Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been struggling to explain why the death of Gord Downie has hit Canada so hard. The best comes from the New York Times which understands that America has no analogue to a person of Gord’s stature. It says this in an obituary: “Imagine Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe combined into one sensitive, oblique poet-philosopher, and you’re getting close.” That’s pretty good.
I wrote this for the Postmedia chain of papers.
Dear Rest of the World:
You’re probably looking at Canada (if you look at us at all) and wondering how an entire nation can be consumed with grief over the death of a singer. A rock singer, no less.
“Seriously, Canada? And even your Prime Minister was crying? And now some people are talking about a state funeral for this guy? What’s up with that?”
It’s … hard to explain. But let me try.
First, we’re not ashamed about any of this. You see, The Hip was Canada’s house band and their frontman was our defacto poet laureate. To put it another way, if there was a World Cup of Rock, Canada would send The Tragically Hip.
Second, The Hip taught us about ourselves. Gord and the band were unabashedly Canadian without being jingoistic or wrapping themselves in the flag. How many people learned of Hugh MacLennan or David Milgaard through Hip lyrics? How many people across the country were sent to atlases to locate Bobcaygeon or Algonquin Park? And then there were all the hockey stories: Bill Barilko, references to the 1972 Canada-Russia series.
If there isn’t already an undergraduate course that teaches Canadian history, politics, geography and sociology using the lyrics of The Tragically Hip, it’s just a matter of time.
Read the whole story here.