Gord Downie. (Tim Fitzgerald photo)

Gord Downie. (Tim Fitzgerald photo)

‘It only lacks your presence’: truth, art, words and the legacy of Gord Downie

The Tragically Hip frontman died Tuesday night

The curtain climbs over me every morning I don’t know why I’m so immunized against reforming

I went to bed last night — unthinkingly — in my Tragically Hip T-shirt. Sky blue with a bold “H” and “P” framing a silhouette of Gord Downie in an iconic pose standing in place of the “I.”

I awoke to a Canadian Press report, undoubtedly pre-prepared months ago, expected, but no less hard to read: Downie was gone.

Conventional journalism directs me to backfill here; to recount his brave battle with inoperable brain cancer and the definitive Canadianness that defined his band.

I refuse. You don’t need it. I don’t want it. I want to write about words. About my fascination with them. About my awe at the way Gord could sculpt them into constructions of great and terrible and at times indecipherable beauty. About my ineffectual struggle at this moment to forge them into something that does justice to his gift.

The highest and best use of words is to connect, inspire and understand. As cynical as most are about journalists, that remains the reason why I, and so many of my peers, got into this business. Gord worked that, lived it, on a higher level.

We don’t go anywhere

Just on trips

We haven’t seen a thing

We still don’t know where it is

It’s a safe mistake

A wise man once said “when the sunlight hits the olive oil don’t hesitate.” Gord spoke about art and truth and life and how they intertwine and how their pursuit gives one both perspective and purpose. We’re all given the ability to discern right from wrong; to know what’s important and what is not. We’re all given tools and opportunities with which we can learn, grow, understand — make the world a little bit better. But too often, most of us remain in the car, driving where we are told to go, experiencing what we are told to experience, expecting the expected, seeking out that which reinforces our biases instead of challenging them.

Gord’s work urged us to plunge in deeper than what the tour guide would suggest, to take roads less travelled and listen to voices seldom heard.

All with the too-often lonely goal of creating community.

The surface is green and the dark interweaves

In a lonely iridescence

It’s terribly deep and the cold is complete

And it only lacks your presence and nothing else

One of the most enduring tenets of the Hip gospel is that they are a uniquely Canadian treasure, that other countries simply “don’t get.” I’ve always wondered why. Sure Gord spoke in cultural idioms like Clayoquot Sound and Bobby Orr largely unique to Canada, but the underlying themes of Carpe Diem and empathy were universal.

Life is a privilege. It’s not about getting the T-shirt. It’s about making your life your own iconic pose.

Step out of your world container. Make this world a better place.

My balloons may be filled with rain right now, but the inspiration of this poet need never fade.

Said, ‘ain’t life a grand and I’m in awe of y’all’

I’ve dropped into my haunted bunk

Been to your touchless times out where the water’s drying

Been past the ‘No Attractions Past This Point’ sign

What we have here are all flaws in progress

Where all songs are one song and that song is Don’t Forget


» John McKinley writes for www.vifreedaily.com Reach him at editor@vifreedaily.com

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