It took more than a few tries, but I was finally able to secure tickets to one of the Tragically Hip’s shows at the ACC – Sunday August 14th. The seats are in the 300 level, and behind the stage. Usually I would never buy seats in either of those locations for a concert at the ACC (I am a total ticket snob with that place). But this is different. I am just thrilled to be in the building. But what sucks is the reason most of us will be there, to say goodbye.
When the band announced Gord Downie’s terminal cancer I was stunned. So many thoughts ran through my mind. Aside from the usual cries of “He’s still so young!” I am most saddened that it’s his brain that is suffering from the cancer. It seems so cruel. Downie’s brain has given us so much creativity and beauty over the years. His lyrics, his poetry, his on-stage antics sprouting from that part of our mind that promotes spontaneity. I can’t help but feel so sad thinking about how all of those things have been impacted by the disease.
But rather than focusing on the sad, I wanted to write about how much good Gord Downie and his fellow bandmates have given me over the years.
At first, I hated the Hip. I remember watching the music video for “Ahead By A Century” on the CHUM FM Top 30 Countdown that would air on CITY-TV on the weekends. I would watch the show weekly with my mom. That song came on, and at first I couldn’t stand it. “What is up with the lead singer’s voice???” But slowly, the more I saw that video and head that song, I started to love it. It was the guitar hook that first won me over. Then I started listening to the lyrics, and soon, I was fully on board with Downie’s vocals. And the video itself is so beautiful. Click the link and watch it again if you haven’t seen it recently. It might actually be one of my favourite music videos. It certainly is one that has always stuck out in my mind. Watching it, it actually takes me right back to those moments on the couch in my parents’ living room. I was so young, still had so much to experience. I was just starting to figure out what type of music I liked. In fact, that same Top 30 show is when I first discovered Oasis (another band I hated at first, then grew to adore). I don’t remember when I bought “Trouble at the Henhouse”, but all I know is the edges on my copy are all worn out. I would read the lyrics, trying to figure out their meaning. I still to this day can’t always figure them out. In the end, “Gift Shop” became my favourite song from that album, and one of my favourite songs in general. I really hope to hear it live on the 14th.
Flash forward a few years, and young Tesla is at a BBQ, chatting with some young boys. Being all of 14, I of course want to impress them and make them think I am the coolest chick they’ve ever met. So when they all start talking about how much they love The Tragically Hip I think to myself “I’M IN!!!” I like to think I can impress them with my knowledge, even bragging about owning their first album to make myself seem more “legit”. By this time “Phantom Power” had been released, and I was obsessed with that album. I loved it. As a die-hard hockey fan, “Fireworks” quickly became a high rotation song for me. Sadly, I didn’t get a boyfriend out of the encounter.
As I grew older, The Hip were always one of my “staple” artists – bands that I grew up with who were always going to be there, producing new music. “In Violet Light” went a little over my head at the time it was released, and I still haven’t listened to that album much. But “World Container” brought me right back to peak fandom and I still think it’s one of their best albums. But one thing always eluded me – seeing them live. I remember watching their ’99 Woodstock performance they had, just utterly devastated that I wasn’t allowed to attend the festival. When I moved to Toronto something always kept me from going to their shows, or I just assumed “I’ll go on the next tour”. I thought of The Hip as an eternal group – they’d always be touring, and they will always put out new music. They’d become Canada’s version of The Stones, or Bon Jovi. You’ll always get a chance to see them.
I finally got to see The Hip live in November of 2007. I had just started working at The Air Canada Centre as an usher, and they were performing as part of RIM’s Christmas Party at the ACC. Van Halen were to headline, and The Hip were openers. I was so excited. I even squealed and laughed with delight when I could hear them striking those opening chords to “Ahead By A Century” during soundcheck. Oddly enough, I was working the 300 level that night. I wasn’t sure if it would be a “true” performance, given that it was essentially a corporate event, but I have to say, Gord Downie & Co still gave it their all. It meant the world to me to finally see the infamous “microphone” rant in person.
Since then, I’ve only seen The Tragically Hip perform one other time – live for free at Yonge/Dundas Square (another corporate event, this time for Rogers and the NHL). So I’ve yet to experience a “real” Hip concert. No limitations, no restrictions, just whatever they want to play. However – I am happy to say I’ve seen Gord Downie play with The Sadies at Field Trip a couple of years ago (great performance, and they released a great album together); and Downie even came out during Broken Social Scene’s set to sing “Texaco Bitches” with Kevin Drew. It was one of the highlights of the festival.
Another one of the more personal memories I have of The Hip is from one of the Kraft Celebration Tours. One the bus, we’d often hop onto the crew bus where they usually had an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. We’d gather together at the back of the bus and sing classic songs like “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, “The Weight”, and yes, “Wheat Kings”. As I’ve already written about, those tours were special. Whenever I hear that song, it immediately brings me back to that moment on the bus, where I was looking around at everyone, having the time of my life and thinking “I am so lucky and can’t believe this is happening”.
So Sunday the 14th means a lot. I still can’t believe that this could be it, the last time many of us will experience this band live. It’s shocking, saddening, and terrifying all at the same time. There’s such an important lesson in all of this, one we so often hear but fail to heed. You have to take your opportunities when you can get them. If your favourite band is in town, but you’re unsure if you want to see them on this tour – go to the concert. If there’s an old friend you haven’t seen for awhile – contact them. Visit your family, take time for friends, and remind everyone you care about that they matter to you. I know how busy our lives are these days, and I know how difficult it can be to balance different social calendars and expectations. Finding that “sweet spot” of “me-time”, working, and socializing can be really difficult. But, just try. All you can do is your best. There may be times you have to turn down you usual group of friends, to see a grandparent. One night you might have to work overtime, but maybe make a note to re-schedule a coffee date instead of a dinner date. Just take advantage when you can.
To close this one, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite lyrics, to one of my favourite songs:
We’re forced to bed
But we’re free to dream
All us humans extras
All us hearded beings
And after a glimpse
Over the top
The rest of the world
Becomes a gift shop
*** Post-concert thoughts, and musings:
Watching Gord Sunday night, something struck me. I’m so scared that one day I’ll be given a terminal diagnosis. That I will slowly and sadly have to say goodbye to everyone, and watch my life disappear. But Sunday taught me that there’s something beautiful about getting to say goodbye on your terms. Gord is doing that. Watching him belt out songs our country loves, dance, kiss bandmates, and wave to the crowd with love in his eyes, was amazing. He is getting to pay tribute to all those who have given him so much. It was inspiring.
I didn’t find Sunday sombre. I found it beautiful. I nearly forgot for two and a half hours that Gord is dying (save for those ten minutes he spent waving, blowing kisses, and bowing to nearly every single person in that arena). I got to sing along, cheer, and feel deep emotions. That isn’t something you don’t often get all in one concert. The Tragically Hip have given us something rare. There are endless articles right now about how they are so deeply woven into the fabric of this country. I won’t do this here. But all I do know is, I am so thankful I was able to witness that show on Sunday. That was something special. So thank you Gord for helping to remind me about living in the present, being mindful, and putting your whole heart into what drives you.
“You can’t be fond of living in the past
‘Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re going to last”