As surely everyone in Canada knows by now, Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip has passed away. Obit here.
I don't have any funny stories of running into him in a ski shop or anything like that. I do like their work a lot. I assume I became aware of the group in 1993 or so, when I moved to Toronto, though I think I had heard the name of the band before that (not that they ever got much airplay on US radio). I definitely picked up Fully Completely then and fell in love with the album. Over time I picked up all of their music, though curiously one of the last CDs I bought was Day for Night, which quickly became my second favourite album.
I saw them in Chicago in 1995, playing at Metro (they actually had a 3-night stand, but I can't recall which night I saw them). I didn't really try to follow them after that, but when I moved back to Toronto in 2014 I had more chances to see them. They had this short outdoor set, somehow related to the Hockey Hall of Fame, where they played 3 or 4 songs, including 50 Mission Cap. Then I saw them at the ACC for the Fully Completely Tour, and then I (reluctantly) paid the scalper prices to see them on the last Toronto show on the epic, final tour. That's probably a fair number of times to see them for someone who didn't really grow up with them as part of the soundtrack to their lives, as many younger Canadians have done.
What impressed me most about Gord's determination to keep creating music and to give back to the fans one last time, even after the cancer diagnosis. On top of the final tour, he recorded two solo projects -- Secret Path, about the tragedies of residential schools, and Introduce Yerself, a double CD, which is supposed to hit stores on Oct. 27. It's an awful shame that he didn't live to see it released, but I assume he was happy with the final product. I've preordered it and should have it soon. I have no idea if the Hip recorded any material in his final year. I assume there won't be any of this "Free as a Bird" nonsense where they take rehearsal tapes and other unreleased material and try to shape it into an album. But it is possible that there is material that would have met Gord's approval for being released, and if so, we'll hear about it soon enough.
I do sometimes wonder what I would do if I knew I had just a year to live. I'm not sure I could do anything differently to make more of an impact at work. I've contributed to a number of travel demand models, particularly the ones in place in New York and in Vancouver, but this isn't the kind of thing one person can put on their shoulders and bulldoze through in a year. I'd probably be better off quitting and travelling to the places I really want to see (or see again): London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Madrid, Prague, St. Petersburg (for the Hermitage). I suppose I could cut down my reading list to 20-25 stone-cold classics that I just have to read (Austen's Emma, Dickens's David Copperfield, Trollope's The Way We Live Now, Faulker's Snopes Trilogy, Fante's Bandini Quartet and Lowry's Under the Volcano as a start). And I would probably get more serious about knuckling down and finishing up writing these plays. Right now, I have this all spread out on the assumption that I have another 30 years or so to accomplish everything, though that is by no means guaranteed. I'll see what I can do to accelerate some of these things before I hit 50.
Anyway, so long, Gord, and thanks for all the music and the memories.