Gord Downie. Terminal Brain Cancer. “Is this for real?” I wondered or was it one of those internet hoaxes that pops up every few years. This, unfortunately, was no hoax. It was all very real. An icon that most of Canada have been singing along with for almost 30 years has terminal brain cancer. I knew what it had meant when I had first read the line “terminal brain cancer,” but I wanted to be sure. Maybe the definition in regards to terminal brain cancer didn’t mean what I thought it had meant. I had to look it up. Regrettably, nothing that I read would change the darkness of the recent news.
As a kid, I watched A LOT of MuchMusic. This is when they still played actual music videos instead of terrible TV shows. Throughout the summer break from school, my afternoons often found me in my grandparent’s basement with my brother doing who knows what while MuchMusic was on in the background. Every now and then, though, a certain song and/or video would grab my attention away from whatever it was that I was doing. One of those songs/videos was the Tragically Hip’s – Ahead By A Century.
The opening strums of the song. The rustic, small town feel to the music video. It all caught me and every time that video came on, I would stop to listen and watch. That was my first memory of the Tragically Hip. Then I was introduced to FM rock stations and heard songs like New Orleans is Sinking and Blow at High Dough. These songs were incredible. Also incredible was the fact that this band was Canadian which you can easily tell based on Gord’s inclination for writing about Canadian towns and stories.
Over the years, like many Canadians, the Hip became one of my favourite bands. Although they were one of my favourite bands, I never had the opportunity to see the Hip live in concert until I was in my mid-twenties. The first Hip show that I took in was in Wiarton, where my grandparents live. For some reason, it seemed fitting that the Hip would play a small town like Wiarton. That, though, was my first time being able to witness firsthand, Gord Downie.
Watching Gord during that concert was just like the first time that I had seen the video for Ahead By A Century on MuchMusic. My eyes were hooked on Gord and followed him everywhere that he moved on stage. As he sang the hits that everyone wanted to hear, the look on his face and how he moved about the stage with his hanky was as if he were possessed. I was fascinated. There were also points during the show where Gord would have improvised moments of what seemed like incoherent rambling during the bridge of some songs or the tail end of others. It was like nothing I’d ever seen another performer do. I had the opportunity to see Gord and the Hip another couple of times. Once in Charlottetown and once in Moncton and both times – the same Gord from the Wiarton show was in attendance.
There’s no doubt that the Tragically Hip are Canadian royalty – led by their front man Gord Downie, so it was both surreal and heartbreaking to read the headlines that stated that Gord had terminal brain cancer. At this point, it had already been a very dark year for music with the loss of music legends David Bowie and Prince, but this news struck a bit harder. This was Gord Downie – a national icon.
As heartbreaking as the news was, once it settled in after a couple of days, both Kate and I would discuss the news and how it related to our lives. We quickly realized that there was a key lesson that we could take away from Gord’s ill-fated diagnosis.
In a lot of ways, the news of Gord’s diagnosis confirmed to Kate and I that our decision to full-time RV while we are young was 100% the right choice. So many of us plan for retirement 20-30 years down the line. The only thing is, you cannot plan most of life, as much as you may want to and try to. Tomorrow could be the day that Kate or I get a call saying that we have terminal brain cancer, or one of us could have an aneurysm while walking a trail and then that would be all she wrote. It’s morbid yes – but it’s something that you have to remember. The next year, the next day, the next hour, the next minute – none of it’s guaranteed. A year ago, Gord would have had no idea that terminal brain cancer was in his near future.
It’s amazing how many of us overlook the importance of actually living each and every day of our lives. The majority of us wake up, go to work, come home, watch tv, go to bed and repeat. Kate and I were guilty of this for many years but we were lucky to have broken out of societies mold and found a lifestyle that can give us valuable life experiences with one another. To us, the lesson was simple – do what you want now. Don’t wait or keep putting it off because it may never happen and that would be tragic.
One of those valuable life experiences that Kate and I will enjoy, along with the majority of Canada, will happen tonight. You’ve likely had August 20th circled on your calendar for the last couple of months. The Tragically Hip’s final show on their Man Machine Poem Tour in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario happens this evening. It could be and very likely will be their last ever show.
Tonight’s show is a fond farewell to Gord. Tonight is his night. Tonight the stage is his and the spotlight will shine on him all night from coast-to-coast. The entire country will be watching and listening to one of Canada’s most prominent public figures in likely his final performance ever. This is a night that most of us Canadians will never forget. Seize the night Gord – it’s all yours and we’ll be right there with you to say thanks.