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STEVE BARTLETT: Gord Downie, and the gift that lasts

The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie will perform solo as part of WE Day Atlantic Canada in Halifax today.
The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie. - SaltWire Network
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Yesterday was the third anniversary of an unexpected, life-changing experience.

I remember sitting in Section 306, Row R — peak of the nosebleeds — in the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa and being completely blown away.

I remember it as clearly as anything else — good and bad — that’s happened in my life.

I remember it because of a man in a feathered, wide-brimmed hat and shiny green suit who was battling brain cancer.

I remember it because of Gord Downie.

I was never a huge, huge Hip fan before the Aug. 18, 2016, show. I owned a couple of albums, knew their more popular songs, and had long felt a connection with Downie because of the hat he wore in the video for “At The Hundredth Meridian.” (The lettering on the cap reads “Gros Morne National Park,” one of the most majestic and magical places in the world. I was fortunate enough to grow up 90 car minutes away.)

But that concert — the second last Hip show ever — changed me forever 14 words into the opening song, “Boots or Hearts” — “Well I think that there's a problem here Her voice just don't sound right …"

It seemed like Downie was talking about his own challenge and his changed voice, that he was saying, “Listen up, here’s what’s going on with me.”

The rest of the evening was an intimate spectacle, where 21,000 sang in unison with a dynamic, but dying, artist who wanted to leave them with his life’s work.

I accepted Gord’s offering that night. I’ve become a happier human for doing so.

A few of you are rolling eyes — and I might too — if these were someone else’s words. But no dress rehearsal; this is my life.

Gord Downie has become my muse, my sidekick, my jam.

If struck by a writer’s block, I listen to The Hip or visit hipmuseum.com/ for inspiration.

When travelling alone on the highway, Gord and I have incredible singalongs that leave me sore-throated, but smiling.

If the kids are in the car and getting bored, we put on The Hip and jam to “New Orleans is Sinking” or “Fifty Mission Cap.”

One of the CDs in The Hip’s two-disc set “Yer Favourites” has been playing in my car since 2016 and I have zero desire to put in another recording.

What does all this have to do with journalism, the theme and purpose of this column?

Nothing really, but you may have heard or read a few things about this industry’s challenges or changing nature.

I’m heavily involved in the SaltWire team that’s helping navigate the fast-moving waters and setting a course for the future.

Gord Downie has become my muse, my sidekick, my jam.

I’m chuffed and optimistic about where we’re going and what we’re planning, buoyed by a sense the public is finally starting to realize how important journalism is to their lives, that they don’t want to deal with the mess of a world where decision-makers are not held accountable or issues aren’t debated and discussed.

I’m also impressed by our team, from the managers leading the charge to the journalists who are embracing the direction.

Planning for the weeks, months and years ahead is busy work and the crew is going above and beyond.

I love being part of it, but it can be intense.

Last week, a close friend asked how I escaped the hectic pace of journalism today.

“I turn on The Hip in the parking lot and rock out all the way home,” I told him, “and then I’m usually in a great place by the time I see my family.”

Thanks for that gift, Gord.

Steve Bartlett is SaltWire Network’s senior managing editor. Reach him at [email protected]


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