I discovered the Tragically Hip in 2005, when I was working at a tiny sandwich shop in Cobleskill. The owner, who’s name I have long forgotten, would put on In Between Evolution. It was magic. It was like love. I asked her to burn me a copy, because I was so poor from the lousy wages she paid that I could barely afford rent on the apartment I shared with my sister, let alone a CD. She obliged, and that album became the soundtrack to one last hometown summer and of the strange year in New York that would eventually inspire The Big Rewind.
I still think of a late-night run along the promenade in Brooklyn when I hear “Goodnight Josephine.” I played “It Can’t Be Nashville Every Night” on my honeymoon as we drove through Tennessee. And “In View” was the first song I played for Jason when we got back together.
And last night, my love for The Hip was rekindled as they performed for three hours in their final concert, broadcast live on the CBC. And not final as in “We’ll get back together in five years and tour again and you’ll pay big money to see it, suckers.” Final as in no more, the end, forever, because Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer at age 52.
I had known about the concert but didn’t know the date until I saw that #TragicallyHip was trending on Twitter during #RecordSaturday. As soon as I was done playing Pages, I found the concert streaming online and watched the rest of it, taking my eyes off the screen only long enough to tweet a few show notes.
I was bowled over by the energy he brought to the stage, the raw power of his voice and the outpouring of love across Canada, where viewing parties were held in private houses and town squares and bars. I don’t know if we have anything like that in America, a national band that is encrypted in our DNA. Bruce Springsteen, maybe? (and you just know Chris Christie would give up everything he had to have Springsteen speak as lovingly of him as Gord spoke of PM Justin Trudeau, in the audience and crying like a baby).
He paraded in his sparkly suits and feathered top hat. You wouldn’t know he was looking at the lyrics on teleprompters set up at every angle unless you saw them. It looked like every other fabulous rock show, full of energy and life.
But watching him scream, cry and drop the mic during the encore performance of “Grace, Too” was one of the most profoundly emotional moments I have ever seen in a live show. The camera panned over the audience and you could tell it was hitting them too to see him like that. This is it and he knows it, and we all know it. The weight of the moment, of the end of a 30 year career and, too soon, a life.
It would have been a natural note to end on. But he wasn’t going to say goodbye in sadness. He pulled out three more songs, ending with “Ahead By A Century” before he said, “Thank you for that” and left the stage for good.
No dress rehearsal. This is our life.
My eyes are still swollen from crying. But I heard music in my dreams.
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