Today is the fifth anniversary of Gord Downie’s death and I can still count on one hand the number of acts that were/are capable of shaking my soul in a live setting. Whenever The Tragically Hip came to town, Downie, Rob Baker, Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair, and Johnny Fay transcended the space in such a way that I couldn’t help but rue the fact that they never achieved fame on a global scale. Every show was a celestial convergence of sight and sound that made me feel like a better person for having experienced everything they were willing to share with the audience in that moment.
In my head, I understood why not everyone felt as innate of a connection to the music as I did, but, in my heart, I didn’t want to live in a world in which Downie wasn’t celebrated on the same level as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, or any other major lyricist from the Twentieth Century and beyond. He could do humor, poetry, storytelling, and obscure historical references as well as anyone while simultaneously mastering the art of improvisation to where you never knew what was going to happen from song to song. If you had too much to drink either before or during the set (which a lot of people did), chances are you were going to miss something extraordinary as you navigated your way through the morass.
As important as The Hip’s 13 studio albums and myriad live bootlegs are to my life, what Downie did to build awareness of the atrocities committed against Canada’s indigenous people at the end of his life is what really cemented his legacy. He used his platform to give a voice to the voiceless and his message of reconciliation lives on through projects such as “The Secret Path” and The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund. Because it’s 2022 and everything is viewed through a prism of white guilt, I’m sure there are people out there who will criticize his work as self-serving, but anyone subscribing to that belief would be sorely misguided. He spoke out selflessly and without fear of how his brutal truths would be received by the Canadian government.
In honor of Gord and all that he stood for, I’ve assembled a list of my Top 20 Hip songs for your listening pleasure. As a diehard fan, narrowing it down to 20 was an arduous task, but speaks to just how deep the catalog is.
- “Nautical Disaster”
- “It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken”
- “Grace, Too”
- “Looking For a Place to Happen”
- “Locked in the Trunk of a Car”
- “Gift Shop”
- “Gus: The Polar Bear From Central Park”
- “The Depression Suite”
- “When the Weight Comes Down”
- “Yawning or Snarling”
- “On the Verge”
- “Lake Fever”
- “She Didn’t Know”