One Nation Under Gord
For a good life we just might have to weaken
And find somewhere to go
Go somewhere we’re needed
Find somewhere to grow
“Last night Gord quietly passed away with his beloved children and family close by”
It's a sentence that brings tears to the eyes of a Nation. Years from today we will think back to the moment we heard. Were you waiting for your Double Double in a Saskatchewan Timmies? Were you stuck in traffic on Yonge Street? Were you dialing in on the East Coast airwaves? Were you cradled by the nature in the West?
Wherever we were, we knew it was coming. But, really, how do you prepare for the loss of legends? No amount of planks and nails and sandbags can keep back the torrential rush of this shattered levee. The hole left is instantly one that cannot be filled no matter how much earth we can collect between Bonavista and Vancouver Island. We shoudn't wish to fill it, anway. Instead, it should remain as a receptacle for memory, for poetry, for art and, of course, for music.
But how do you remember someone you’ve never met but were still such an important part of so many slivers of your life? Do you look back to the first time you heard his voice on a splintery porch in Cornwall, Ontario when he sung of wheat kings and pretty things? Do you think of the nights when you’d crank “Little Bones” to drown out the drunken parties in the dorm room across the hall? What about the early morning hours when he seemed to be your only friend on a Greyhound bus heading down the ghostly prairie highway? The days when his song and perhaps a little caffeine were the only things getting you out the door?
Fragments of the once forgotten return now with the soundtrack her wrote for us to colour in this often paint-by-numbers existence. The chapter titles are songs but we know they are much more than notes and stanzas and choruses and chords.
“Fiddler’s Green”: A slow dance in the arms of an angel in some dark corner of a high school gym where you felt anything could happen but it often didn’t.
“New Orleans is Sinking”: The moment when you realize your rock and roll dreams will only breach the distance of a bedroom air guitar solo but you don’t care. You still have the music.
“Bobcaygeon”: Drifting in a canoe on the Trent-Severn Waterway by this now made famous town. You’re singing to yourself. You’re looking up. You’re waiting for the constellations to reveal themselves one star at a time.
“Wheat Kings”: Though a song about injustice and a darker moment of our history it’s one that will always make you think of her blazing bright red hair caught by a wayward breeze off the Saint Lawrence.
Do you remember standing in a downpour with thousands of others soaked to the bone but still singing, a choir of strangers bonded by drums, guitars and the charismatic insanity of a frontman like no other. Is he really dressed in a glittery blue suit? Is he abandoning the song to veer off on a tangent about the wilderness? Is he pretending his microphone is a motorcycle?
Or that moment in time on August 20th, 2016 when you came together again not at a concert but as a country. From coast to coast, Tofino to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, we filled homes, parks, bars and parking lots. We sat listening in cars, stopped on the side of the road. We watched on phones in airport terminals, on city buses after a long work day. We gathered on George Street in St. John's, 5,000 strong in Halifax's Grand Parade, we were there in Charlottetown, attended all day celebrations in Fredericton and in Fundy National Park, sang together in the streets of Montreal, cried together in Toronto. The entire town came out in Bobcaygeon! We were there in the Old Market Square in Winnipeg, at the Roxy in Saskatoon and on Stephen Avenue in Calgary. Further up North we filled the Fieldhouse in Yellowknife and Yukon's Marsh Lake Community Centre. Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, Edmonton, Sarnia, Summerside, Miramichi, we were there.
One Nation under Gord.
And, on this day, we all return together, a country in mourning. Yes, we knew it was coming and the cloud above us all today is a dark one. It hovers from coast to coast. It will linger for some time. However, as a wise sage once told us, there is a crack in everything. That, my friends, is how the light gets in.
In a statement released by the Downie Family, one that thanked his band, his friends and his fans, it was said that Gord “had lived many lives”: father, son, husband, brother, friend and artist. I’d like to add one more: weaver of memory. He's the light bursting through that crack in everything to wash over your yesterdays and mine, thoughts of those times when Gord and The Hip touched our lives whether you were one of a dozen those early days at the Horseshoe or one of the thousands that final night in Kingston.
Also, how many of us can hear a Hip tune and, no matter where we are in the world, feel we are clutching a little part of Canada? Feel a part of home?
These, my friends, are gifts.
His family spoke of Gord Downie now walking among the stars. What a beautiful way to think of him, diamond pinpricks of light glistening inside the coat of forever.
Thank you, Gord. Fully and completely.