Canada collectively held hands and mourned and celebrated on August 20th 2016. If you come from outside Canada, you may not know about the band The Tragically Hip, and that's okay. What you need to know is that the lead singer, Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer, and the band finished their final tour last night in their home town of Kingston, Ontario. Our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was there; our national broadcaster, the CBC interrupted Olympics footage and shared the concert, commercial-free, in its entirety on tv and online. It was played in bars, homes, movie theatres and public spaces across the country.
I wonder how many Americans are realizing how many Canadians they follow tonight pic.twitter.com/ZcjD2ECe61— Moiety Mouse (@moietymouse) August 21, 2016
I spent a large part of my young adult life actively not loving The Tragically Hip, and trying to be the best counter-culture artist-me I could be. I typically listen to music with fast beats while I'm painting (electronic, industrial, hip-hop) and The Tragically Hip, while full of energy, were outside the soundtrack I wrote for myself. Yet The Hip was always there.
As we tuned into the concert, I realized I knew every song they played, and each one felt like it was coming from a different moment in my life, a feeling no doubt shared across the country and voiced on Twitter. We all love The Hip collectively, but importantly, we all love them individually. A single song may make couples kiss, or a person cry, or a rocker rock out.
The concert mattered. Downie called out the Prime Minister to do more for Canada's native people living in poverty in the north, and also gave him a vote of confidence that he was the leader to do it. We're all going to watch Justin now, and importantly, we need to watch our individual political will.
Art, whether painting or music, is often about immortality, leaving a piece of yourself to echo through history. Human beings know we are mortal, and we are often hard-pressed to know how to deal with that mortality, so we don't. Last night, Gord Downie dealt with his mortality in front of all of us. It was during Grace, Too where Downie screamed a primal scream that shook everyone watching.
"Now," he screamed, with intensity that would have ruined a less seasoned singer's throat.
It was almost too much.— Glendon Mellow (@FlyingTrilobite) August 21, 2016
Like a painter ending a career in a wall of carmine red. #TheHip
We shared a moment that was almost too intimate. Here are a few of the sentiments that really hit me:
The feeling you get when you hold an entire country in the palm of your hand, while it holds you gently in its arms. pic.twitter.com/dXPFrBeAq8— Karen Holyk (@shaash79) August 21, 2016
Between this & Bowie dying days after dropping a fantastic album, it's been quite a year for musicians transfiguring death through art.— Josh (@JoshMLabelle) August 21, 2016
They all are, but I never heard an audience's cry for an encore this clearly an articulated rage against mortality. pic.twitter.com/1jLSoGKYej— Tabatha Southey (@TabathaSouthey) August 21, 2016
I snapped this pic from my tv during Blow at High Dough. The overexposure of Gord makes him appear to be a white silhouette. He isn't absent. He was more in the present than any other Canadian during those 3 hours last night. Artists, we strive to be immortal, and Gord Downie showed us the way to do that is to be Here, Now.
(Photos in the post by the respective people who gave me permission to embed their tweets. Thank you to CBC for their broadcast of The Tragically Hip playing their last show in Kingston Ontario. And thank you to The Tragically Hip and every radio station and friend who played them in the soundtrack of our lives. You can donate to support brain cancer research through the Gord Downie Fund here.)
[Post received a brief edit 3.5 hours after originally being posted to correct typos and include K. Holyk's wonderful tweet.]