Dear Gord Downie (memory and poem) / by Aaron Adair

In anticipation of seeing your show in Calgary on Monday, I’ve been listening to the Hip’s albums chronologically over the past few days (I’m on Music at Work as I write this). During this nostalgic trip, I remembered a simple little story that I think you might appreciate.

    It must have been September 1996. I was entering my second year as a university student, and my buddies and I decided to line up for parking passes on the University of Saskatchewan campus. There was no option to phone in to reserve the luxury of being able to drive to school and park, hassle free, on campus; we were still years away from playing the frustrating luck of the draw Internet ticketing option. Back then, the only way to get the this parking privilege was to camp out for a weekend in front of the newly constructed Agriculture Building. It was actually kind of fun.
    We set up a tent along Campus Drive, drew up shifts of who would man the camp, and hoped for the best in the parking pass lottery. We also envisioned that we’d get some sleep on the Sunday night before the passes went on sale, but our not yet 20-year-old brains were mistaken because—well—we were not yet 20-year-old men.
    I remember that I foolishly crawled into the tent before 3am (on Monday by that point) to try to get a little sleep. Only minutes later, my buddy Jay burst in the tent and rounded up everyone around us to start a road hockey game. I don’t even know where the sticks came from. Maybe we all just carried them around back then. The Canadian version of Licensed to Carry.
    Some crude form of nets took shape on the roadway, probably with whatever dirty laundry we could pull from people’s tents, and the game began. Stick slapped. Knees were skinned. Silent elbows were thrown about. Body checks between friends tossed some boys from the road to the grass. It was 3am, and it was intense.
    Toward the end of the game, probably getting close to the first team to ten, the always-orange road hockey ball found its way into a darkened bush along the Vet. Med. Building across from where we were tenting. No matter how orange it was we were not going to find that ball. The momentum of the game broke, and as the adrenaline subsided some of us started thinking about the campers who were actually trying to sleep, and how we young a-holes were ruining that pursuit. 
    Just then, a campus cop car pulled up behind one of the nets. 
    “Car!”
    “Oh sh*t! It’s the cops!”
    Surely we were done. 
    Game Over.
    But wait! Were we actually breaking some campus bylaw? Either way, I grabbed my stuff and thought about heading to the tent.
    Well, the cop got out of his car and fired up his blinding white sidelight. But, instead of turning it on us, he turned it toward the Vet. Med. Building.
    “That where your ball went?” 
    Adrenaline returned as a pre-dawn hero emerged with the ball. 
    “Game on!”

With the ball found
The game was won.
By which team? Who knows?
It was more than just good fun.

  As our sweat cooled on the dewy grass, and the sun started to reflect off the glass façade of the Ag. Building, the tenters were moved into a dusty parkade to begin the actual lineup for parking passes. We got no sleep on the concrete floor, but we emerged into the morning with a few well-earned bruises accompanied by our freshly acquired passes.

  This is just a simple Canadian moment like many of the songs you’ve crafted that have made you feel like one of the guys to so many Canadians. 

Oh!

    After we got our passes? We hopped into my mom’s ’86 Caprice Classic station wagon. You know, the white wagon with the faux wood paneling? We raced through the awakening streets of Saskatoon.
    To get downtown
    To get into another lineup
    To buy tickets
    To see The Hip.

A few weeks later, we were front row centre, soaking in your Canadiana.
_________________________________________________________________________________
Gord. (By the way, has anyone asked if we can call you that?)

Your impact is staggering.
Your words have moved mountains.
Or at least
They’ve created them.

You craft stories that make my mind
Consider the lives of Canadians different from myself.
You made a younger me research Tom Thompson (and Falstaff, and Cordelia).
You put Bobcaygeon on my map.

We’ve sung your songs
Around campfires in Northern Saskatchewan.
We got most of the words right
Just mumbled the rest.

But the lyrical hooks on the water’s edge
Always drew us together.

Some of us even imitated you
On stage
Improvising through the spaces
Crafting new one-shot songs over Rock n Roll standards.

Selfishly
I want you to be here
Making music
For my years to come.

I’ve always pictured you
Years down the road
Popping up here and there on TV
Commenting on Canadian identity.

As you age
You’d become
Your own perfect blend
Of Cohen and Cherry.

Yeah. That’s right.

A romantic poet’s pen
Carving out ballads of the beauty of rink life.
A pensioner with an incurable passionate patriotism
And a no excuses Don’tGiveAF*** attitude.

I’d catch glimpses of you
On CBC
Watching the Bruins and the Leafs
At the ACC.

But, 
As you live,
As you fight
Like so many characters you’ve donned on stage,
I’ll celebrate your words
And music
And envision you carrying on
With Courage
And
Grace, Too.

Thank you.