"At The Hundredth Meridian," by the Tragically Hip
On stage, he mesmerized us all (and himself, too, I'd guess). He couldn't really dance, but he could really beautifully move that utterly honest, entranced body of his when it contained only the music he was hearing. He "danced" like Van Morrison sings: you can't exactly predict what's about to happen, but when it does, you know it was the right thing to do. I saw The Tragically Hip in a small venue (can't remember what it was called) in Toronto in the early 1990s. My friends and I were a lot older than most of our fellow fans, and I myself was also probably the most uncomfortable pre-geezer in that little hall. (Where were all the chairs?) But it was all tremendous vibrating fun, and we all got to see a top-notch rock combo right in front of us in a place that wasn't big enough to muddify the music.
No song I heard at that concert stands out above the others, so I can't use its memory to choose a number from the night that makes me feel both great and grateful to this band and its kinetically amazing front man, who died far too early a couple of days ago. I like to believe was as good a father to his four children, who were with him when he died, as he was a rock star and an activist and worker for a wider benevolence.
But this song, this number, this three-and-a-half minutes of swampy, joyous energy -- well, it makes me believe in magic, an essential element of all great songs. And if you don't think Gord Downie was a magician, just listen to him sing this song, especially when, near the end, for the seventh and final time, he sings the phrase "where the great plains begin," holding on to it until you're worried he might not make it out of the song alive. He did, of course, which is at least partially why it gets me down that he isn't anymore.