Context: On May 24th, 2016 it was announced that Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip (one of the most influential bands in Canadian music history), had terminal brain cancer. Despite the diagnosis, the band claimed that their upcoming tour for their thirteenth album would still go on.
Their last show on the tour would be in their hometown of Kingston in front of a little under 7000 people. Tickets sold out instantly. There was a large swelling of support across the country for the concert to be televised on CBC, which surprisingly actually worked, with the CBC agreeing to air the entire three hour concert, live, uncensored, and commercial free, on TV, online, and on the radio.
11.7 million people watched that 30 song + 3 encore broadcast, roughly one in every three Canadians. It was one of those rare true Canadian cultural moments that will be remembered nationwide, on par with the 2010 Winter Olympics. It was beautiful, it was somber, it was celebratory, it was heartbreaking, it was a band that loved a country deeply saying their final farewells as the country said them right back.
On the 17th of last month, Gord Downie died. While their tour last year wasn’t officially said to be their last tour, the band, the fans, the country all sort of accepted that it would be. His death still hit like a punch to the gut, but that televised concert allowed for a country to prepare itself for the inevitable, to celebrate their long history together, and to say their last good-byes.
We’ve had a lot of musical celebrity deaths these past few years, many of which I mourn alongside my selfish lament that we were robbed of the could-have-been concerts, albums, and radio hits. But for Gord, I only miss the man.