Gord Downie (on the way, and on the way out)

[2-minute read]
On the (last?) tour, rockin' hats, feathers, glitter, and some gently showboating self-mockery.

On the (last?) tour, rockin’ hats, feathers, glitter, and some gently showboating self-mockery.

“Canada’s unofficial poet laureate” is what many call Gordon Downie, the lead singer of the Tragically Hip. Thirty years in to singing — he had, and still has, one of the best set of pipes among rock’s leading men — and growling and screaming and talking his enigmatic and multi-layered lyrics, at least one music writer insists on placing him in the lyrical pantheon with Bob Dylan and “post-Graceland Paul Simon”. Downie is a poet — yes, there is a published poetry collection — and there are many phrases that hundreds of thousands of Canadians can sing along with him, as they have been on the Hip’s Man Machine Poem tour, the one that the band has never said is a farewell.

Young and hairy and restless and good.

Young and hairy and restless and good.

But Downie is dying of inoperable brain cancer. He is not the caged stage lion he once was, and there were times in last night’s final show of the tour, in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario, when we weren’t entirely sure he was going to make it through to the end of the planned setlist. Anyway, here’s the thing: Downie is still a manic stage presence, and he delivered nearly three hours worth of rock ‘n’ roll slamdance poetics, but he’s a quiet dude. Famously private, he had little to say to his adoring fans in Kingston and a national TV audience, even on a night like that. It’s all about the songs, and his band.

But he did tell this little story:

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James Howden (on sappiness & birthday songs)

With apologies to the great Paul Simon, I present a thoroughly personal update of his jiggy 1975 song “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”. A chronological milestone was recently reached by my bride, who had the dubious honour of hearing — LIVE! — Mr. Simon’s melodies and beats overwhelmed by a most eccentric chorus of all-too-willing back-up singers, with me trying to stay in one key during the verses. It was. It was… It was odd, funny and delightful. She loves to laugh, does my bride. Her name is Diana.

Fifty Ways We Love Diana

This business of aging’s no big deal, don’t you agree?

The woman’s always dancing, if a little recklessly

And when we think about the loveliness of ‘Dee’

There must be fifty ways we love Diana

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