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If Canada Could Sing, It Would Sound Like Gord Downie

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GORD DOWNIE
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Feel good sadness. Nostalgia music. Quintessentially Canadian.

That's what the Tragically Hip was to us when we were in high school in the 90s. Gord Downie's voice was omnipresent, whether it was a bush party, a school dance, on the way to a buddy's cottage, or at the cottage having a few beers and sitting on the dock. The band had a way of seeping into all the nooks of our memories as they were still being formed. Back then, if our lives were a movie, his voice was the theme music.

Growing up in Toronto, or any of the surrounding suburbs, was in many ways an Americanized experience. Our favourite athletes, movies and trends -- they all seemed to come from south of the border. Music was no exception, except for The Hip. There was no other band like them, and in a way we embraced them for giving us a slice of Canadian pride in a country drenched in American culture.

If you travel outside of Canada's big cities you begin to understand what Canadians are really like. That's not to say that Torontonians aren't real Canadians, it's just that the land itself, whether it's the mountains of the West, the coast of our maritime provinces, or just the rustic vibe in downtown Kingston, this place of ours is a blessing. If the land could sing it would probably sound like Gord Downie, reminding us of our brethren in provinces we've never been to, the goodness of people we've never met, and his natural way of explaining to us why it all matters.

I feel guilty right now, as if I am eulogizing a man who isn't gone yet.

I was immediately thrust back to high school when I heard Downie was suffering from terminal brain cancer. Nostalgia is a cunning mistress, vital to our conscious but wrapped in a strange longing to go back to wherever she places us. Wheat Kings makes me wish I could go fishing one last time with my late father. Fifty Mission Cap made me read up on the story of Bill Barilko, a tale I never would have known about if it were not for that track. Ahead by a Century's back up vocals reminds me how the simplicity inside a song is enough to make that lump in my throat reflexively come back, almost every time I hear it.

The Hip belongs to Canada. My god, I can't think of any other domesticated band that even comes close. Stomping Tom Connors is the only other artist I can think of who draped himself in Canadiana and made a career out of it, but to be honest I always thought he was a little too kitsch. The Hip are different. They manage to convey a distinctly Canadian vibe without making us feel like they are selling little maple leaf flags or beaver tails. In fact, Gift Shop, for me anyway, is sort of like a tough love song, reminding us that even in beautiful places, majestic places, we humans have a way of cheapening the meaning. Hell, the song may mean something entirely different to the band, but that's OK. The cliché of art being subjective gives us all a little room to place ourselves within the music I suppose.

I feel guilty right now, as if I am eulogizing a man who isn't gone yet. That's not intentional, and I think something else might be happening as I write this. I think I'm mourning all those memories I haven't thought of in nearly two decades. In a strange way the news of Downie's illness has reminded me to look back more often, to feel all of those fleeting moments before I forget they exist. Most importantly, I now remember I have an usher to help me retrace most of my steps.

Gord Downie is not just the voice of Canada; he's proof that we always had our own culture, separate from our American cousins. Something familiar, if you will.

Feel good sadness. Nostalgia music. Quintessentially Canadian.

Sounds good to me.

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