November 20, 2017

Goodbye, Gord

How did it get this late so early, Gord? The gem of your great soul was plucked far too early. You were happily at transformation. And now, your vacancy has left me at the lonely end of the rink. Every morning moon going forward will forever be a mourning moon. With the journey to the waterfall now complete—with the 1000 pound feather you held retired to the fireside sofa—I’d like to thank you for inviting us in and for making stops along the way.

You were loved, Gord.

Transfixed we were by a stage presence like no other. For over thirty years, spastic pantomimes were the norm. It was exhilarating. Sometimes you would paddle across the stage in a phantom powered canoe using “microphone and microphone stand” for an oar. I often wondered if microphone and microphone stand had taken out insurance policies. They sure took a beating from you over the years. Every once in a while you would portage. I’d laugh uncontrollably.

There were basketball shots, Jane Goodall impressions, shoeshine episodes, faux smoking and of course hundreds of paintings painted. As the sonic engine of your Tragically Hip mates hummed, you were in your element. Indeed the blues are still required. It was laminar flow at its finest.

You were loved, Gord.

For others it was the lyrics. Not only were you a better high school teacher than those that taught me during the late 1980’s—what with your various history, geography and societal lessons—you had an endless supply of incredible poetry. “Coulda been the Willie Nelson, coulda been the wine.” C’mon, that’s downright magical. “I write about words, I find treasure or worse.” Oh my. “And it sounds heroincredible, Sound that makes the headphones edible.” Mic drop. You set the lyrical and poetry bar for many an aspiring writer, including yours truly.

You were loved, Gord.

There were the solo projects, too. Never to let a good lyric, poem or riff go to waste, the music that came adjunct to the Hip prior to 2016 was sublime. Released in 2001, Coke Machine Glow contains one of my favourite songs ever, Chancellor. Haunting while simultaneously caressing, the song really is musical poetry.

I remember memorizing the words to Every Irrelevance before it officially released, taken from a bootleg I had scored. Three solo albums later saw the partnership with Toronto indie-band, the Sadies, give birth to the album, And the Conquering Sun. Our three young children dance freely to Los Angeles Times, a rocking jam with one of the most exquisite lines ever: “May we be at ease with ourselves.”

You were loved, Gord.

And then there was the musical championing. You were truly the Gordfather of Canadian music. Having been to well over 100 live Hip shows and ten or so solo shows, most concerts were opportunities for me to be introduced to up and coming talent. They were the openers but you treated them as equals. The list reads like a who’s who of Canadian music history. Blue Rodeo. Broken Social Scene. Skydiggers. Hey Rosetta! Rheostatics. Arkells. Sam Roberts Band. Julie Doiron. It goes on and on and on.

You were loved, Gord.

Let’s not forget your civility, equality and feminism. In the early days of the Hip, even as the front man and lyricist you ensured song writing credits (and royalties) were split evenly across all five band members. That sentiment never wavered.

When on stage you would constantly admonish the beer swilling lunatics and thugs who made life miserable for women wanting to be closer to the stage. Both acts taught me to respect everyone, to treat everyone with decency and dignity no matter the circumstances. It was a luxury to see you act with honour.

You were loved, Gord.

Finally, there were the causes. Behind the scenes you would do so much for our environment and country. Back in 1993 you spearheaded the recording of Land, a song in partnership with the likes of Midnight Oil, Hothouse Flowers and Daniel Lanois, that focused on the clearcutting rainforest epidemic of Clayoquot Sound.

But there was also your leadership with Bullfrog Power where you not only acted as an ambassador of the company’s clean and renewable energy mission, the Hip tours became Bullfrog powered. Waterkeepers was another example. As a Canadian water charity working to protect Lake Ontario and the Great Lakes, you worked as an ambassador in many ways not the least of which was writing about the importance of healthy water in your lyrics.

Then there was your fifth solo album, The Secret Path, released one year before your death. You set the bar on how to conduct yourself if life becomes mathematically fleeting. It was nothing short of admirable. Making it your mission to increase awareness across Canada of the many wrongs the country has inflicted on our First Nations, you became the new Terry Fox for my three children.

You could have turtled, crawled under a rock or hid in the attic. But no. You chose to step smack into the very public light of dying while simultaneously pushing for Truth and Reconciliation. The will and determination—and grace, too—was something the country will never forget. With the creation of the Downie Wenjack Fund your legacy will be the great righting of the wrong. I feel like, finally, we’re on the verge. It’s almost heartening.

You Gord will always be Wicapi Omani, the Man Who Walks Among the Stars.

As I looked to those stars over the past week, tears fell in real time, tears fell through the night. Indeed it was something to cry about.

But I’m not crying anymore. It’s time to stoke the fire. There is more music at work to play.

You were loved, Gord.

You were streets ahead.


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