There is no easy way to start this. There is no easy way to end what has been an institution and mainstay in our lives and National pride for a day, a month, years - an inch or an hour. This is my attempt to summarize one night to memorialize so many past and no more.
Last night at the first of my 3 goodbye Tragically Hip shows I was filled with more emotions than I ever felt before. I felt overwhelmed, angry, peaceful, resolve, acceptance, understanding but mostly joy numerous times. I was inspired greatly. I've made more friends and connections as a result of this band than many others. I witnessed last night a man with literally nothing to lose and everything to gain make a conscious choice in spite of pain to "give". To give knowing it is the last times he can and yet he still chose to do it.
I remember growing up hearing someone say you don't understand giving when someone who has 20 dollars gives someone less fortunate a dollar. It's meaningless - a token gesture. But if that person only has 5 dollars and gives all 5 dollars away that is magic and meaningful. Last night Gord emptied his pockets, heart and mind and bequeathed the contents unto us.
It's painfully hard to see someone go out and walk through the curtain the last time and never again. He's doing this though on his terms and conditions and I applaud him for that. Through periodic faults and some missed lyrics I understood. I've been side by side with friends and family over the years and danced for Gord as he danced arms length from us. That dance is nearly done.
This morning I woke up after a long dream. It felt like it was all a dream and would go away. All of it. The news conference. The diagnosis. The pictures. But it won't. The blessing ? Two more shows that I can dance and cry and say goodbye and honour his commitment to us by dancing and singing. With Grace Too.
The night began with friends everywhere meeting since years parted. As the start time of 830 loomed ever closer the house announcer chimed to the PA system "Ladies and Gentlemen the show will start in 15 minutes please take your seats". With many in attendance still milling about, a second chime of the PA "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Gord Downie please take your seats the show will start in 5 minutes" - instantly the house was seated.
An unencumbered open concept stage welcomed the Tragically Hip home to Edmonton. Fay, Langlois, Sinclair, Baker and lastly Downie assumed their places. Downie's white top hat and feathers focusing the attention of all forward. The familiarity of Little Bones embraced us from Road Apples and so too followed with the Luxury and seldom heard Long Time Running. Lastly concluded with Twist My Arm. Downie was on it was a subdued and deliverable full steam ahead into a night of memories.
With the heat of the building and random Downie-esque gesticulations of genius, he unbutton is silver emblazoned top to reveal a vintage JAWS t-shirt, his sweat pouring in true style from his furrowed brow and deep resonant eyes. Tossed aside, he launched in to the latest material from the Man Machine Poem album with great notables such as World Posessed by the Human Mind, Ocean Next, What Blue and Machine. With a crackling ensuing thunder and lightening simulated big screen event - a costume change of Gold proportions was next in order to carry us forward to In Between Evolution.
Conserving Energy and focusing on himself and his intimate sold out gathering in Rexall Place, Downie invited us In Between Evolution with such favorites as It Can't Be Nashville Every Night, If New Orleans Is Beat and Gus: the Polar Bear from Central Park. Moving swiftly on a current of applause threw us into the turbulent emotional waters of Day for Night and the riveting Daredevil feeling ourselves fall mercy to Downie's control of the chaos. Feeling the uncertainty creepy in and the old equilibrium just start to spin and spin - he brought us calm and solstice against it all in Scared and destroying the hearts of us all with Grace Too - here we saw the man facing the certainty of his own mortality - bravely. Screaming Nooooo! Him - Here - Now!? - No. Simply No.
With the first encore enveloping us Fully and Completely in the warmth of the Hundredth Meridian, Fully Completely and Courage. With the triumphant lyrics of this album stood the defiant acceptance of the Inevitability of Death and the comfort knowing that he's alright - he'll be alright - he has us and we have him. As Courage concluded, the PA straining above the raining applause he shouted to the rooftop "You all take care of each other, take care of each other. . .Right? Right!!!?" - there was no better statement as the crowd echoed in unison. Right!
Moving into the solemn Flamenco and finally Ahead By A Century. Truly, Fully and Completely this was where the Hornet stung him. He gazed out into the darkened rows upon rows of those in attendance standing the entire 2.5 hour setlist. His child like twinkling eyes and index finger and thumb cresting the framed shot as he sings "and disappointing you is getting me down" (pantomiming the "just a little bit").
With a graceful exit and goodnight that was it. He was gone. Once more. On his terms. On his time. On his strength. With Grace Too.
"I faked incredulous. I can't believe. How'd it get this late so early. Goodbyes are always so hard. Two more shows after tonight. The best part for me. I learned the people hearing impairments and special needs sometimes wiggle their fingers to show applause. It's a way to breakthrough the applause and connect to an artist. Gord first demonstrated this in the 1990 Heksenketel vhs release in about 1992. He said fingers start to wiggle and landscapes emerge. Through the finale of clapping and the swirling spotlights I held my hands high focused them on him. A spotlight paused on me as he turned my direction. Best part. He stopped clapping. Pointed directly toward me. Smiled deeply and reciprocated with wiggling fingers. See you Saturday Gord. Thank you for tonight."
Fully & Completely