I was never really a huge fan of The Tragically Hip. I didn’t not like them but I never caught on to their genre and lyrics like so many others did. I think I was at the edge of a previous generation, more Beach Boys and Beatles. (I was reassured to learn that Gord Downie was a closet fan of the Bee Gees.)
But I did recognize their talents and knew there must be something to their music that appealed so broadly to the generation that followed me. I did, however, join the rest of Canada Day on August 20, 2017 to celebrate this phenomenonal and truly Canadian band.
Last weekend I was eager to see the documentary about their 2016 tour – Long Time Running. It has been shown at TIFF and other film festivals with good reviews and had a few showings at Kingston’s Screening Room this week.
I was surprised what I got from this film. Someone asked me if it was kind of sad. Absolutely, it was not. It was actually a very inspiring and positive. It goes through the diagnosis of “terminal” brain cancer for the lead member, Gord Downie, his initial treatments and struggles to remember things and put sentences together after having his temporal lobe and hippocampus removed surgically and 30 radiation treatments. (The surgeon, by the way, a Kingston neurosurgeon).
Despite this, Gord was keen to go on tour with the band once more. Obviously the others were a bit skeptical if this would work but, no spoiler here, they finished the tour across Canada, culminating in the August 20 concert in Kingston, broadcast all across Canada and drawing thousands to Kingston, including our Prime Minister.
It was interesting to see the backstage preparations and angst about this tour but I got a lot of messages from this film that surprised me.
Several themes developed for me.
1. Never give up. This guy was sort of written off by a lot of people and was initially in no shape to perform, let along tackle a cross country tour. But he did. In doing so, he earned a lot of respect from the public, drew attention to cancer treatment and research, highlighted the plight of Canadian First Nations people and entertained thousands. Make that hundreds of thousands. Incredible really. Maybe his cognitive deficits from his surgery and treatment made him naively bold or brave or fixated. But what an example to set. I am sure that his fortitude and positivity has helped many people who have been struck by cancer. And it was a gift to Hip fans to be able to celebrate their 30 year run before it came to a crashing close.
2. The expression of true friendship. These guys had worked together for 30 years and were a real team. I am sure that there were bumps along the way, but it was incredible that Downie’s band-mates dug in and just supported his dream. It was a huge risk. Anything could happen. It could have turned out to be a disaster. It was incredibly touching to see them kiss each other – on the lips – and hug each other and genuinely show real love to each other prior to each performance. This is the kind of love that is meant by the Greek word, Agape.* They were all vulnerable and all a team with a mission. It seemed that egos were set aside. You hear about this kind of teamwork and friendship but rarely see it so obviously. It was very intimate material to be shared publicly. But this support was also quite evident in their performances. Another lesson for us all. Downie’s diagnosis and fate overshadowed the rest of the band but they deserve great respect and accolades for helping their friend live out his dream.
3. This was just so…Canadian. The whole country was moved by this story. We all wanted to be part of it. And thousands were. Fans bought tickets both to be entertained but also to support this band that was so loved. And they were also ready for anything. It could all be cancelled in a moment. Or fall apart in the middle of a performance. But no one cared about that. This was about being part of this team and joining in to keep it going.
4. It was a lesson in closure. All good things come to an end. Concerts, vacations, childhood, holidays, friendships , life. Things come to an end. It’s natural. It helps to deal with that fact if we learn to accept it with some stoicism and dignity. It is helpful to fondly remember good times past and friends and family who have departed. And maybe it is helpful to others if we acknowledge the end of something, celebrate and share our acceptance. I think this is what Gord Downie and the Hip did, most graciously and unselfishly.
Little did I know when I wrote this earlier in the week that Gord Downie would die last night, October 17, 2017. It makes all of the above lessons more poignant and pertinent today.
I took my 15 year old granddaughter to the show on Saturday and we went early because I thought it would be packed. There were only about 10 people in the audience! I do hope that more people see this show as it not only provides some concert-like Hip music but it caused me to reflect on many other things – life in general. I think that is what Gord Downie (and his band-mates) would have liked.
The Hip concert on August 20, 2016 in Kingston was a celebration of the past and acknowledgement of an ending.
* Agape – Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character. Agape love is beautifully described in the Bible.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13 4-7.