I’m thinking of you today Canada.
When I heard the news Wednesday morning that Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie had passed away from cancer, I stopped cooking my breakfast and making my morning coffee. I immediately thought of all my Canadian and hockey friends, turned on The Tragically Hip station on Pandora and shed a tear.
I’m not Canadian. I was born and raised south of the border in Arlington, Massachusetts. However, I was raised on the Boston Bruins (Downie’s favorite team) and around the game of hockey. I’ve covered the Boston Bruins and the NHL since 2001 and obviously through that have been to Canada more times than I count. In fact I lived there for two years, in Montreal. So obviously I’ve met and made plenty of Canadian friends through my work and travels. But ironically one of my best friends from the Great White North and overall, wasn’t a friend I made through hockey or my time spent there, it was in Aruba. That’s where, in 1996, I met Jay Batten from Windsor, Ontario and that is where via Jay – one of the best music connoisseurs I know – I met the music of The Hip and the voice of Downie!
When Jay introduced me to The Hip, I dug them for sure and when I returned home to Boston after one heck of a week with Jay, his Dad Dave, our friend Doug Chrystal from White Plains, New York and my late Uncle Joe, I bought the ‘Fully Completely’ album.
I loved and still love that album, and I bought some more Hip albums over the years, but it wasn’t until I started covering hockey and through my many travels in Canada, I fully understood how Gord Downie and The Hip were truly part of the fabric of Canadian culture. There was always a good chance you’d hear The Hip blasting in an NHL or any hockey team’s dressing room and it’s highly unlikely you’d meet a hockey player from Canada that didn’t listen to or know who The Hip was.
— Matt Lashoff (@MattLashoff) October 18, 2017
So, not only did their music transcend through Canadian culture but it’s part of the sport that country proudly bleeds. One of, if not the best NHL insiders in the biz, Bob McKenzie showed this in a tribute he wrote to Downie after it was announced that the singer that had meant so much to his life was terminally ill. There were many more similar tributes around the hockey world and from others I’ve met through my work covering the game, like this moving piece from my friend from Montreal Dave Kaufman, which truly conveyed the essence of Downie in Canadian culture.
“For generations of Canadians, they have become the soundtrack to our lives, and for those lucky enough to have seen their concerts – often in the humid summers of a land otherwise made for winter – they have become an attraction bigger than those on any roadside. They have become a part of our landscape, an experience in what it means to be Canadian.”
-Dave Kaufman, National Post, July 21, 2016
I’m a huge music fan myself and when I’m on the road, I always try to take in live music and more specifically local music. Unfortunately I never saw Downie and The Hip live, but through my friends from Canada and the game of hockey, I fully understood his meaning to the people of that great country. That was shown during their final and farewell tour across Canada last summer and is being shown as I write this in the aftermath of his death that came way too soon.
Rest in peace Gord and thank you for showing us all the power of music and how it can unite a country and people of all origin. Godspeed Wheat King.