Monday, 22 August 2016

Two days later

Two days past, and a hazy sadness lingers.

The Tragically Hip's 30 years of music is still playing on a desperate loop in my house /in my heart /it's in my pockets and in my eyes /in my blood.  The poignant conclusion to their final tour on Saturday - culminating in their (and my) hometown of Kingston, Ontario - has brought with it a sweeping sense of grief.

"I understand now how you feel about them.  I hadn't paid any attention before. I'm a fan! The whole thing is really hard to put into words." -- My mother-in-law, emailing to see how it all went.  She has captured the crux of this particular beast, hasn't she.  This idea that we all get it, even if you didn't before.

Try watching commentators and journalists grasp at thin straws of what this has meant, this swan song tour and its final show.  Yes, The Tragically Hip is quintessentially Canadian.  Yes, there is a simple pleasure in the mention of our hometowns in a lyric. Yes, the band has been around for 30 years. And yes, Gord Downie is a poet, and a nice guy. And yes, he is dying.

But it's more than that, isn't it.

It's pride. And I suppose a form of awkward, indefinable patriotism (as patriotism often is). There's new appreciation for the band and their accomplishments, even though they have, until recently, been avoided or gently ignored by many and sometimes considered inadequate by others.  Now, The Tragically Hip is hoarded and held closely to our collective heart in a "you can't have them, they're ours" kind of way. Now we all finally get it. Now we all endear them, as we should. (Although, those who always did will happily prove it.)

It's talent. True, impressive, undeniable talent. The uncommon kind of talent that can be legitimately referred to as art in its uniqueness, its composition, its performance, and its literary prowess. A conscientious, intentional, intelligent - while imperfect - talent that often goes unnoticed until all of a sudden we notice it.

It's longevity.  Thirty years, the same five guys, consistently touring the country with our favourite soundtrack and a few new tunes tossed in.  The reliability of "Well, I saw them last time, so maybe I'll skip this one and see them next year." Each song and show with its own story to tell, and a dedicated crowd competing for who knows them better.  Songs that everyone knows, even if they don't, and with an endurance that most artists work their entire lives to achieve.

Add to all of that the profound sadness that our glorious, always recognizable frontman is dying.  He's dying, and somehow, as some unbelievable gift, he has offered us the opportunity to reflect on what he and his band have meant to us - and we've finally caught on. We've followed their biggest tour yet and then watched across the country with 11.7 million tv, radio, and internet feeds, of course on nothing other than the CBC.  He, and we, have been given the chance to /bask in the golden light/ one more time.

And this is the most intensely heartbreaking part: That Gord Downie's cancer will take his /world possessed by the human mind/ away.  And that it took this for us to really consider how much he and his band meant to us - even if we already knew it meant, well, a lot.  But he hasn't left us yet.  Not before we sang with him, collectively, simultaneously across the country, one last time.  Not before we figured it out.

Ultimately, it's this series of contradictions that ruin me.

It's the irony.  

It's the irony of our patriotism for a self-described non-nationalist, our new or revived appreciation for his talent, the end of what seemed like an endless loop across our country, and the dripping, cascading empathy for his diagnosis.

I can see now why it hurts so much - because irony is the surely the fiercest and sharpest ache in anything so definitively tragic.