Friday, August 12, 2016

Thoughts on Gord.

Like a lot of thirtysomething Canadian kids, Fully Completely was one of the first CDs I owned. I was 13 or so when I first listened to it. I thought Wheat Kings was the most beautiful song I'd ever heard. I kept listening to the Hip all through highschool, but somewhere in my early 20s, I developed some innate hipster superiority complex, eschewed anything sincere and patriotic, and kind of stopped following their music. Then one summer day, I got a letter from one of my best friends, who was out in Alberta planting trees for the summer. At the end of several pages of scrawl, she'd taken the time to write out one of Gord Downie's poems from Coke Machine Glow, because, she said, "I think you need to read this." I don't even remember which poem it was, but I remember that the words struck enough of a chord with me that I hunted down the companion album.

Falling in love with Gord's side projects was the start of my path back to Hip fandom. A few years after its release, as I nursed a profoundly broken heart from the confines of my Kitsilano apartment, Vancouver Divorce felt like it had been written just for me. That's the beauty of Gord's lyrics, that he could find some metaphor, turn some phrase, that somehow encompassed you, your country, your stories, your heart, all at once. I started listening to Hip records again, in spite of myself. I saw them, and Gord, live, when I could, which wasn't hard to swing, given that my best friend and her husband were the loveliest kind of obsessive fans. So obsessive, in fact, that when they finally decided what song they wanted me to sing for them as part of their wedding ceremony, they chose Every Irrelevance, a funny, moody, weird little ditty about the inconsequential moments that make up the sum of love. I wasn't sure I'd be able to translate Gord's essential strangeness into a version I could sing and play myself. I started by open-tuning my guitar, a trick I'd learned as an adolescent Joni Mitchell obsessive, and got to work arranging it. It worked out, somehow. I sat on the stage in a tiny country church as the bride's sister held up a copy of the lyrics for me, just in case, though I didn't end up needing them in front of me at all. "I can't believe you said Arse as part of our wedding ceremony," they kept telling me later. It became the stuff of legend, a chapter in our collective history.

Around that time I found myself living in Kingston, a town where serendipitous Hip sightings happen with delightful frequency. I went to see Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles at the Grand Theatre. Gord gave a shoutout to his parents, who, it turned out, were sitting right across the aisle from us. "Shit man, that's Kingston for you," my then-boyfriend whispered. I leaned into him as Gord serenaded the room and made incredible art with some magic combination of food colouring, fans, and shadow puppets on an overhead projector. It was the last good night we had together before a protracted breakup that festered over the next couple of months. I left Kingston shortly after that. I left it the way you leave a place you love too much, a place full of countless good memories that are overshadowed by one tremendously shitty one right toward the end. I'm glad I got to see Gord there before I left.

The autumn before last, my newish boyfriend told me he'd bought tickets to see the Fully Completely front to back tour that coming winter. He kept talking about it, dancing around it, till one night, sitting in front of his laptop, told me that he happened to have the seating chart up on his screen, and wouldn't you know, the seat next to his was still free. "Do you want to come with me?" he asked, and I said, "Well, yeah, of course I do." Later, we both admitted that the proposition had terrified us, just a little, because in asking, and answering, we were both acknowledging that secret (or not so secret) hope that we'd still be together that February. Isn't it funny, the things you want so much to happen, that you can't even bring yourself to say them out loud.

We went to that show, with his best friend and her partner, and when they got to Wheat Kings I leaned into him and thought back to the first time I heard it, the long line between then and now, the shows I'd been to while living in cities all over the province, the way your life ends up in a place you never could've imagined.

Tonight we're going to see the Hip again. That now-not-so-newish boyfriend and I are getting married next spring, and just last week he talked me out of including a sincere lyric from Ahead By A Century on our invitation, which is pretty rich given how my cynical post-adolescent heart once railed against such frivolity. This will be his zillionth time seeing them. It will be maybe my fourth, not counting the solo Gord shows peppered here and there. I hope it isn't the last time, but it might be. I like the idea that everyone in that audience tonight has a rambling story about their Tragically Hip fandom, just like this one. I like the idea that we'll all be there together, falling in love and having our hearts broken open, all at once, one more time.


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