I’m not a big Tragically Hip fan. I know a handful of songs at most, predominantly from the 90’s, and I really haven’t kept up with their music. But on Saturday night, I tuned into what was the longest concert encore I’ve ever had the honour to be a part of and what I witnessed was dark and light, soul-crushing and inspiring – all at the same time.
Millions camped themselves to watch The Hip’s last-ever concert streamed live from their hometown in Kingston, Ontario – 11.7 million to be exact. If you don’t know the background: in May, the band announced that its lead singer Gord Downie, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. While undergoing treatment, his doctors were able to shrink the size of his tumor, but there’s no doubt that it’ll return.
Considering how many people’s lives have been touched by cancer, we all probably know a friend, family member or loved one who’s had to come to terms with the fact that they have a timestamp on their life. I mean, we all know we’re going to die someday but being fully aware of it clearly creeping on the horizon is something completely different.
What I experienced that evening was pure and raw emotion. Gord and the band dug deep to put on a show that spoke to, not only their portfolio of music and poetic lyricism, but the human condition.
That night, Gord sang for our pain and for our fears. He sang for our joy, a deep appreciation for life and for having lived at all. There were moments when it was clear that he was struggling with the fact that this would be his last hurrah. At times it was uncomfortable and the audience was clearly struggling with whether to run the stage with arms open wide in consolation, or to avert our gaze. We watched as he navigated the rollercoaster of emotions that bubbled and rose to the surface, broadcasted live and on the big screen.
In the heaviness and intensity, when we were faced with our mortality through the experience of another human being coming to terms with his own impending death, the moment was transformed, and Gord reminded us to live.
We listened intently and compassionately as his lyrics echoed a sentiment to live wholly and fully, here and now, while he reminded us that there is, “no dress rehearsal, this is our life.”
I don’t go around waving a Canadian flag all the time because Canadian = humble but I was really proud damnit. We got together to celebrate life and all the pain and beauty that comes along with it. And it was fucking beautiful.