Here’s what the Tragically Hip means to me, found in a memory, over 20 years old, high on a clearcut overlooking Mereworth Sound in the B.C. Rainforest.
The day was hot. I was tired, sore, strafed by a legion of mosquitoes, and I couldn’t quit because I was broke. All I had to push me forward through that day was a single cassette tape, Trouble At The Henhouse. I played it over and over again on my Walkman as I planted tree after tree across a jagged, ragged clearcut.
As I crested a rise, threw my tired body over deadfall, I came across a doe, grazing quietly. It looked up, dismissed me, and went back to it’s meal.
Only meters from the deer, my planting partner, Rob, sat on a stump, his legs crossed like he was deep in meditation. He was long past his life’s Best Before date: broke and broken, his hair ragged and tossed like a salad, hungover and angry at life, but that’s not who he was at that moment. All the tension in his shoulders gone, his face calm, serene. Only his eyes moved, from the deer, to me, back to the deer, which ambled slowly toward him until it looked up, stopped, sniffed his arm, and walked by.
If Rob wanted to, he could have run his hand over the deer’s back. But he didn’t. He lived in that moment, lived it perfectly, and let the deer walk in then out of his life.
I watched it all, not moving, The Tragically Hip blaring in my ears, the soundtrack of my life at that time and Gord Downie said that the world was a gift shop.
The song ended just as the deer moved out of sight, and Rob hopped down from the stump.
“I will never have a moment as perfect as that,” he said, and I didn’t answer because I didn’t have to.
Music matters; that’s a given, and it used to matter so much to me that it could keep me alive. But I fear that music no longer matters as much as it once did. Not to any of us.
With Spotify, Apple Music and iPhones, every song we want is available any time we want. We have fundamentally changed the way we listen to music, which means we have fundamentally changed its meaning.
Playlists are now specious, temporary things. We’ll never again be left with the agony of a 20 song mix, the only thing to listen to for eight hours driving from Quesnel to Vancouver. Or the tedium of cassettes listened to a dozen times each, the only thing that keeps you going over the autumn months at the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
We will never again be forced to listen to Fiddler’s Green over a hundred times in one season, with the last part of our mind dissecting the lyrics one more time before we fall asleep .
For myself, I have a list of people that I want to meet, and Gord Downie is on it. I don’t have anything of meaning to say to him. I just want to shake his hand. I just want to look him in the eye and say thank you.
Thank you for being the next song.