Over the past few months, leading up to the Tragically Hip’s final show in Kingston, there have been many articles written about the situation. As a long-time fan of the band, I found myself unsure about a “final” tour. Although I had been a fan since the beginning, I hadn’t bought an album or seen them in concert since the late 90s and over the years they had disappeared from my playlist. Obviously, I thought it was sad news about Gord Downie’s condition but outside of that I really didn’t have a present feeling about the band one way or the other. That was, until I watched the final concert.
I started high school in 1989, the same year as Up to Here was released. Road Apples came out in 1991 in the midst of my teen angst and then Fully Completely dropped in 1993, the year I graduated. To say those three albums were important to me is an understatement. In addition to that, Day For Night came out just before I started college. Each of those four albums played a role in different parts of my life. I also cite those four albums because after Day For Night, I felt some of the magic was gone with the albums that followed. In my opinion, it happened to many bands who were a big part of me at some point. Pearl Jam, The Black Crowes, Lenny Kravitz, INXS, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, after three or maybe four albums, they just lost something (to this day, I still feel that the Stones’ last good album was Tattoo You in 1981). Maybe my tastes had changed or maybe they were writing songs that no longer meant anything to me, but with the release of Trouble At The Henhouse, the disinterest in The Hip began to set in. The band, whose first five albums were anthems to my life (I picked up the self-titled debut album at some point along the way), had become too slow, too boring. So I did what any twenty-something male does after losing interest in something or someone: I moved on.
To be honest, I had hardly thought about the Hip over the past fifteen years until the news about Downie went public. My initial reaction was “how the hell are Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Steven Tyler, Axl Rose, Ozzy Osbourne and dozens more who lived on booze and hard drugs for most of their adult lives, still alive and mostly healthy in their 60s and 70s?” Gord Downie, to my recollection, never got arrested for public intoxication, smuggling drugs in an airport, soliciting prostitutes and never had any kind of public scandal but he is the one who gets dealt a bad hand. He is the chosen one from the music industry who is going to pay the price for the others. It’s not fair.
As I watched the final concert, I noticed how rough Downie’s vocals sounded, how he couldn’t hit a lot of notes he used to nail. He also didn’t move around a ton, choosing to live at the front of the stage. As I watched him kiss each of his band mates on the lips before, during and after the show it finally hit me: this concert truly was Gord Downie saying goodbye to The Tragically Hip. To the music, the musicians, the crowds, the job title of Lead Vocalist, he was saying goodbye to all of it. A rush of sadness hit me as I realized this. The man whose vocals and storytelling brought me so much joy and excitement as a teen and young adult, was never going to perform live again. Even though I hadn’t bought a concert ticket in many years, it felt like a sudden closing of a chapter. One more piece of my youth disappearing.
If that really is the last time Gord stands on a stage with the band, I just want to say thanks. Thanks for writing great songs, putting on amazing shows and making the Canadian music industry a cool place. You will always be more than “Another Roadside Attraction.”