Like many of you, I watched with amazement this past summer as Gord Downie performed a farewell tour across Canada with The Tragically Hip. Then we heard that he had been working on a solo project called Secret Path.
Secret Path acknowledges a dark part of Canada’s history—the long-suppressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system—with the hope of starting our country on a road to reconciliation.
Secret Path is an album, film and comic which tell the story of a young Chanie Wenjack who escaped from a residential school in an attempt to return to his family and home. As we now know, he never made it.
I was fortunate to watch Downie perform the first single from the album, The Stranger.
It was more emotional and heart wrenching than being at The Hip’s last show in Toronto this past summer. So much so that I haven’t been able to even watch Secret Path. Yet.
It is very sad that this place I call home, Canada, is responsible for taking children away from their homes for no other reason than they were indigenous. Canada did this for 100 years. Canada is still a place where you can find indigenous communities 30 minutes away from Toronto that live under a drinking water contamination alert. It’s fucking ridiculous.
If we care about people we should all be doing something (significant or otherwise) to make the lives of Canada’s First Peoples better. We must.
Write to your MP. Educate your children. Educate yourself. Challenge the Prime Minister and other Cabinet members on social media on what concrete steps are being taken to ensure than reconciliation truly happens. Support The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund. Do something. Because doing nothing is no longer an option.
The Stranger is Gord Downie’s first single from his new album, Secret Path.
“Gord Downie began Secret Path as ten poems incited by the story of Chanie Wenjack, a twelve year-old boy who died fifty years ago on October 22, 1966, in flight from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ontario, walking home to the family he was taken from over 400 miles away. Gord was introduced to Chanie Wenjack (miscalled “Charlie” by his teachers) by Mike Downie, his brother, who shared with him Ian Adams’ Maclean’s story from February 6, 1967, “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack.””
Last night, at We Day Family, Gord performed this emotional and haunting song in front of 20,000 children and parents.
Last night we attended The Tragically Hip’s final Toronto date on their “farewell” Man Machine Poem Tour. It was also the second live rock concert that our (now 10 years old) son, Kahzmir, attended. The first one was on his 8th birthday to see Arcade Fire in Toronto.
It was also the second time (that I can remember) attending the same concert with my brother, Aneez. The first concert was on New Year’s Eve 1985 to see OMD and Thompson Twins at Toronto’s old Maple Leaf Gardens.
The Tragically Hip were never my favourite band. At least not that I can remember. However, they have always been part of my musical appetite since I had my first portable FM radio player. I had purchased this player on Air Canada (or maybe it was WardAir?) coming back from England in the summer of 1989 and would walk to and from Sir John A Macdonald high school in Scarborough. It was a 10 minute walk. And it was on 102.1 and/or 107.1 that I started hearing songs like Blow At High Dough, New Orleans Is Sinking, 38 Years Old, Boots Or Hearts and Trickle Down.
I didn’t know it at the time but Up To Here was most likely the album that made me appreciate the mix of poetry and rock that I came to later appreciate in all of Neil Young’s incarnations.
Since then, the Tragically Hip have always just been there. I never noticed them. I just came to expect them. They were part of rock and roll. They were (and still are) part of Canada.
Although I’ve since “misplaced” my Hip CDs and cassettes, Road Apples was my first Hip album. My favourite tune from that album is Cordelia. I have no clue what the song is about. I love the lyrics and the pulsing beat that overlay the amazing lead and rhythm guitars in Cordelia.
Fully Completely is filled with hit singles. As many as U2’s The Joshua Tree. In my opinion. The next album, Day for Night contains my favourite Hip song, Nautical Disaster. I had the lyrics of this song taped to my desk in my room. And this was before the album was ever released.
It was listening to one of these albums that got me through a serious breakup in university. Thanks for the company, boys.
I’ve been to plenty of big events and concerts. I was in attendance at the Skydome when Canada played the US in World Cup of Baseball. I saw Halladay pitch against Burnett. I’ve been to Metallica and AC/DC concerts. Nothing can compare to the level of noise that the crowd in attendance last night created. NOTHING. It was deafening.
See my photos and videos from my view at the concert HERE.
I played air guitar, fist pumped to songs like Three Pistols and Little Bones, and generally caused Minaz and Kahzmir to look at me and shake their heads. I sang loudly to the hits. I smiled in glee then continued to rock out to songs long forgotten but still tattooed in my internal radio station.
When the show ended with Grace, Too I was caught off guard. There was no warning it was over. I wasn’t ready to say thank you. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
Last night’s concert was not goodbye for me. Music and songs live forever. We know Gord Downie will leave this world sooner rather than later. But the music that he created with his best friends will live on forever.
I’m thankful for the music. I always will be. I’ll always enjoy the music.
I’m thankful for Sunday August 14, 2016.
I’ll see you folks on down the road somewhere – Gord Downie
Here’s the set list from The Tragically Hip’s last show in Toronto:
My favourite The Tragically Hip song is Nautical Disaster. I first came upon the lyrics prior to the album Day for Night being released. I think it was in the Toronto Star and was a special piece written by Gord Downie.
Here are the lyrics:
I had this dream where I relished the fray and the screaming filled my head all day.
It was as though I had been spit here,
Into the pocket of a lighthouse on some rocky socket,
Off the coast of France, dear.
Four thousand men died in the water here and five hundred more were thrashing madly as parasites might in your blood.
Now I was in a lifeboat designed for ten and ten only,
Anything that systematic would get you hated.
It’s not a deal not a test nor a love of something fated.
The selection was quick,
The crew was picked and those left in the water were kicked off our pant leg and we headed for home.
Then the dream ends when the phone rings,
You’re doing alright he said it’s out there most days and nights,
But only a fool would complain.
Anyway Susan, if you like,
Our conversation is as faint as a sound in my memory,
As those fingernails scratching on my hull.