I grew up as a teenager in the 90’s and The Tragically Hip were a serious part of my high school days. Leading this band was the front-man who is engrained into the memories of Canadians born between 1985 and 2005. Gord Downie, the poet, the performer…the Canadian. After I left university in 2000, my passion for the Tragically Hip, and Gord Downie, seemed to fade away into a memory, until That Night in Toronto…
When Gord was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in early 2016 it caused a considerable buzz in Canada. Gord was the face of the nation in so many respects, writing Canadian gems like “Nautical Disaster”, “Fifty Mission Cup” and so many other songs we now claim as Canadian. My wife and I discussed going to see The Hip but then realized ticket prices were going to be through the roof and didn’t think of it again for a while.
One day, I decided for some fateful reason to buy tickets to The Hip in Toronto. I notified another couple of friends Rae and I travel with and we made the arrangements. My expectations of the concert was simply to close a chapter in my life of seeing the band I grew up listening to, have some beer with friends and get a break from the rat race of life. What I got was much more and I believe it may have changed my life.
From the moment we got to the Air Canada Centre and took our positions in the nosebleed sections, it felt…electric. The band started precisely on time and I was transfixed on Gord the entire show. Every song, I turned to my wife and friends and said “THIS is my favorite Hip song”. But it wasn’t, the next one always was. He had an energy, a charisma, a love and respect for his music, his fans and himself that I haven’t seen on stage, in a boardroom, locker room, or any other setting. I learned from Gord that night.
Life Lessons from Gord
- Live with Passion– Gord was diagnosed with a terminal illness and rather than retreating into solitude, he made it his mission to leave a final impression. He decided to tour, to give back to his audience and his fans in Canada. If I was given the same news tomorrow, I am not completely sure I would go in and give the same effort. How do we find ourselves in life where we are so passionate about what we do that we would do it on our last days…by choice?
- Live with Respect– I am not a cushy guy. I spent much of the time at the concert asking myself “what is going through his mind right now?” He connected it seemed with 20,000 people individually throughout the show. The second encore, he spent time making eye contact for what seemed like hours thanking each and everyone of us. When it was finally over, one by one his band members lined up, hugged and kissed him on the lips. It was difficult not to be over-taken with emotion by this.
- Live by your Values– Gord was Canadian. Scratch that, Gord was Canada. Crank Fifty Mission Cup, Bobcaygeon, Three Pistols… this is silly I could go on for hours. Don Cherry, Ron MacLean, Peter Mansbridge call him friends. Gord has recently taken to advocating for indigenous peoples and his art will contribute to this cause making progress in Canada. He could be sitting on a beach somewhere but he is traveling to remote areas desperately trying to effect change. Gord is value-driven.
- Artistic– I have never seen anything like Gord Downie perform. I love The Hip, but I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I drove my wife crazy saying “Look at him!”, laughing, almost crying and deep down trying to empathize with him. I watched and thought of the contribution he is making to Canadian music and culture. I thought about the legacy he is leaving. I thought about what he is creating that is new and unique. Music and the lyrics were pulsating out of his veins, his soul spilling out into the stage.
I had a 5 hour commute the other night from meetings away. I listened to The Hip at full volume, thought about Canada, my kids and most recently my blog and my sad attempt at painting. It hit me like a sledgehammer in the forehead. Everything has changed since That Night in Toronto. I want to create, I want to connect, I want to leave this place better. Then I realized much of this has come about since I had the amazing opportunity to spend an evening with Gord Downie. I realized we all have a chance to create something, to leave something behind and to live with passion. Thanks Gord.
(Photocredit Huffington Post)