Downie, Baker, Fay, Langlois and Sinclair. Together, they have created fourteen studio albums, two live recordings, played the first show at the Air Canada Centre, and transformed themselves into the definitive Canadian rock band. No other act so embodied Canada’s history and culture into their songwriting. Sure, a band like Rush may be more popular worldwide, but when in their many decades of recording did they sing about Bobcaygeon? The FLQ crisis? Hugh MacLennan? Gord Downie was once asked why the band sings so much about Canada, his response was simple: “It’s where we’re from.” In the same way that American bands have eternalized cities like New York and Los Angeles, Downie and the Hip became the de facto poets tasking themselves with chronicling Canada’s mythology. After twenty-nine years, they succeeded, and if their final concert is anything to go by, have entered into it themselves.
Performing in their hometown of Kingston, the CBC broadcast of their three hour, thirty song, and triple encore concert was watched by 11.7 million people, or roughly a third of Canada. This doesn’t include the nine hundred thousand streams or many viewing parties that took place across the nation, bringing thousands of attendees. To say the Hip left an impact is a massive understatement, which is why it’s so hard to put into words the many emotions running through myself and millions of others as we watched their final performance.
Despite Downie’s terminal diagnosis, he was in full spirits for what is ostensibly their final show. During which the camera panned many people in bittersweet tears, as even though Downie gave the show of a lifetime, it was painfully apparent the toll his cancer had already taken on him. Their career-spanning set, including a few songs from their latest, Man Machine Poem, showed off the width and depth of not only their lyrics, but also their stylistic choices. The Hip have dabbled in traditional rock, blues, experimentalism, minimalism, and a simple acoustic setup. All genres have played host to Downie’s poetry, immortalizing the Canadian landscape and people in ways many have tried but none have succeeded in quite the same way as the Tragically Hip.
The attendance of Justin Trudeau, adorned in his own Hip shirt, speaks volumes to the Hip as a piece of Canadian history, culture, and heritage. But he is just one example of the many the band has inspired throughout their tenure. It’s here I turn to my cousin Steve, a lifelong fan, who has seen them perform fourteen times, who can truly articulate the impact the Tragically Hip had on him and his fellow Canadians:
The concert on Saturday was simply a thank you. A thank you from the band to the fans, and from the band that helps define us. They sing about Canada. Places. Stories nobody knew about before listening. Gord is the closest thing to a Bowie we’ll ever have. And we don’t have to share him, that’s why they’re so loved. Their thirty song performance on Saturday was astonishing. He’s dying and he still gave us brief glimpses of his genius.
One need only catch a glimpse of the marriage proposal during their concert and the tears of joy that flew from both fans as they celebrated to realize just how much the Hip will be missed. It’s true that the band never said anything about this being their final tour, as it is all dependent on Downie’s health. However, if it remains their last, it can be said that Downie and the Hip stood against the maw of inevitability, and still managed to give cause for celebration and endless pride for an entire nation.
Thank you Gord.