Tonight Canada pauses. The Olympics are forgotten. Wars and rumours of wars are on the backburner. Only one thing is important: The Tragically Hip have returned home to Kingston’s K-Rock Centre for what is most likely one final show.
The Hip are the quintessentially Canadian band. They can fill the largest arena in the nation night after night. However they have never really become more than a curiosity elsewhere. The K-Rock is a small place, but it is home, and tonight it is so important to be home.
No-one has said that it is the last show, but that is everyone’s assumption. That is why the CBC, our national broadcaster that pays millions for the rights to broadcast the Olympics is breaking away from that coverage to broadcast the concert on television, radio and satellite. This is the end of the road for the Tragically Hip: vocalist/songwriter Gord Downie is dying. It is only a matter of time before brain cancer kills him. That is why tickets for this concert were going for $6,000 each on the resale market at one point. When I looked yesterday eh mania had subsided somewhat – you could get a good seat for $1,000.
What would you do if the doctor told you that you were terminally ill, no cure, and your cancer inoperable? I think most of us would look at getting our temporal affairs in order. I guess when you are a member of a rock band you hit the road.
The Tragically Hip have crossed Canada one last time in the past month. Reviews have been great, focusing on the courage of Downie to take to the stage at a time like this. No-one has said this is the final tour and tonight the final show, but most people with Downie’s form of cancer die about a year after being diagnosed. The clock is ticking.
In a way I don’t know what to say about the Hip. They are Canada’s band. Not as well known outside the country as artists like Rush, Bryan Adams or Celine Dion, nevertheless they are the prime purveyors of this nation’s musical soul. Downie’s often enigmatic lyrics somehow have touched a nation. The Tragically Hip are who we are.
I have seen the band in concert four or five times over the past 20 years. I can’t say they are my favourite band, but I own a couple of their albums. I did buy the new one, Man Machine Poem, the day it was released, but I attribute that to the news of Downie’s illness. I wanted to show my support in some fashion for a man facing death at 52.
Given that I am only an occasional fan I think I will leave it to others to paint the Tragically Hip’s musical legacy for you. But I do have to wonder. Gord Downie has put his temporal house in order in going out on the road with his bandmates this last time. What about the rest of it? What of his preparations, to use a cliché, to meet his maker?
I’ve never met Gord Downie, and the published reports I have seen make no mention of any religious beliefs on his part. But such a diagnosis has to make you think, doesn’t it?
We all know, theoretically, that we are going to die. For most of us it is something we hope is in the far future. I’m already years older than Gord Downie; I too could be on borrowed time.
But that doesn’t worry me. I’ve done the necessary investigation. I know what awaits me when this body has its inevitable breakdown. With the tour over, I pray that Gord Downie takes the time to look at what comes next for him. For him the future is now.