Imagine being unknowingly whisked away in a limousine at 6:45am on a Tuesday morning, told you were going to a radio station studio to interview Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip.
It happened to me in October of 2006.
My infinitely better half, Denise, knowing my passion for all things Hip, entered me into a radio contest without me knowing. A Vancouver radio station, Rock 101, had arranged for Gord Downie to arrive in studio to be interviewed live on the air by what they referred to as a “super fan.”
Apparently, Denise’s application was too good. My profile won the contest. Throughout the process, she—and many friends—managed to keep it a surprise.
Envisage my face on a crisp fall morning as a burly man with a boom mic arrived at the front door, asking if I was “Dan the Hip Head.”
“Pardon?” I asked.
“Are you Dan the Hip Head?” he asked again.
With an incredulous, dumbfounded look quickly sweeping over me, I said, “Umm, yes?”
The rather large man, who I thought was going to whack me with the boom mic, continued, “You’re live on the air with Rock 101 … and you’re going to be interviewing Gord Downie in an hour. How do you feel?”
At that point, I truly thought I was either being Punk’d or the cereal I was previously enjoying had been spiked with hallucinogenic milk.
In the background over my right shoulder, I could hear Denise chuckling with glee. Her plan had worked. The secret had been kept, and indeed I was about to be interviewing Gord Downie. We headed for the limo.
After a short trip to downtown, I entered the studio. To my right, buckets and buckets of Nando’s chicken. I thought that was weird. It was 7am in the morning. To my left was “Bro Jake,” the morning DJ on duty. He looked like the lead singer of a heavy metal cover band. I also thought he had been up for 72 hours straight. His skin was glowing, and not in an Aveeno commercial way.
The crew mic’d me up, gave me a pair of headphones, and we were off. For the next sixty minutes or so, the various on air personalities quizzed me on my Hip knowledge. In all honesty, being a somewhat cerebral guy, I felt like I was Alex Trebek at a party for professional wrestlers.
Just after 8am, my pain came to an end, and Downie entered the studio.
Clearly no one made him aware of the unfolding scenario.
“I’m not sure who is being ambushed Dan, me or you,” he cheekily summarized.
For the next 90 minutes or so, both on air and off, we sat across from one another and, well … chatted. I suspect it wasn’t what the Rock 101 people were expecting. Here they had Gord Downie—of the Tragically Hip in studio—and the band’s biggest “Hiphead” so clearly they were going to talk about beer, hockey and other fraternity-like dialogue.
But we didn’t.
The on-air segments were littered with discussions about lyrics, grammar, the environment (e.g. Waterkeeper) alongside other cerebral bits. When things became too boring for the radio people, the cover band lead singer/DJ found a way to inject potty-mouth humour into the proceedings. Downie took it all in stride, and played along. A “total pro,” if you will.
But what I cherished most were the moments when Downie and I were off-the-air. With a new album titled World Container set to drop in a few weeks, band representatives had given Rock 101 an advance copy of the disc. This gave the radio station a unique opportunity to play a few of the tracks on air before anyone else.
That’s when I really got to chat with him.
When we were ‘off the air,’ and the new songs were playing, the exchanges were both cerebral and touching. And no one was interrupting us.
We talked about Canada, family, children and writing. It was as though we had known each other for years. It was enduring and endearing.
In fact, it was Downie who urged me to get more into writing. “Canada needs more authors, Dan. Find your voice,” he insisted.
Years later, I did. He’s got copies of both my books. I hope to give him a copy of my third in 2018.
I’m still not clear who ambushed whom that day, but one thing is for certain, at the heart of the melt, Gord Downie is a father, husband, son, brother, uncle and friend. He’s a normal guy. He enjoys a good coffee, canoe trips, driving his children to activities and being a respectable citizen to the planet.
He may be a gifted poet, but he really is just a regular man.
I’ll always be thankful for that morning and the ten years ever since.
PS. I have the entire interview stashed away. Here’s a short clip to give you a sample.
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