Wednesday, October 18, 2017

R.I.P. Gord - and thanks

It was December 31, 1999 and the Tragically Hip was playing the first of two shows in Toronto's Air Canada Centre. For the rest of the world, the concern was airplanes falling from the sky and ATMs shooting out money when the clock struck midnight. For the 19,800 of us in Air Canda Centre, we were just concerned about seeing Gord. I finally had my chance to see him live, and I took for granted the idea that I will see him again someday. After all, a poet never decides to just stop being a poet.

The Hip wrote some of the most iconic songs people from this area will ever hear. If you were born and raised here in the 60s and 70s, then it was impossible to avoid the Hip when you were a young adult or teenager. They were everywhere in WNY, and especially on the radio. The Hip were a huge part of the soundtrack of WNY in the 80s and 90s, and their rise through the clubs in this area was fast. I remember the Hip being a special secret guest at some local club in the early 90s and the show sold out in seconds. No venue in this area ever tried to make the Hip a super secret musical guest ever again.

When the Hip played Canada and WNY, they played the biggest hockey arenas in those areas. When the Hip played anywhere else, they played the medium-sized clubs. I could never understand why the rest of the world did not want to listen to Canadian music like we did. After a while, I just chalked it up to being the rest of the world's loss. I remember hockey player Doug Gilmour being asked what his favorite band was and he said, "I'm Canadian, so it has to be the Tragically Hip." THAT is what the Hip meant to its fans.

I found out about Gord's illness the same way everyone else did - the Internet. At first, I did not believe it. I refused to believe it. What do you mean that we know Gord is going to die at some point in the very near future? What is wrong with you? What a terrible thing to say.

But then the Hip announced Gord's final tour and the reality sank in. All over Canada, public squares were turned into viewing centers as the band's final show in tiny Kingston, Ontario was broadcast all over Canada and parts of the United States. Canadians from all walks of life gathered together in public squares to watch a rock band perform on large screens. But this was more than a rock band, this was the Hip. This was more than a normal poet, this was Gord.

The Hip wrote excellent songs. The music was driving when it needed to be, and introspective when the mood required it. That mood was set by Gord, and Gord was the Tragically Hip. That nasally and almost whining voice of his was something I had never heard before, and he displayed it proudly whenever the band performed. When Gord's voice was on, it was a thing of beauty. When it was off, it was a thing of beauty is so many different ways.

Gord's live performances, even during the final tour, were spectacles created by a single human being. He didn't use props (except the occasional balloon he would pop if it made its way to the stage), he didn't rely on special effects, and it didn't look like he really choreographed anything. It was just Gord acting out his emotions as he sang songs and told stories. A Hip performance was basically a night with Gord, and now those nights have come to an end.

He died at the age of 53, which is relatively young for a guy that so many people looked to when trying to understand their own lives. To many people in Canada and around the world, Gord was Canada. He wasn't just a rock star or the lead singer in Canada's most beloved band (sorry Rush), he was everything Canadians wanted to be. He lead them with his words, and he entertained them with his songs.

Rest in peace, Gord. Thank you for always making your music feel personal. Thank you for remembering Buffalo whenever you performed. And thank you for giving everyone in this area someone they can point to as being the guy who not only understood everyone, but the guy who made everyone feel at home. You will be missed, and you probably knew that.

George N Root III is a Lockport resident. You can follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3, or send him a message at