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The Tragically Hip - Always Canada's Band
"New Orleans Is Sinking" - At Least, When News of Downie's Cancer Broke
To say that The Tragically Hip, also known as The Hip, and its fans heard their collective hearts break in May 2016 when lead singer Gord Downie's terminal cancer diagnosis was revealed would not be an understatement.
If you mention The Hip anywhere in Canada, people could rattle off a good part of the band's discography, or when they saw the band play live, or how cool Downie is as a lead singer. Most of the rest of the world hasn't really heard of the band, and that's OK. Sometimes, we Canadians are a little protective about sharing, particularly when it's something as loved as The Tragically Hip.
The band has been a mainstay of Canadian music stations since the 80s, and it's a rare day when you don't hear a song by Canada's most iconic band playing on the radio. The Hip never quite reached the heights of one of Canada's other big bands - The Barenaked Ladies, which posted a touching message of thanks to Downie and The Hip on Facebook from Rio - but they seemed quite happy playing every venue they could, simply because they absolutely loved what they were doing.
Canadians were in a frenzy in early June after it was announced that Downie and The Hip would be embarking on what would likely be their final tour. Everyone wanted a piece of the band, and were hitting every concert ticket site they could in order to ensure they were able to see the band, one last time.
It Was a Colorful Event
"Courage", this time for Gord Downie
It speaks volumes about Downie's character that he wanted to give the fans a final chance to see him perform with his bandmates. He clearly wanted to ensure he was able to deliver solid performances, night after night, too; Dr. James Perry, himself a fan of The Tragically Hip and coincidentally, Downie's oncologist, made sure he was available at every stop along The Hip's tour in order to give the OK for Downie to perform and to be on hand should anything occur.
Nothing happened, thankfully, but look at what Downie has been given as a result of his decision to tour Canada with The Hip in what was billed a final tour. There have been reports from almost every tour stop that the band's concerts have lasted two and a half to three hours, with two encores. Downie was still energetic in his performances, though apparently not as manic as he once was. He was smiling, relaxed and happy.
Staying in bed could have been an easy option for Downie. He was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer back in December 2015 and had done both chemo and radiation. He could have easily stayed home with his wife and four kids, but he didn't. Downie might be the front man for The Tragically Hip, but it's quite likely that the band - and his fans - are a part of his life force after three decades.
The Hip is Canada's Band
You Fight How You Know
One thing that many people learn from their loved ones who have unfortunately had to fight cancer is that people will do what their doctors tell them in order to let their physical selves heal from the ravages of chemo or radiation, but when it comes to their mental health - and like it or not, cancer takes a toll on that end, too - people will fight the way they know how to ensure they continue to live.
Some people craft. Others do martial arts. Gord Downie tours with The Tragically Hip.
It doesn't hurt that the tour coincides with the release of The Hip's latest studio effort, Man Machine Poem, but Downie would have been forgiven had he chosen not to tour. After all, a glioblastoma is not something to take lightly. But for people like Downie and for so many others, music is a salve to a wounded spirit, and it may be something that helped Downie awaken his inner warrior as well.
It was clear, in all the footage from the last four weeks of The Tragically Hip's tour, that Downie was garnering healing powers from the fans' energy. It would have also been incredibly empowering for Downie to make the decision to keep touring in spite of the terrible diagnosis. So many people living with cancer look for a way to take some control in a fight where it sometimes seems like cancer is calling the shots. For instance, people who see their hair start to fall out from treatment decide to shave their heads before cancer takes all of the hair.
By deciding to embark on the four week tour, Downie could have also been telling cancer, "Screw off! You're not stopping me."
For some people, that unstoppable spirit might look like going on the trip of a lifetime that somehow keeps getting delayed. For Downie, he just did what he knows best; he said, "We are going out on tour."
Gord Downie - Sparkling Through The Final Tour
The Unification of a Nation - Thanks, Gord!
The rest of The Hip was likely not surprised by Downie's decision. After all, this is a man they've known for three decades, and judging from the embraces they all shared at their final show in Kingston August 20, they're as close as any family.
So they supported their musical brother as he fronted their band night after night, wearing incredible colored costumes and doing what he does best. It was no doubt bittersweet for them, knowing this was likely their last tour as The Hip, knowing that inside Downie's head was a cancer that was not simply going to be wished away - it will ultimately kill him, as glioblastomas do.
But it was hopefully also inspiring, knowing Downie was not going down without a hell of a fight. It could be seen as his way of living the lyrics for one of the band's biggest hits, "Courage (for Hugh Maclennan)": "The human tragedy / Consists in the necessity / Of living with the consequences / Under pressure."
So, on August 20, 2016, Canadians united to salute that Canadian courage, and to say thank you to Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip one last time. It was not an evening anyone will soon forget.