Gord Downie is Dead

It's all 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 all.

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 after him.

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 United States.

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 out.

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 ours.

That his legacy is ours.

* * *

My history, 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 chance.

* * *

Itíd be better for us if you donít understand.

"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 before.

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 life.

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 donít understand.

* * *

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 purchase.

Hey man you got the real bum's eye for clothes

* * *

In the 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 it.

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.

* * *

I rigged 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 believe it.

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.



and his friends have been publishing Forget for 18 years, today

Published On: February 14, 2019
Permanent Location: http://www.forgetmagazine.com/021419a.htm

Volume 10, Issue 2
  February 14, 2019

Valentine's Day

Gord Downie is Dead

Kent Bruyneel

The graveyard tradition of poetry
Jeanette Lynes

Cottage Scene
Jeanette Lynes

The Coroner's report
Jeanette Lynes

Feb 12, 2001 - Present

1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7


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