Thursday, October 19, 2017

Gord Downie RIP

Between the "Man Machine Poem" album and tour, his political activism, various public honours, and new solo albums, Downie had been so active over the past 18 months that one could almost forget that his death was going to happen sooner rather than later. 

The Tragically Hip story has been told countless times, and it's always the same: huge in Canada, but never broke through anywhere else.  In Canada, just to be clear, they were as big as a band can possibly be in the music industry.  They sold out arenas and headlined festivals for over two decades.  Almost every one of their albums were certified platinum, and three were certified diamond (the equivalent of selling ten million copies in the US).  Yes, they sang about uniquely Canadian places, people, and events, which may have limited their appear for international audiences.  But for a diverse array of major artists, from British classic rock bands to LA-based rappers, such introspection wasn't a hindrance in their rise to prominence. 

Downie was Michael Stipe's everyman poet mixed with the manic unpredictability of an Iggy Pop.  He was a unique visionary fronting a band of ordinary looking dudes who were content to let him hog the spotlight.  It was not unlike the role that Jarvis Cocker played as the frontman and main creative and lyrical force behind Pulp. 

Tragically Hip were hugely popular but not necessarily influential.  They didn't spawn a slate of copycat bands.  They were a hard working bar band that struck gold, which was improbable even while it was happening.  How do you copy a formula that had already been copied in hundreds of dives across multiple countries?  There's little doubt that Downie was the spark that made them different from all the other bands who never got out of playing a twice weekly residence at a small bar in their hometown.  But now that he's gone, the remaining members can take the Grateful Dead route if they want it, and play "Tragically Hip and Friends" gigs all across Canada for the rest of their working lives.   

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