"Words are blanks. Words are ghosts. Words are God. Words don't make the rain go." – The Tragically Hip

Canada, the world really, lost a legend today.

And as much as I knew it was coming – we all knew it was coming – the grief was immediate, intense, and infinite. Sobs engulfed me, tumbling out unexpectedly and completely, as though they were piling up inside me since news broke of his cancer, ready to flow like an avalanche in the wake of his death. I wasn’t just sucker-punched by the news of his passing, I was sucker-punched by my own grief. But I was driving. So I listened to Trudeau’s tearful acknowledgement and Tom Power’s emotional broadcast, and let the tears flow down my face, down my neck, down the road. Memories were flooding me too. Many from high school where The Tragically Hip’s presence was constant, resolute, an institution.

“Wheat Kings” and “Grace, too” and “Long Time Running” and “Blow at High Dough” and “Little Bones” and “Fully Completely” and “Scared” and “Springtime in Vienna” and “Bobcaygeon” and, of course, The Killer Whale Tank version of “New Orleans is Sinking.”

When we all skipped class to smoke, chill, and play hack at the back doors, someone’s car blasted The Hip. When we sat on the ETS bus, sharing headphones and singing along, it was to The Hip. When we drank ourselves stupid and passed around joints at parties, it was to The Hip. When we danced our hearts out at grad or in the bar, it was to The Hip. The Tragically Hip was this thread that wove us all together. It united us. It mellowed out our teen angst. It spoke to our souls, to the parts of us we’d tried so valiantly to keep hidden, and it connected us to each other.

“Music brings people together. So my function in anything I do is to help bring people closer in.” – Gord Downie

The best times, the worst times, all of the times, Gord was there, with his voice, his charisma, his hope, his words, his vision, his thoughtfulness, his empathy. When I saw all of that extend to Canada’s Indigenous community, when I saw Gord use his platform, his voice, to lift other voices, voices of the marginalized, voices that need amplifying, I wept with gratitude and admiration and awe. Here is a man who knows what matters. Here is a man who uses his power to help people. Here is a man who sees the truth and who speaks it.

As a writer, I’ve always admired and loved and pondered and wrestled with and connected to Gord’s lyrics and poetry. Few songwriters tell stories so explicitly, so eloquently, and nearly every one of The Tragically Hip’s songs aren’t just obscure poetry, but true, unabashed storytelling. And in that way, he will forever by my teacher:

“When I write, I give people access to their own emotions.” – Gord Downie

I don’t know that Canada will ever have another artist, another icon, that will represent us as well. Gord is the epitome, for me, of what it means to be Canadian. Without trying to, he wrote beautifully and honestly about everyday Canadian experiences and his work will forever be at the centre of our collective cultural identity. Today, I weep, but for tomorrow, I’ll just heed Gord’s words and ready myself for whatever comes.

“I have no illusions of the future. Or maybe it’s all illusion. I don’t know. I’ve always been ready for it.” — Gord Downie