The room was electric. Abuzz with anticipation. I felt like I was floating. Who put helium in my shoes?
But we were organized. Of course we were. You taught us to be ready. To be born ready. Armed with will and determination.
When I entered the K-Rock Arena on August 20th, 2016 in Kingston, Ontario to witness firsthand what may have been the last-ever performance of the Tragically Hip, for the first time in my life I could smell organized love.
It was everywhere.
We were organized.
The Prime Minister walked to the arena. Just like the rest of us.
The countdown began. 30 minutes. 15 minutes. 5 minutes.
A version of O Canada began minutes before the concert started. It wasn’t spontaneous. The CBC didn’t make us do it. It was an organized public service announcement by the 6500 people in the arena. As author and musician Dave Bidini wrote, “Let’s not apologize for who we are, even with the tedium of empty spaces and still-careful ways we announce ourselves on the world’s stage.”
We were announcing our citizenship to the world’s stage. What did we say?
“We are the next us.”
Canadians are the next Canada.
Everyone’s heart in that arena—indeed across Canada—simultaneously morphed into the shape of a maple leaf. We were organized.
The Hip strode onto the stage. Go time. Clutching a white handkerchief—like Gord Downie had been using for years, including all fifteen dates of the Man Machine Poem tour—and wearing a black fedora to boot, I made a decision.
Denounce your timidity and announce your love for The Hip on the world’s stage. Embrace it. I got organized. For love.
The band picked up their instruments and launched into Fifty-Mission Cap.
I brought out my white handkerchief and started polishing. At first, it was my chair. As those first few notes swelled I started polishing other chairs around me. I was unleashing my inner Gord Downie pantomime. I was beginning to release 25 years of concert-going love. If this was going to be the last one, after 130 shows—and seven on this tour—I decided to let it all out.
Courage was the next song. My impressionistic Gord Downie dance moves became more feverish. Afforded five feet of space in front of our two floor seats, and an entire five-foot wide aisle right beside me, I decided to forego the apologies. This was not the time for being careful. I was getting even more organized.
Wheat Kings. I thought ahead to the lyrics. “There is an actual Prime Minister in the house, and Gord is going to sing, ‘Hung with pictures of our parents’ prime ministers.’” I polished a few more seats, and slow danced with Denise.
It was then time to step over that big black band of evil. Oh I stepped over it alright. My pantomiming the original pantomimes of Downie became so intense during At The Hundredth Meridian, security came over to ask if I was alright. “You just gotta step right over it,” I said. They had no idea what I was up to. Don’t worry, they got organized soon after.
The second four-pack of songs—as was the case for all 14 previous concerts on this tour—came from the band’s latest album, Man Machine Poem. I wasn’t about to let up. I knew every lyric, too. I said to myself, “Gord probably didn’t have the physical capacity to invent new moves or pantomimes for these songs, so I should.” And I did. My catharsis was in full effect.
Next, during the Music at Work section, the Hip played Toronto #4. It’s a eulogy to Gord’s grandmother. Gord introduced it by saying, “Well Lorna, she really was the best, ya know.” Lorna is Gord’s mother who was in attendance. It hit me hard, like an invisible chop to the sternum.
I got more organized. I made another decision, another unannounced announcement. Anyone who walked by me, whether in front or to my side, would get either a high five or a hug. It was the right thing to do. My love had to be released. Gord gave a shout-out to his mom. I was going to reciprocate somehow.
And so, for the rest of the show, my pantomiming got out of control, my dancing was ever-so-Gord-esque, my high-fives and hugs increased, and my polishing took on epic proportions.
I headed out into the crowd, down our row, into other rows, up the stairs, and along the side of the stands. I began to polish rings, watches, VIP passes, whatever I could find. People would see me coming, and they’d hold something out to be polished. Others just wanted a hug. Men kissed me on the cheek many times. A few found my lips.
The love was becoming unbridled. It was cathartic.
We had all become organized. With will and determination.
And then came the song, Blow at High Dough. Something took over me. Something took over us. All of us. I witnessed 6500 people transform into a singular organism. One of love, for love. With much love. Enlightenment and Nirvana were now upon us, a path any Buddhist monk would recognize.
“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you,” sang Gord during Scared. My handkerchief was no longer being used to polish things. It had become a tear-soaked crutch. My pantomiming ceased. My hugs and high-fives ended. And then the band launched into Grace, Too. I knew the end was near.
I had just finished writing about Gord’s resilience and grit in a post called, “Him? Here? Now? No.” But there I was, watching a man 52-years young, screaming those exact words into a microphone. It was merciless. He was crying. I was crying. We were all crying. I wanted to give him my handkerchief to soak up his tears. I wanted to give him one of my hugs.
But I couldn’t, of course. You know why?
It was Gord’s public announcement. Mic drop. There would be no apologies. For he is an artist, and an artist produces art.
His tears were for the love of his art.
And Gord Downie has always been organized. He has always been an artist.
The band came together one last time after Ahead by a Century, arms hung over one another in a singular row of five, to say a final goodbye. They were organized. They always have been. They are artists. They always will be.
The helium left my shoes. But then I quickly remembered.
We are the next us.
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