21 August 2016

The Tragically Hip - Their Music, My Memories

The Hip, circa 1988

  Last night was a singular moment in time that was shared simultaneously by millions of Canadians. The Tragically Hip's concert in Kingston was perhaps the final time we will see them perform and it has been an event I dreaded and anticipated at the same time. Gord Downie's cancer diagnosis left us all in shock that this vital and vibrant Canadian icon has had his time on this planet cut far shorter than anyone could have ever imagined. He is not just a musician, poet and writer of dreams; He is a father, husband, brother, son and friend to the people who know him best. We will mourn the loss of a legend but they will lose something far greater.
  All of this leads to what I have felt bubbling around my head since the announcement that shook all fans of the Hip. I have read so many amazing tributes that talk of what Gord and the Hip mean to Canadians and how their unique way of telling our stories for us makes them so valuable and necessary to the national identity. I cried at many of the brilliant words that friends and strangers put on their Facebook pages or shared on mine. All the things at the macro level about the Hip are true and I was at a loss as to how I could contribute to the voices of others in saying Thank you to the boys in the band for all they mean to me. Then it struck me, my relationship with the band is not really about them at all, it is about what the music they make connects me to when I hear a song in the car or sitting alone here in the Grotto. The very personal connection of so many Tragically Hip songs to the last 30 years of my life is real, raw and continuing.
  At 16, driving around in my Dad's car with Up to Here in the tape deck, dreaming of a future where I would meet the girl of my dreams and have a job that meant something. Wearing sports jackets over t-shirts because Gord did and singing Blow at High Dough at the top of my lungs as I drove around the Hammer with my pals. The young me loved the Hip because they were vibrant, loud and boldly Canadian.
  At 18, wandering through the haze of bad decisions, drugs and alcohol, I found Road Apples and more than anything it was my anchor in a sea of anger and denial. Never will I here Fiddler's Green and Long Time Running and not feel the hopelessness at my running away from the path I thought I was supposed to be on. They consoled me when I was alone and carried me while I struggled to put my life back together.
  At 23, saying good bye to the first woman I ever loved. Watching the Hip late on Saturday night Live perform two songs from Day for Night while we lay on the couch was contrasted by the video to Ahead by a Century from Trouble at the Henhouse playing on a TV in the background a year later as I saw her for the last time and knew it was truly over. We married far too young, too fast and not for the right reasons. Fast forward 20 years and I am proud and happy to call her my friend and read her brilliant words. Always in my heart with the songs of the Hip and the memories now are only of the fun we had.
  At 25, meeting the last woman I will ever love in Kathryn and driving around in that broken down car I owned learning about each other as Bobcaygeon played over the tinny speakers. I will always recall her smile as we learned to love and she helped me right the ship of my life. Phantom Power's Fireworks and Something on take me back to those Tim Horton fuelled days and nights when I found her as the completion of my soul and the only person who can truly understand me.
  At 31, getting married to Kathryn and seeing the future as brighter than I could have imagined in my darkest years. Putting our lives together with In Violet Light and taking her to her first of many Hip Concerts, I often joke about being The Darkest One, but when I hear It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken, I think of holding her hand that day we said I do and cherish the memories of every day since.
  At 40, losing my business and almost everything I had worked so hard for. Now For Plan A came into my life and I leaned hard on Gord every night. At Transformation played many times as I struggled in my battle with alcohol and felt at a loss as to what to do next. Kathryn was by my side the whole time and it was more often than not I dragged out the Hip and put my head down while I searched for my salvation.
  At 43, today I am mostly whole. No longer hiding behind alcohol and leading a life I am finally proud of. A new job and the letting go of the dreams of being a parent. Heart wrenching at the least, but a realisation that I have so much life to live and all I have to do is go out there and get it. Man Machine Poem comes out, Gord's cancer is announced and the last Hip concert is broadcast worldwide by the CBC. We gathered in the Grotto, sang along, cried and Kat held my hand as the tears rolled down my face.

That night in Kingston. One more time, for Gord.
  My life has so many more moments, big and small, that I can connect to the music of the Tragically Hip. They have been, quite literally, the soundtrack to my life and I think that is what I get out of the band. The real personal connection to my life that each album brought. From the first chord on Small Town Bringdown off of 1987's The Tragically Hip EP, to the final bow last night in Kingston I have always kept them close to my heart and I imagine I always will. The songs mean that I can have my memories close at hand and while many call them Canada's band, I will always think of them as my own. I may have to say goodbye to Gord someday and I will weep when that day arrives, but I will  have the music and that is what keeps my heart from breaking entirely.
  Today is a good day and my yard is filled with my favourite songs from The Hip. My mind is flooded with so many memories and I will sing along and smile, knowing the music will never end.

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