Update: With this week’s sad passing of Gord Downie, now is the perfect time to look back on his bravery in the face of a terrifying situation, and how it served as inspiration for many. This article was originally published on August 23, 2016.
As every Canadian is well aware of, Saturday night The Tragically Hip played the last concert of their summer tour in their hometown of Kingston. While the location for this concert was chosen quite purposefully by the band, the audience went far beyond those filling the K-Rock Centre. The concert was broadcast nationally and millions watched as a way of saying goodbye to the band’s charismatic lead singer, Gord Downie.
Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in May and decided he wanted one last hurrah while he still could. I’m sure Downie had his own hopes for what the tour and that final concert would be, but surely the reality of what it became was more than even he had intended or expected.
It’s easy to say that it was all for fans of the band, but after the reception of Saturday’s concert, I don’t think anyone believes that to be true. “The Hip” are a much-loved Canadian group and Downie is certainly an icon, but as much as their music has its many fans across this country and beyond, and of all different ages and backgrounds, a large number of those who tuned in to the final concert did so with only a casual knowledge of their music.
Then was it for Canadians? It certainly was a national event, one of cut magnitude that it cut into Olympic coverage. The Hip’s national pride has always been something to admire, but this goes beyond that.
Public spectacle then—did everyone just want to be apart of the conversation and have something to add at the water cooler on Monday morning? If so, then where are the negative comments, where is the criticism? I’m sure there is some from those few sad souls on the internet but they have been drowned out be the mountainous inpouring of love. And in those comments we can understand the importance of this concert.
It about loss and anyone who has experienced loss. It’s about sickness, anyone who is sick or was sick, or anyone who knows someone who is struggling with an illness. In short, it’s for all of us.
Gord Downie was a man, a celebrity yes, but in the end just a man, who was faced with a terrifying reality, the kind that we all hope we never had to experience. He made a decision about how he wanted to deal with it and that as to do what he loved to do for as long as he possibly could. We can’t know what brought him to that decision, only Gord can, but it is clear that it was the right thing for him. He stood on that stage and poured it all out in the way he wanted, and selflessly gave us that one thing everyone who is going to lose someone wants to have; a happy moment to remember. And we as a nation did our part for the grieving process. We supported him and we cheered him on.
One day the news will come the Gorde Downie has passed and every single one of us that watched that concert will think of a man who gave us his all and left the stage perfectly content.