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

Desmond (Casey) Peter serves salmon and hamburgers to the waiting crowd at the Cowichan Tribes’ celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Cowichan Tribes celebrates National Indigenous People’s Day

First Nation members gather for day of fun and remembrance

The Crofton Pool will reopen July 2. (File photo by Don Bodger)
Lifeguard services returning to Fuller Lake Park, Crofton Pool

Summer schedule starting after hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic

Sierra Acton, regional district director for Shawnigan Lake. (file photo)
New parkland in Shawnigan creating connections

Used to created parking for the popular Masons Beach Park

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Chris Wilkinson
Chris Wilkinson column: This could be the worst thing done to you during the pandemic

As a result, all of us will contend with more ‘scarcity’ thinking and mindset.

Nanaimo Fire Rescue crews on scene at a boat fire near the boat ramp at Long Lake on Sunday, June 20. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Boat burns up on Nanaimo’s Long Lake, man and child unhurt

Jet skiers attempt to put out fire by circling around to spray water on burning boat

Children walk with their parents to Sherwood Park Elementary in North Vancouver for the first day back to school on Sept. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Study reassures parents, teachers that COVID-19 infrequently shared at school

Federally funded study in Vancouver finds risk at school and in the community was identical

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday April 13, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Single-game sports betting about to become legal in Canada

Senate passes bill to take sports gambling away from overseas agencies

Point Roberts is part of the mainland United States but not physically connected to it, to reach the community by land one must pass through Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Closed Canadian border leaves Point Roberts’ only grocery store on verge of closure

‘We’re Americans but we’re not attached to America. It’s easy to forget we’re here,’ says owner Ali Hayton

The Somass Sawmill sits idle in early May 2021. While the kilns have been in use occasionally, and the lot has been used to store woodchips this spring, the mill has been curtailed since July 27, 2017. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni to expropriate Somass Sawmill from Western Forest Products

Sawmill has been ‘indefinitely’ curtailed since 2017

Robin Sanford and her fiance Simon Park were married in an impromptu ceremony at Abbotsford Regional Hospital on June 16. (Submitted photo)
Mom dies day after witnessing daughter’s hospital wedding in Abbotsford

Nurses help arrange impromptu ceremony in 3 hours for bride and groom

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. home owner grant won’t be altered, despite expert advice

Tax break for residences worth up to $1.6 million too popular

B.C. conservation officer Sgt. Todd Hunter said a black bear is believed to have killed local livestock. (THE NEWS/files)
Black bear believed to have killed miniature donkey in Maple Ridge

Trap set for predator that has been killing livestock

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki and Minister of Housing David Eby have been battling over the Victory Church shelter and BC Housing projects in the city. (File photos)
Penticton heads to court over homeless shelter as BC Housing audit begins

The city was not satisfied with the response from Minister David Eby regarding the ongoing situation

Most Read