just awful Miguel, I donít even know
where to begin.
Okay: Loss and tragedy abound. Right?
Who am I to be telling it? Who am I
telling? You know more than most.
Better. That there are all kinds of
tragedies. Maybe we can even agree on
that. Some so unspeakable they cannot be
spoken. Some so slight they barely cross
our brains unless we are forced to see
them. Some that aren't even tragedies at
So: sure. Tragedies abound. So does
loss. And wonder. Maybe we can't
talk about them all. Maybe not here, at
least. But this this one we can. Or, we
will: Gord Downie is dead. Tragedy? I
mean, maybe not to us. He wasn't a
friend or anything. I didn't name a son
But how about we start here: as
far as I am concerned the greatest
Tragically Hip song ever recorded is not
up for debate. It is "Locked in the
Trunk of a Car", from their unquestioned
masterpiece, Fully Completely.
Itís strange and jangly and angular and
insular and built on all the stuff that
apparently made them a no-go in the
The lyrics scan as narrative poetry:
First: They don't know how old I am.
Wait: Conquistador. I think. Then:
Morning out the back side of a truck
stop. Three: lines that end in tension.
And: Let me out. Let me out. Let me
And, of course I would say this, but the
song is also deeply and profoundly
weirdly Canadian. It is a story so good
and dark it canít be told by such a
peaceful and quiet people. So it has to
be snuck in to a song. Like so many of
our great things. Can we be through with
that now? With all the tragedies and
disgust the last two years have wrought
aren't we even more than we thought?
Is that okay now?
That he is gone?
When can we be proud of what we are
without doing as a way of demonstrating
our equality to our prodigal brother?
Who gives a fuck about your prodigal
brother at our age? Can we shout from
the snowy, slanted rooftops that our
very own sui generisly, slithery
poet rock-star is gone and while we
mourn him can we celebrate that we had
him to ourselves? Them? That he
was one of us. That they were
That his legacy is ours.
my memory is inextricably linked with
and viewed (especially retroactively)
through the prism of Downie's music. And
no one else needs to approve that.
Approve of that. Or buy that. Or
authorize that. Or make it good enough.
Or popular enough.
It was great. It is great. In 20 years,
"New Orleans is Sinking" will still be
stunning. And "Nautical Disaster" will
still remind me of Steve (before he
drowned). And "The Luxury" will always
be sung at top volume by a 21-year old
guy from PEI/Boston who never had a
* * *
Itíd be better for us if you donít
"Locked in the Trunk of a Car" was
supposed to be called ďDumping the BodyĒ
but that title seemed to on-the-nose for
their record label (perhaps). The song
is about, at least in part, the
death of the Minister of Labour for
Canada during the October Crisis. It was
Minister Pierre Laporte whose body was
found in the trunk of a car; the one
that the Quťbec nationalist terrorists the
Front de libťration du Quťbec left
at the airport.
* * *
This is what binds me to him: I have
seen The Hip in Vancouver at too many
places to mention. From a hotel room in
the Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan. On Seabird Island. On
Prince Edward Island. At the Moore
Theatre in Seattle. In Moncton, wearing
steel toe solidarity boots while doing
bong hits of Gregís hands. That same
night: watching Will hit Gord in the
face with a Metallica shirt. Later: to
Gord, "Hey Gordie baby I know exactly
what you mean". Then Gord smiling at
him. I have seen all these things. I
have seen them with people who are now
dead. This is how I remember them.
This is what binds us.
You said you didnít give a fuck about
hockey, I never heard someone say that
The awfulness canít compare of course to
what some are dealing with: those
beautiful lives in hospital beds with
only people like you and the beams of
musical light coming from outside to
shield them from What Wants and Waits
For Us All. So what if a rock-star dies?
Fine. Point granted. But.
But. Thereís hope there in the memories
of him? Of us. There's a bridge both
forward and back. (Tonight I played Fully
Completely for Andre Miguel and
told him my stories.)
We have to believe it is possible. I
have to believe it, man. That recovery
is possible. That reconciliation is
possible. That rebirth is possible. That
remembering can help us forget.
Itís all just so awful Miguel, I canít
think of how to go on. The air outside
is cold and forgetting.
How about: my friend Greg, who killed
himself 20 years ago, the first time I
ever saw him he was sitting on the top
of a bunk-bed in Blanchard Hall at UPEI
singing "The Luxury", loud. I was lonely
and new to PEI and college and being so
far from BC. But I knew instantly that
the song and the singer were a thread I
could hold on to. I could talk to this
person about this, I thought. We could
pass it back and forth. It changed my
And we did pass it back and forth. Itís
the first thing we talked about. Road
Apples. And I live here now.
On PEI. In the Venn diagram that is my
life, Gord Downie is in a primary
circle. This is what the best art and
artists do for us. In revealing
themselves they show us ourselves. What
is possible by what is now existent. Or
something like that.
It'd be better for me if you
It is no
small irony that one of the unexpected
delights of most true Hip fans is that
the bad did not, in the end,break big in the US. If The Hip are
the ultimate underground band, then
Canada as a whole is that nerdy
record-store employee who mocks your
Hey man you got the real bum's eye
* * *
wonderful documentary, Man on Wire,
the man who walked between the now
fallen Twin Towers is asked about how
you build a line strong enough for a man
to walk between those two great,
separate edifices. He explained: How you
do it is you pass one line across, then
you pass a thicker line over top of it,
then another, then another, then
another, then another until you have a
line so strong that you can walk across
A line then becomes so strong it
is turned into a bridge that shoots both
back and forward, and can't be shaken,
neither up nor down.
This is what Gord Downie has done for me
Miguel: he has made music that turns
into a wider, stronger bridge to
remember how to get back what I have not
won, and let go of what I can never
lose. To share.
This is his gift to me.
To us, maybe?
Maybe the concert you remember is not
the one I remember. Maybe the song you
love is not my favorite song. Definitely
the face you see in your memory is not
my face, it's your face. But you were
there too. I know it.
up a complication.
Hereís what I will say about the band we
lost since I know way more about them
than I do about the man we lost: the run
of albums from Up to Here to Phantom
Power is as good a sustained
string of albums of recorded music as
can be pointed to by any band.
Ever. Shit: Radioheadís run from OK
Computer to King of Limbs,
the first three Elvis Costello albums,
The Beatles. Whatever.
Yeah man. I said it. Because I
Also: Leonard Cohen is as great a poet
as has ever walked the face of the
earth. This is the
best, most Canadian literary magazine
the Internet had ever seen.
And there will never be another better
front-man than our Gord Downie.
So, fuck it: Let's walk into the future
holding hands and singing. Let's recover
and then drink ourselves blind. Let's
reconcile the past and then leave it
there to grow old.
So yeah, it's all just awful Miguel, but
I know we will carry on.
his friends have been publishing Forget for
18 years, today.
February 14, 2019 Permanent