Too often of late I've been blindsided by horrendously shitty news. Just a month ago, it was the sudden death of Prince and before him, it was Bowie and Lemmy. This morning, I saw a Facebook post from The Tragically Hip, which I presumed was to announce more information on their upcoming album and tour. Instead, it was just about the worst possible news imaginable: Frontman and Canadian icon Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer. Holy fuck.
The guy's only 52 and has been very active in the last few years. The last Hip album, Now for Plan A, came out in 2012, followed by Downie's excellent collaboration with the Sadies in 2014 and then a Hip tour playing the band's 1992 classic Fully Completely front to back. The new record, Man Machine Poem, is due out next month and as part of today's sad announcement, the Hip said they would do one last tour with Downie this summer. A press conference was held a few hours later at which Downie's physician said the singer's brain tumor has been reduced in size after radiation and chemotherapy, which means while he'll be able to tour, at some point the cancer will return. It could be a few years, but the diagnosis is still terminal.
It sounds as though the tour will be in Canada only (dates will be announced tomorrow), which is disappointing, but jeez, it's hard to complain given the circumstances. I've been lucky enough to have seen the Hip nearly every time they came through town since 1991, everywhere from the Orpheum and House of Blues to the tiny confines of the Paradise and Bill's Bar on Lansdowne. And I've seen Downie play solo at the Sinclair and TT's. His yelping vocals, herky-jerky dance moves and abstract lyrics are ingrained in my brain like signposts as I moved through my adult life. Downie and the Hip are so Canadian that they appeal to that part of me that will always remain a Canuck, even though at this point I've spent more than two-thirds of my life in the U.S.
This isn't a eulogy. The man's not dead yet. For now, we celebrate his accomplishments and gifts and enjoy his forthcoming album and tour. And like anyone we know who's been dealt such a unfortunate hand, we try not to think about that inevitable time when he's gone.
Here's my introduction to Gord and the Hip: