Gord Downie. (Tim Fitzgerald photo)

Gord Downie. (Tim Fitzgerald photo)

‘It only lacks your presence’: truth, art, words and the legacy of Gord Downie

The Tragically Hip frontman died Tuesday night

The curtain climbs over me every morning I don’t know why I’m so immunized against reforming

I went to bed last night — unthinkingly — in my Tragically Hip T-shirt. Sky blue with a bold “H” and “P” framing a silhouette of Gord Downie in an iconic pose standing in place of the “I.”

I awoke to a Canadian Press report, undoubtedly pre-prepared months ago, expected, but no less hard to read: Downie was gone.

Conventional journalism directs me to backfill here; to recount his brave battle with inoperable brain cancer and the definitive Canadianness that defined his band.

I refuse. You don’t need it. I don’t want it. I want to write about words. About my fascination with them. About my awe at the way Gord could sculpt them into constructions of great and terrible and at times indecipherable beauty. About my ineffectual struggle at this moment to forge them into something that does justice to his gift.

The highest and best use of words is to connect, inspire and understand. As cynical as most are about journalists, that remains the reason why I, and so many of my peers, got into this business. Gord worked that, lived it, on a higher level.

We don’t go anywhere

Just on trips

We haven’t seen a thing

We still don’t know where it is

It’s a safe mistake

A wise man once said “when the sunlight hits the olive oil don’t hesitate.” Gord spoke about art and truth and life and how they intertwine and how their pursuit gives one both perspective and purpose. We’re all given the ability to discern right from wrong; to know what’s important and what is not. We’re all given tools and opportunities with which we can learn, grow, understand — make the world a little bit better. But too often, most of us remain in the car, driving where we are told to go, experiencing what we are told to experience, expecting the expected, seeking out that which reinforces our biases instead of challenging them.

Gord’s work urged us to plunge in deeper than what the tour guide would suggest, to take roads less travelled and listen to voices seldom heard.

All with the too-often lonely goal of creating community.

The surface is green and the dark interweaves

In a lonely iridescence

It’s terribly deep and the cold is complete

And it only lacks your presence and nothing else

One of the most enduring tenets of the Hip gospel is that they are a uniquely Canadian treasure, that other countries simply “don’t get.” I’ve always wondered why. Sure Gord spoke in cultural idioms like Clayoquot Sound and Bobby Orr largely unique to Canada, but the underlying themes of Carpe Diem and empathy were universal.

Life is a privilege. It’s not about getting the T-shirt. It’s about making your life your own iconic pose.

Step out of your world container. Make this world a better place.

My balloons may be filled with rain right now, but the inspiration of this poet need never fade.

Said, ‘ain’t life a grand and I’m in awe of y’all’

I’ve dropped into my haunted bunk

Been to your touchless times out where the water’s drying

Been past the ‘No Attractions Past This Point’ sign

What we have here are all flaws in progress

Where all songs are one song and that song is Don’t Forget


» John McKinley writes for www.vifreedaily.com Reach him at editor@vifreedaily.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The White Birch proposal for a six-storey rental-only building at 1485 Fir St. was turned down by council on Monday night. (Contributed rendering)
White Birch developer feels ‘betrayed’ by City of White Rock council

Application for new rental building at 1485 Fir St. turned down by council

Record-setting high jumper Emma de Boer, who lives in Cloverdale and attends Holy Cross Regional High School in Fleetwood, will train and study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) next fall. (submitted photo)
Surrey jumper on a high after recruitment by UPenn track team

High jumper Emma de Boer aims to leave Cloverdale for Philadelphia next fall

Surrey RCMP Gang Enforcement Team street check. (File photo)
Surrey RCMP gang enforcement team seizes five vehicles

This was over 13 days, as SGET continues to target gang activity in this city

File photo
Surrey to borrow $150 million for three major recreation projects

That’s for a sports complex in the city centre, a sports and ice complex in Cloverdale and a community centre in Newton

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Modelling of predicted transmission growth from the B117 COVID-19 variant in British Columbia. (Simon Fraser University)
COVID-19 variant predicted to cause ‘unmanageable’ case spike in B.C: report

SFU researchers predict a doubling of COVID-19 cases every two weeks if the variant spreads

RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
RCMP appeal for witnesses after hit-and-run leaves girl, 17, in critical condition

The Metro Vancouver teenager was found unconscious and critically injured after being hit: police

The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

Most Read