight when Downie was doing his thing.
photo: Mike Homer
Note: I will admit to sometimes being frustrated when trying to sing along to my favourite songs from The Tragically Hip when Gord was singing them live. The way he transformed them into something more than the record version was hard for me to understand and explain – but having seen more live music now, I get it. And he owned it.
To explain the influence that Gord Downie has had on musicians in Canada is probably a fool’s errand. There are too many. There’s too much. There is just no way to list everyone that took something from the lyric writing, performing, passion, and perseverance that the man, his bandmates, and his career. We see glimpses of Downie when we watch Max Kerman fronting the Arkells, and we can hear Hip-like cadence and feel in singer/songwriter tracks and new rock hits from all across Canada. We’re confident in saying that isn’t going to change any time soon.
And to the general public, the influence is real as well. The work that Downie did to help put Indigenous rights into the light will not be forgotten. And the songs. My God, the songs he sang will continue to be sung.
Walk into any karaoke bar and wait a little while, you’re likely to hear a song from The Hip. And if you want even higher odds, go find a campfire anywhere in Canada – if there’s an acoustic guitar we can almost guarantee that someone is going to strum Wheat Kings or Bobcaygeon.
On August 20, 2016, when The Tragically Hip played the K-Rock Centre in Kingston, ON to wrap their tour, a nation stopped to watch. The CBC reported that nearly 12 million viewers took in the feed. In Toronto, the CNE bandshell stage schedule was adjusted so they could show the concert on a big screen. Across the country there were viewing parties filled with family, friends, and fans. And together we watched as a real life musical hero to so many stood tall, sang, dripped with sweat, cried, and pour every ounce of what he had into the show that we won’t be able to forget.
At home, I cried. I watched and I sang and I sat in silence and I cried as the band played through a monster set and Downie sang with everything he had in him. It was beautiful.
Canadian movie lovers will remember Downie as well from his appearances in films like One Week (2008) and even his quick cameo with the rest of The Hip in Men With Brooms (2002). This clip from One Week is sobering, and will be one of the non-concert performance moments that I remember most of his career…
With the Order of Canada, a star on the Walk of Fame, Canadian Music Hall of Fame status, awards for his music, and recognition for his work outside of it, Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip achieved more than most – and just as much as he deserved.
We all knew this day was coming. This shouldn’t have surprised us. But still, it feels like I’ve been blindsided by the news. Maybe I thought there was still time. Maybe Downie’s relentless fight and work in the face of what was coming tricked me. Either way, this hurts.
Canada lost a legend when Gord Downie died. But his stories, his legacy, his inspiration and influence will live on and be remembered.
Rest easy Mr. Downie. Thank you for everything.
Joshua’s Top 10 Tracks, The Tragically Hip
★ Wheat Kings
★ Ahead By A Century
★ Grace, Too
★ Little Bones
★ Fiddler’s Green
★ Blow At High Dough
★ Gift Shop