This morning, Canadians awoke to the sad news that Gord Downie, the beloved Canadian singer, songwriter and poet who fronted The Tragically Hip, passed away Tuesday, October 17, at the age of 53. In December 2015, Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, but instead of hiding away, toured one last time in 2016 and released the critically acclaimed solo album, “Secret Path.”
“Gord knew this day was coming – his response was to spend this precious time as he always had – making music, making memories and expressing deep gratitude to his family and friends for a life well lived, often sealing it with a kiss… on the lips,” reads a statement issued by the Downie family.
“Gord said he had lived many lives,” it continued. “As a musician, he lived ‘the life’ for over 30 years, lucky to do most of it with his high school buddies. At home, he worked just as tirelessly at being a good father, son, brother, husband and friend. No one worked harder on every part of their life than Gord. No one.”
On a day like today, it’s tough to quantify the enormous presence, impact and influence that both Downie and The Tragically Hip have wielded for years. Never a band to really discuss its own legacy, it’s become up to Canadians to express to each other how much Downie and the band’s music has contributed to the fabric of this country.
What’s always made those conversations easy to have is understanding that The Tragically Hip is unabashedly Canadian. The band touches on Canadian history, places and people that matter to this country’s citizens. Most of all, no matter how high a stage The Tragically Hip played on, they still seemed uniquely and humble and within reach to fans.
In the summer of 2014, Downie was within reach of me. I was backstage at a music festival, having just finished photographing another respected, veteran Canadian rock band, Sloan. Soon enough, a big white cowboy hat caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was Downie beneath the hat. More than six hours away from performing that night, there he was, just hanging out.
He greeted fans on the other side of the barbed wire fence, respectfully handled the enthusiasm of festival volunteers, and nonchalantly went about his business. In a moment of bravery, I politely introduced myself to Downie and asked for a photo. Not of us together, just of him. Kindly, with his cowboy hat beaming in the sun, a backpack hanging from his shoulder, and his hand flashing a peace sign, he posed for the photo.
Shortly thereafter, we stood shoulder-to-shoulder, exchanged a few words, and enjoyed watching Sloan from the side of the stage. I’ve never had more of a quintessential Canadian moment than that one.
Today, we should remember Gord Downie for his music, the causes he championed and the kindness and inspiration he provided to so many. As far as touchstone’s go, Downie is one we should forever hold onto.
VisionTV would like to extend its sincerest condolences to Downie’s family, friends, bandmates and fans.
-Words and Main Photo by: Adam Grant