“It would be hard for me now, at this age and stage, to leave a song without a glimmer of hope… I always like to have a glimmer of hopefulness, even in collapse.”
These are the words of none other than Gord Downie.
Last week Tuesday, Gord passed away at the age of 53.
He was one of Canada’s most poignant storytellers (depending on who you talk to, perhaps THE most poignant). But the beauty in his work is that it extends far beyond his career. It was his way of never wasting a single note in his music that will continue to live on in Canadians' hearts forever.
Every word, every prose, every breath served a purpose in telling narrative after narrative. Even the painful ones.
Gord is who captured our minutes this week, and forever.
In the marketing world and far beyond, it’s a common goal to always speak and act with intention. To be something bigger than what’s on the page and to leave a lasting impact, no matter how big or small.
Over his 30-plus-year career, both solo and with The Tragically Hip, Downie did that by telling undisputedly Canadian stories. Whether linear flowing or metaphorical to the bone, each song represented something that Canadians could easily latch onto.
As written in Macleans, “paramount to his appeal as a rock lyricist, of course, is Downie’s elevation of Canadian geography and mythology to the level of the mystical.”
Admittedly, Canadians have a bit of a complex when it comes to how we view ourselves in comparison to our neighbours to the south.
The American identity is quite built on their pride in their stories and storytelling, but we don’t always feel that we have that – at least at the same distinct level.
But Gord and The Hip always managed to do just that, and distinctly so.
“Their brew is a totally distinct recipe. What more can you ask for than when you drop the needle on something and you can instantly say, ‘Oh, that’s the Tragically Hip.’” – Joel Plaskett, Macleans
Gord was exclusively ours. He and The Hip weren’t a Canadian-American band. They made their names here and stuck to it. So, when you mean more to a smaller group of people, you resonate even more so. That’s what helps you win the Battle for Time.
Perhaps even more powerful than his electric presence and the feeling he poured into his work though, was the way he fearlessly took on the subjects that no one wants to touch.
In 2014, he was quoted as saying to the Canadian Press, “I haven’t written… any pro-Canada lyrics, any kind of jingoistic, nationalistic cant. That stuff doesn’t interest me and I don’t even know if I could write that if I tried, because I don’t really feel it.”
Now wait, we’re not making him out to ruin any national pride you may hold for him. Quite the opposite.
As The Huffington Post so aptly explained, Gord didn’t feel the need to put Canada on a pedestal. Instead, he wanted to tell even the dark aspects of our country’s story and while doing so, raise up the figures we forgot about.
“Instead, Downie recognized the darkness lurking behind our politeness and the injustices of our system. So he shone his lyrical light on Canada's tragic figures and proud resistors ranging from residential school escapees and wrongfully convicted prisoners, to star-crossed hockey players and Nazi-punching Jews.”
Some of these stories were heartbreaking. Frustrating. Downright painful. But we needed to hear them. Again, it only brought us closer.
For Gord, it was very clearly about making sure these stories could be shared amongst everyone, from generation to generation. That kind of lasting power and ability to resonate doesn’t come often.
Still, everyone has their own definitions of what it means to be an icon. But for us, and especially as it pertains to Gord, it’s all about imprinting change through the work you do all the while staying authentic to that work.
And for what Gord has done in that regard, we’ll always be grateful. Thank you for the gift of song. In you Gord, we trust.
At the end of the day, people engage with content by lending their minutes. Content is successful when its battery is fully charged with attention.
What will win this week?
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