It may have felt like it to all of us who were watching, but The Tragically Hip‘s triumphant show in Kingston last night was NOT the only concert going on. While Canada shut down for everyone to gather together and watch one of our most beloved perform for what could possibly be the last time, Pearl Jam were on stage at Wrigley Field, performing what turned out to be a 3+ hour, 34-song set.
Now there’s no question that Pearl Jam are huge down in the United States and, well, across the world. While The Tragically Hip are music royalty in Canada, they don’t have nearly the same kind of following south of the border. I get the impression many Americans are vaguely familiar with The Hip, but they never did get quite the following they deserved down there. And that’s certainly alright with me, and I’m assuming most other Canadians. Who knows what might have happened if they’d found success down there? Maybe they would have lost whatever it is that makes them the quintessential Canadian rock band. Fortunately, that never happened.
The point I’m trying to get at here is that Pearl Jam, worldwide stars, owed nothing to The Hip. Still, they took time out of their marathon concert so that Eddie Vedder could say a few words about the band and their frontman, who he had been lucky enough to spend a few days with years ago. There’s no way that crowd could have known what we as Canadians were feeling in that moment, but it was a damn classy move on Vedder’s part.
Meanwhile, up here, we were busy trying to hold back our tears while Downie was up on stage, wiping away his own.
— CBC News (@CBCNews) August 21, 2016
That was just one of many very raw, emotional moments during the show. Gord put on a brave face throughout, never mentioning his condition, even though it was clear he is no longer physically able to perform like we’ve always known him to. This moment hit me like a punch to the ribs though. Maybe it’s because I know that feeling of being sad and frustrated to the point where all you can do is scream and yell in a vain attempt to make everything okay again. Maybe it’s because as recently as a week ago, a very close family friend lost her battle with brain cancer, and those screams represent what I can only imagine the family she left behind must be feeling.
Maybe it’s just the unfairness of it all. While you wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone, it often seems to go after the lights that shine the brightest. To Canadians, Gord Downie is one of those shining lights, putting the feelings we’ve all had into words and sharing bits and pieces of Canadian history in a way that’s engaging to all of us. In the case of that family friend, she didn’t have the kind of fame that Gord Downie does, but she was a blinding bright light to many who knew her. A great wife and mother to her two sons, a person who helped countless people during her many years of service as a nurse at PRHC, and one of the kindest souls I’ve ever met. It’s just not fair.
But I digress. I think we all felt Gord’s pain (and the pain of anyone who’s had to deal with such an awful affliction) last night. When he said “Have a nice life” as he walked off the stage, I wanted to lose it right then and there. Fortunately, those weren’t the last words he had for the entire country. Nope, he came out for a second encore, then a third one.
When all was said and done, when the last notes had rung out and all that was left was the applause and screams of an incredible crowd, all he had left to say was “Thank you.” He didn’t even have to say that. Everything he could have wanted to say had been said by his performance. Those of us who paid attention got it. Those of us who didn’t probably never will – and I feel bad for those people.
Don’t thank us, Gord. It is us who should be thanking you.
Thank you for sharing your art with us, your wit and wisdom. Thank you for educating Canadians about their great country. Thank you for standing up for those who have trouble standing up for themselves. And thank you for going out there and giving it all for your adoring fans when you could have easily just thrown in the towel. We know that’s not your style – and we’re forever grateful.