EDITORIAL: Gord Downie – Canada’s man in Canada’s band

A nation mourns the passing of the Tragically Hip’s iconic frontman

Wednesday was sombre across the nation as we learned that Gordon Edgar Downie had passed away at 53 after a hard-fought battle with brain cancer.

It was only two years ago that the Tragically Hip frontman and lyricist announced he had glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer that promptly put Downie and the band’s life into perspective. The Hip hit the road, playing every major Canadian city – they began with two shows in Victoria – because Downie said he “wanted to say good-bye face to face to face.”

If you were fortunate enough to be there, you might remember it as the moment you started to brace yourself for the inevitable, as you stood under the same roof as those five boys from Kingston, Ont. probably for the last time.

That didn’t make Wednesday any easier.

It’s rare that you get the opportunity to bid farewell to anyone before their passing, let alone someone you’ve likely never met (but felt you’d known your whole life). But that was Downie. He was a rare bird who had a unique approach to words, songwriting, dancing, to being Canadian and to making Canada better.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau teared up as he told Canadians, “we are less as a country” and everyone from the NHL to Ed the Sock to your aunt posted on social media. Downie’s lyrics have been everywhere since, like a giant electronic game of telephone where we all got to say, this was the part when he moved me. That’s the thing about the demise of a brilliant mind, it’s never really so because we get to carry pieces of it forever.

Since the band first took the stage in 1984, they continued to throw the best parties in some of Canada’s biggest and smallest towns. Whether you’re reading this in print or online, it just goes to show the way the band blurred the lines of generations. The Tragically Hip was your grandpa’s band, your buddy’s band and your band. Here in Victoria “rain falls in real time and rain fell through the night.” It couldn’t help but feel like the tears of an entire country in mourning.

No one loved Canada, with all its good and the bad, more than Gord. No one straddled the line of celebrity and down-to-earth everyman more than Gord. And no one looked better in denim than Gord.

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