August 20, 2016 by T. Gregory Argall
Excluding love songs, rock lyrics mainly fall into one of two categories.
1/ Songs that are clearly about something; they tell a story. Bruce Springsteen, Harry Chapin, and Neil Young are great examples of this.
2/ Nearly random strings of words that you’re not sure what they mean but you like the music. Like, say, Duran Duran or Wang Chung. David Bowie made a science of this at one point in his career.
And then there’s Gord Downie. His lyrics are random strings of words that absolutely sound like they’re about something. Everyone is pretty sure they know what the song “Ahead By A Century” is about, until they actually try to explain it. Same with “Bobcaygeon.” Beautiful lyrics that paint a vivid detailed picture of… something. Deeply moving, the words reach inside of you and stay with you, lingering with a sense of being part of something bigger. You’re just not certain what.
That’s one of the amazing things about Gord’s lyrics. It’s a bait-and-switch. For example, the song about Bill Barilko, the hockey player who disappeared on a fishing trip after winning the Stanley Cup for the Leafs… That song’s not about him at all; it’s about a hat. It even says so in the title. Not sure how you could have missed that.
The way Gord Downie’s mind assembles words is a gift, a gift that fans, even casual fans, of the Tragically Hip know well.
If you are in (or connected to) Canada and you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that tonight is the final performance on the Tragically Hip’s final tour. It’s a proper, very Canadian, share-it-with-everyone farewell because Gord has brain cancer.
Tonight, as the Kingston concert is broadcast across the country on the CBC, and across the internet through the CBC online, Canada will share smiles and memories and more than a few tears. We’ll come away from it with the sense that something important has been stolen from us. But also, we’ll know that as music fans, and as a nation, we have been a part of something special, something big and meaningful, that will echo significantly for years.
We just won’t be absolutely certain what.
And I think that’s the most beautiful thing about this whole mess.
Try to be nice to each other. For Gord.
Please support the Gord Downie Fund For Brain Cancer Research at https://donate.sunnybrook.ca/braincancerresearch