broad and tentative swipes

The first time I ever heard The Clash, I knew that music could be cool. The first time I ever heard Bob Dylan, I knew that music could surprise me. The first time I ever listened to The Tragically Hip, I knew that music could be studied. I knew that history could be poetic. I knew that a song could change your life.

I took on The Hip as a lifelong personal project after that day. They were the only homework I ever did voluntarily. I looked up their lyrics and I studied their liner notes and I fell asleep listening to the same album every night. I memorized the references, I learned about Bill Barilko and Hugh MacLennan, Tom Thomson and Ry Cooder. I graduated high school and used them for my yearbook quote, I spent all my money to see them play Massey Hall, I tried tirelessly to explain them to people who would never understand. I continued to fall asleep listening to the same album every night.

I don’t wanna look for words 
I don’t wanna work that hard

I’ve thought about writing this dozens of times over the past couple of months. I thought about it every day. I knew that I should and I knew that I’d struggle. More homework. I kept coming up with excuses for myself as to why it wasn’t done (my specialty) and after cycling through them all repeatedly, I landed on the honest answer: I wasn’t ready. I’m still not ready.

I’m not ready to say goodbye to a man and to a band who gave me the filter I use to process my life. How could anyone ever prepare for that? What do I look like without Gord Downie? What do you look like without him?

Canada emptied, there was me, featureless and freezing
last night I dreamed you didn’t love me

The greatest gift The Tragically Hip ever gave me was their empathy. There is so much you’ve yet to know in this world, so many stories of which you’ve only heard slivers. They helped me understand myself, my family, my country. My dick friends who are otherwise monsters but get choked up when they hear Bobcaygeon. Millions of strangers I’ll never meet or landscapes I’ll never see. They helped me attempt to understand everything while accepting that I don’t actually understand anything at all.

where you say ‘I believe’ or say without shame
‘I can’t tell’

They touched everyone and every subject differently, but one truth was universal: If you wanted a story, The Tragically Hip had one for you. If you wanted to sit quietly on cruise control, to let someone else pilot while you took a minute to breathe, Gord Downie was around. The Hip could teach you about some grand historical event or they could just sit on a dock and quietly hold your hand for awhile. Whatever you needed, whenever you needed it, they always, always had something for you.

personal stakes will get raised and get raised ’til your story gets compelling
if you lacked the sense or were willfully dense is forever in the telling

While I was avoiding writing this, or in one of the many times I started and stepped away from it, I kept asking myself why it was so hard. What was I trying to say that was proving to be such a huge challenge? What does Gord Downie mean to me? Who am I without him? Who am I in general? I think the reason I’ve been struggling is that I’ve become so used to letting Gord answer these questions for me. I don’t have to think too hard about myself because he’s always done it on my behalf. I want to hold him up to the scrutiny of people I don’t know and say, “Look! It’s all here! Everything you’ve ever wondered is in here somewhere if you want to see it.” These definitions are not mine, but they are me. And disappointing you’s getting me down.

late-breaking story on the CBC,
a nation whispers, “we always knew that he’d go free” 
they add, “you can’t be fond of living in the past, 
‘cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re gonna last”
Wheat Kings and pretty things
let’s just see what tomorrow brings.

Underneath these queries, beneath all of the uncertainty and above all of the heartbreak, will always sit the truest thing I know: I am thankful. I am thankful for The Tragically Hip. I am thankful for their answers, for their questions, for their willingness to just sit on a dock and quietly hold my hand for awhile. I am thankful that they are still making me do the homework all these years later. I am thankful for that same album I fell asleep to every night. I am thankful for Gord. I am unendingly grateful that he graced us with his weird, calming, perfect presence for so long.

It wasn’t long enough. It never is, I suppose.

but only a fool would
complain.

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