The next year “Bobcaygeon” was a single, and like everybody I knew, I liked it. It was a song you’d hear people singing quietly to themselves, little snippets everywhere. It was a song that when it came on the radio, people would stop their chatter and sing along with reverence.
I can’t remember exactly when, but I became a Tragically Hip fan, and I bought all their albums. On every album were songs I already knew. The Tragically Hip had been playing in the background my whole life, so many familiar songs by a single band. Their music surrounded me, like a warm hug from someone who loves you. In that warm hug I heard lyrics teaching me Canadian stories and history with wit and humanity.
In my mid – late teens, I was often thinking about my identity as a Canadian. With the constant barrage of media from the US, it was hard to define Canada as anything other than ‘not the US.’ The Hip helped me realise it was about much more than that. They helped me realise that Canadian art was worth making. There was this pattern of Canadian creatives either going to the US or the UK to make it big before Canadians would accept them. Not the Hip. I am very proud to be Canadian, even knowing it was random chance to be born here, even knowing that this country has made some dire mistakes. Nothing compares to home.
The Hip always felt like a band of the people, for the people. Grounded in reality but given to philosophical tangents. We should have got another 30 years of Gord Downie, and I think he would have kept working, like he is now. Artists never retire. We won’t just lose a man or a band, but years of future Hip songs to remind us of so many moments in our lives, and telling us about our homeland.
It’s strange to think that there will be future Canadians born or granted citizenship who never lived in the time of Gord. Like many Canadians, I can’t fully express everything they mean to me.
Thanks Gord, for everything. Thanks Rob, Gord S, Johnny, and Paul.