On Tuesday night, Gordon Edgar Downie died. Gord was the lead singer of the Tragically Hip, Canada’s house band; he had had a severe form of brain cancer; he was fifty-three. The Hip’s lyrics and music changed my life, so I had to respond.
So, I won’t tell you “what the poets are doing, on the street in the epitome of Vague; I won’t tell you how the universe gets altered when you find out how he gets paid…”
Instead, I will tell you this: yesterday afternoon, I grieved for Gord Downie, who–more than any other music icon, Bono excepted–contributed to my formation as a person, by both helping me to deal with anger and sadness, and empowering me to embrace my true self.
I hope you like this.
Navigator: an Elegy for Gord Downie
I want to thank you for the things you said.
They saved my life each night for ten long years;
They spoke to me in valleys and on hills.
From you, I learned to tame the holy fire
Of anger, to turn it into reasoned righteousness.
I’m thirty-three, and I have kissed a woman,
And your words partly helped me take that step.
Moreover, Bono need not sing a broken elegy
To lay my lifeless body to rest on the East Coast,
Because you helped me to know and love myself.
You helped me hear the poetry of city streets,
To find my way in Riverdale, at busy Yonge and Bloor,
On Ward’s Island in the smiling sun of July.
You helped me hear the songs in seaborne silence, too;
In Charlottetown and blessed Summerside, your poems
Helped me to count the stones. You built my heart
Anew, so that the thin glass wall
Between me and the yearning of the world
Lay shattered, next to endless cups of tea.
You built a pigeon camera for our lives;
You carefully crafted the lens of Stanley Cups
And years of pent-up hockey songs
And quiet smells of coffee. You trained
Your careful lens on us throughout your life,
Empowering us to feel our grief and joy
Through endless rants and stark, dark dervish wails.
You broke down all the forests of Kadesh;
You clear-cut them with riffs of bright guitar.
You dragged them off to build a stately house for us,
So spacious it could harbour a whole nation
Amidst the storms of sorrow and of rage.
Thanks, man. And no, you never let us down.
The only disappointment lies with us,
Because we didn’t listen carefully enough.
Your baritone’s still necessary to guide our ship,
To sing us to a higher, joyous state
Where all those in our home on native land
Will live in equity, in heart and hand.