I swore I’d be fine, that I wouldn’t lose it during the Tragically Hip’s show in Hamilton earlier this week, that I would be stoic and appreciative, and that’s it. I made it halfway through the second song of the night, “Courage.” From that point forward, I was a complete mess. To be honest, I’ve been a bit of a mess ever since.
People who don’t “get” the Tragically Hip will likely find this melodramatic. People who do “get it” understand that when the band announced earlier this year that singer Gord Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, the universe suddenly felt like a callous and unkind place. On Saturday, several thousand people who do indeed “get it” filled Larkin Square to take in a live simulcast of the band’s final show of its summer tour, beamed via CBC from the Hip’s home town of Kingston, ON. The venue was filled to capacity. Buffalo has always been as passionate about the Hip as are our Canadian brothers and sisters.
Unsurprisingly, emotions ran incredibly high from the get-go, for though no one involved with the band has said that this is the end, there is a real fear that it could be. Downie’s generosity of spirit, abundant fortitude and yes, dammit, courage, have been impossible to miss during this summer’s tour, whether you were lucky enough to attend one of the shows, or watched them on You Tube or via Periscope. It takes a special kind of person to take on an endeavor of such emotional and physical magnitude while battling a grave illness. Hip fans already knew Downie was a rare and beautiful bird. But this? This goes far beyond any reasonable call of duty. It feels like an act of pure love.
Sadly, the Larkin event had no control over the sound quality of the feed from the CBC for the event on Saturday. Sound quality was poor at best, and non-existent in some areas. The crowd grew frustrated, their frustration compounded by lines for beer and concessions that wrapped around the entire grounds. It became clear that this event was a great idea that wasn’t coming together in the way we’d all hoped it would. Customers were offered their money back if they wanted.
Even with the poor sound and challenging sight lines, a fair amount of people walked the tightrope between jubilation and heartbreak at Larkin Square on Saturday.
Of course they did. We’re all of us flesh and blood, an elaborately wired mechanism of instinct and impulse and clockwork precision, and beings that cling to hope despite the evidence that the universe is a random one – we are at once a man, a machine and a poem.
We have more empathy for each other than we are taught to share, because beneath it all, we know we are the same. So we cried for Gord’s suffering, for the potential loss of the communities we’ve built around our love for this band, and maybe even for the children we were when we first fell for them.
A friend of mine said it best on Saturday.
“I love this band, this man, this music, this world he created. And I don’t want him to die.”