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A tribute to The Hip's, Gord Downie in a shop window. Photo by Terry Steeves.

The Hip’s final show: Gord Downie leaves us with the feathers in his cap

By Terry Steeves on August 22, 2016

Saturday night’s Tragically Hip performance was a celebration of their 32 year musical legacy, but even more so, it was a celebration of life itself.

Screenshot of Gord Downie from the live televised airing of The Hip's Kingston show on Saturday night. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Screenshot of Gord Downie from the live televised airing of The Hip’s Kingston show on Saturday night.

Whether you attended the final concert at the K-Rock Centre in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario, or watched the live airing courtesy of CBC, all hearts, minds, and spirits were connected to the show’s emotional impact felt around the world.

I could hear the sounds of TVs tuned into CBC, wafting out through the windows of my neighhourhood, as I made my way west on Somerset St., to attend an outdoor showing of the concert at Parkdale Park. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a hand-painted picture of Gord Downie, depicted in his white hat, displayed in the window of Malenka Originals, an art shop specializing and offering workshops on refurbishing and repainting used/unwanted furniture. I stopped to take a closer look, and stepped back to notice that the entire shop’s corner windows were plastered with quotes from Gord Downie’s lyrics. It was a touching, and perfect prelude to the program, which awaited me in the park.

A massive turnout for the live screening of the Kingston show at Parkdale Park. Photo by Terry Steeves.

A massive turnout for the live screening of the Kingston show at Parkdale Park. Photo by Terry Steeves.

I arrived to see every square inch in and around the perimeter of the park, filled with bodies seated in front of a large projection screen. The scene was calm and serene, but for occasional bouts of cheering and applause, as all eyes were glued to the screen. As I watched, I felt myself getting lost in intensities of admiration and sadness, as Downie and his band performed for what might be the last time together. The camera swung to some of the faces in the crowd inside the K-Rock Centre, who showed how deeply affected they were by Downie’s uninhibited display of emotion. One of those faces belonged to Justin Trudeau, whose attendance further honoured The Hip’s contribution to Canadian music, and to the world’s stage. The warm vibes certainly carried through to the park, whose spectators could feel the love across the miles.

The poetry of Downie’s lyrics have always been rich in life experience and socio-political views, and marked with  references to various people, places, and events of Canada. The words rang out with more pertinence than ever, delivered by a man faced with his own mortality. His actions and gestures showed expressions of defiance, contentedness, gratitude, confidence, playfulness, but at times allowed a glimpse into the vulnerabilities of fear and melancholia in life’s finalities as he wept openly during the second encore.

A street corner's entire front store windows, filled with quotes from the lyrics of Gord Downie. Photo by Terry Steeves.

A street corner’s entire front store windows, filled with quotes from the lyrics of Gord Downie. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Even his wardrobe changes from head-to-toe pale tones into dark colours, seemed to transmit a statement of life’s spectrum of ups and downs. Early in the show, he unzipped his jacket to reveal a white JAWS t-shirt underneath, which conveyed to me the fierceness and loudness by which we should live our lives. To be unafraid to speak our minds, to show our unwillingness to accept that which debilitates society, to proudly display our talent and individuality, and to lift up others unselfishly, whose spirits and hearts have been injured or let down. All that from a t-shirt…“Gordie baby, I know exactly what you mean.”

After a technical glitch that temporarily halted the concert’s screening in the park, me and my fellow roving reporter pal, Andre Gagne, decided to finish off the viewing at The Record Centre, who had also opened their doors to anyone who wanted to watch the show. Being inside the shop, surrounded by record albums, and a wall of turntables and stereo equipment, seemed a fitting atmosphere to watch this musical performance. The third and final encore gave me the song I had been waiting for all night, “Ahead By A Century”, which left me to reflect on the importance, the frailty, the profoundness, pompousness, uncertainty, and the uniqueness of being human:

“No dress rehearsal, this is our life.”

More tributes to Gord Downie along the sidewalks of Somerset St. in Ottawa. Photo by Terry Steeves.

More tributes to Gord Downie along the sidewalks of Somerset St. in Ottawa. Photo by Terry Steeves.

On the way home, a chalkboard sign on the sidewalk outside The Ministry Of Coffee displayed yet another Downie quote, “Yeah it’s perfect… it isn’t, and it is,” above a drawing of the now iconic white hat and feathers. I thought some more about those colourful feathers in his hat. To me, they seemed to represent the importance of the here and now, the positive and productive side of a healthy ego, and of wearing our colours and achievements in a happy medium of pride and humility. When it’s time to leave this phase of human life, all one can do is hope to have made a little difference, or have left some sort of contribution.

“If I die of vanity, promise me, promise me,
They bury me some place I don’t want to be,
You’ll dig me up and transport me, unceremoniously,
Away from the swollen city-breeze, garbage bag trees,
Whispers of disease and the acts of enormity
And lower me slowly, sadly and properly
Get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy,
At the hundredth meridian
At the hundredth meridian
At the hundredth meridian
Where the great plains begin…”