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

Just Posted

Doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)
Fraser Health adds 4 first-come-first-serve vaccination clinics to Surrey

First 1,000 people to show up to receive vaccine

The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) (File Photo)
Police watchdog investigating after man found dead in South Surrey following a wellness check

IIO says officers ‘reportedly spoke to a man at the home before departing’

Surrey RCMP in the 4900-block of 148th Street, a short road just off of King George Boulevard, on May 15, 2021 after a male was allegedly assaulted with a “pipe-like” weapon that morning. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Surrey RCMP investigating after person reportedly injured with ‘pipe-like’ weapon

Police investigating incident in the 4900-block of 148th Street

The leadership team at Johnston Heights Secondary is looking to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society through the Relay for Life, planned as an online and in-person event (following COVID-19 restrictions) for the week of June 1 to 7.
Pushed back a year, Surrey students well on their way to Relay for Life fundraising goal

Johnston Heights Leadership Team aims to raise $6,500 for Canadian Cancer Society

An animated Gordie Hogg introduces his ‘Community Connections’ videos. (YouTube screenshot)
Community Connections: Gordie Hogg speaks with Gwenne Farrell

Former mayor, MP began posting conversations on YouTube in June

B.C. Wildfire Services shows a fire on Chehalis Forest Service Road as of Sunday, May 16, 2021. (BC Fire Services)
Wildfire near Harrison Mills grows to 3 hectares, BC Fire Service on site

Resident near wildfire: ‘I pray that the Creator brings rain as soon as possible’

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. Dr. Ben Chan remembers hearing the preliminary reports back in March of blood clots appearing in a handful of European recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Science on COVID, VITT constantly changing: A look at how doctors keep up

While VITT can represent challenges as a novel disorder, blood clots themselves are not new

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of May 16

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

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

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.
Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

The warm weather means time for a camping trip, or at least an excursion into nature. How much do you know about camps and camping-related facts? (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: Are you ready to go camping?

How many camp and camping-related questions can you answer?

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Most Read