Thursday, December 22, 2016

Stream of Thought for the Eastside Troopers

Its been a tough month for the troopers. I’m not talking about the police, but the street-level denizens of the DTES. I did a play around the turn of the century (which has since been turned into a Leacock award winning novel) called “City Boy in a Cowboy Town” by Mark Leiren-Young.  In it the impoverished down-and-out inhabitants of the eponymous Cowboy Town are referred to as troopers.  It kinda stuck for me, though no one ever understands what I am talking about. Not the police. The homeless.
I’m supposed to be writing something else at this very moment, but the sirens are far too regular outside right now. That’s a reality of this neighbourhood. The sirens at any time of night every night. Ditto chemically induced screaming, but that is often a different thing entirely. These past few weeks though have been rough.
First off it has been cold. Yeah, I know “rest-of-Canada” our notion of cold is laughable to you. But I grew up in the interior of BC. I know what sub forty weather is like. It has genuinely been cold here. Not sub forty. Not even sub fifteen. But as soon as it is sub zero people are freezing.  You can be hypothermic in temperatures ten degrees above zero. And that is where our warm climate really gets the homeless when we get an extended cold snap. We have the homeless population we have in Vancouver in part because of the warm weather. The homeless gravitate here because it is easier to survive when you don’t have the temperature extremes of the prairie provinces.  So there are more people out there to freeze, and they aren’t as prepared because they don’t usually have to be as prepared. They aren’t as prepared. The city isn’t as prepared. Its hard for either party to justify being prepared for something that happens so infrequently.
I ended up shin deep in a puddle of icy water  this past week. It was awful. Fortunately I was going to be in a warm place for most of the day and would be home to dry socks in a few hours. I can barely imagine not having had that in my immediate future. The degree to which I can imagine it is uncomfortable, to say the least.
And then there is the fentanyl.
I figure its been about a year since I first heard of a fentanyl death – maybe eighteen months. A young couple in North Vancouver – both dead, child left behind. Last week there were nine fatal overdoses in one night. Not all overdoses are fentanyl, but it is very clear that fentanyl is a serious culprit. That really was a night where the sirens never really stopped.  We hear stories in the news about the PTSD that emergency workers are experiencing right now – that they can literally save one person three times in a night.
I somewhat guiltily share this neighbourhood with these people. To some we are an evil – the gentrify-ers living in the buildings above their heads. To others we are a source. To some we are neighbours. I favour the last outlook, but I admit its complicated. Its not what I want to write about it tonight while a war for survival is fought in ear shot of where I sit.
I know these people. Not really well. But I know them. Some of them I know by name. Some I really like. A few really annoy me. Just like in any other social grouping. Except in this case its hard to judge my own motivations cleanly. The troopers who I like are easy to live with. They are also those who I am most likely to help when I can. The ones who annoy me are the ones who probably need help more, but in most cases I can least trust them to use my help productively. (That is code for “I can’t give them money because I am reasonably certain it will be used for drugs, not the food or shelter they claim it is for.”) I see a good number of them at least once a week and it makes me uncomfortable knowing that it inevitably that will end and more than likely it will end in some nearly anonymous tragedy that is already well into its middle act.
One day I will see each of them for the last time. It has happened before. The Push-up Guy. I gave him socks once when his feet were bare and mine were going to be warm at home soon enough. I don’t have much hope that he made it out alive. But he’s been gone for years now.  Ditto the Bad-hair-cut. The homeless aren’t really known for style, but this one… holy smokes – bad hair-cut. But I can’t do it justice and I don’t have a picture and I never will, because she is gone. Odds aren’t good there is a happy ending there either. Abdul. There may be a good ending to that tale. He may really have been a kid from Somalia who just got in a tight spot and was having some trouble getting out. I never saw any sign that he was anything but hungry. I hope he made it somewhere where he can get on with life. But I’ll probably never know.
I do know in a few cases. Troopers whose lives got better. One was a woman who we occasionally took a hot meal to when we had extra. One day she disappeared. She was old enough that it didn’t have to be particularly tragic to have meant she had died. But it turned out it wasn’t. It took about two years. Then one day there she was calling to our daughter from across the street – happy to see her and say ‘hi’ and looking considerably healthier. I wasn’t there, but I’ve been told she had gained some well needed weight and was almost unrecognizable for all the right reasons. Another was the case of someone from back home whose life took a bad turn. Every time I saw them they were a little worse, a little further gone. Then came the day that they walked right past me, not only not aware that the person they were brushing past was someone from “back when” but not aware that there was another soul in arms reach at all. I assumed that was the last time I would see them.  Then, a few years later, on Thanksgiving of all days, they were getting on the train I was getting off of, and a bit of hard living aside they looked as normal as anyone. I did not realize who it was. I was on the platform and the train was pulling away before I realized that my prediction that I would never seem them again was wrong and they had found a way free. These are the good stories.
But there will be lots of bad stories from this past month. It could take me months more before I realize that there are regulars who I don’t see any more and that the last time was before this brutal month.  I can’t even catalogue all the troopers I keep an informal mental tally of. Off the top of my head I can’t even think if there is currently anyone out there whose actual name I know. There’s the Tatted Wheelchair guy. The Friendly 7-11 Lady. The Dignified Spinster. The Disarmingly Honest Schizophrenic. Caucasian Crazy-Eyes. Slick. Hammond (Not his real name… unless by fluke.) Siberia. The One Armed Painter. Piano Man. Throaty Francophone… come to think of it, I haven’t seen her in ages.
There.  Right there. Throaty Francophone. Very annoying, that one. I’m relieved she is gone. But I want her to have got out in a good way. I have my doubts though. She didn’t seem to be trying to get out – like Abdul was. And she seemed too healthy to be catapulted out by hitting rock bottom. But rock bottom is different for everyone, right? And maybe she survived a bad overdose and that was all the wake-up call she needed. Or maybe she thought she was invincible and went too far, or was hooking and things went really really bad. I think we forget that that can still happen here in Vancouver. We got “the guy” so now no prostitutes are ever in any danger. Bull. Shit.
And any awareness we had for sex-workers in danger has been entirely overshadowed by the fentanyl crisis. I don’t even understand this. I admit it. What is the business model that includes selling a product that kills your customers at an alarming rate? Yes, heroin, crack, meth all do the same thing. But WAY less frequently. I really don’t follow how this is beneficial to the dealers cutting it into the supply. Unless I’m getting the metaphor completely wrong. There isn’t a war going on out in the streets of the DTES, the DTES is Birkenau and someone’s got it in their sick mind that fentanyl is the final solution. I feel a little dirty having even suggested it, but at least there is a logic there that makes some grotesque sense. If someone really wanted to clean up the “worst of the worst” of the Eastside, this would from a certain perspective help.
There’s the sirens again. Another trooper in trouble. Which of my neighbours this time? How long before I notice?

Take care out there. Good luck. May you find a good way out soon.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

VOTE Dammit!

I know that my own audience who can actually act upon this is small. The majority of people who read what I post do not have votes in the US election. But I suppose I know a lot of people who know people who can vote in the US election, so... I'll make this one final plea.

Barring any huge changes in the state of things, this is going to be the last thing of any substance I'm going to post beyond some possible snark and observation on Election Day. It's NaNoWroMo and I am 6000+ words in and don't have time to be writing this - except I couldn't live with myself if I didn't say it all one last time in as clear terms as I could muster.

I'm also aware that the majority of people I can reach with this already agree with me, so for the most part I'm shouting into the echo-chamber - but if there is any chance that my words influence anyone, I want to have put my words out there.

1) VOTE!  If you can vote on Tuesday, VOTE ON TUESDAY (or before, if you haven't already). Not voting is totally fucking childish. You have a vote. You have a stake in the result. Cynical "my vote doesn't count" is complete bullshit. I live in an area that ALWAYS votes the same way. ALWAYS. My vote counts. Because things change, and one day this area will vote a different way, and my vote now can support that change by showing it is possible - or it can reinforce the status quo if things are as contentious as they were in the last Canadian election (pretty much exactly a year ago) and safeguard against an unwanted result. So vote. Children below the age of majority don't have a vote. Don't be childish. Fucking vote. You don't get to live in a world where this goes the wrong way (however you define that) and you haven't voted and you get to righteously decry how it all went wrong - because YOU DIDN'T DO A GOD DAMNED THING ABOUT IT, even if you think it was just a token. In theory one electoral district could sway the whole thing and if it was yours and the difference was a (for example) just a few hundred votes (ahem, Florida, Nov, 2000) YOUR non-vote coupled with a bunch of lazy like-minded people just like you, made a difference, and there are ZERO bragging rights attached to inaction. VOTE!

2) DON'T VOTE THIRD PARTY.  I get it. The two party political duopoly is broken. You are absolutely right. And your moral high ground is noted. But your moral high ground is built upon a hill of wax and when the wrong side wins because you voted third party, and the whole country bursts into flames of ire, fear and hatred (assuming you don't believe that has already happened) your moral high-ground is going to melt into a sticky mess. Pick a real side, for Pete's sake! Only Hillary or Donald will be President on January 20th. Not Gary. Not Jill. Not Bernie by write in. Evan McMullin has a theoretical chance, but it's just theoretical. Non-zero. But really the possibility that he could win is just a gedanken-experiment that political analysts play for fun, ' cause "headlines."
I know you are disaffected and you think both the other candidates are as bad as one another. (They aren't - see #3 below.) I know you are tired of the status quo. I got it. I heard it. I am even with you for the most part... except one critical thing... NONE of the options other than the nominees of the two major parties are actually going to win, so don't waste your vote. Its practically as bad as not voting. No. I take that back. It's worse, 'cause you actually got to the polls and then wilfully did something asinine.
"But how will the third parties (the fact that that is plural is hilarious and just goes to show how ineffectual the alternate options are) ever get enough traction to compete, if we don't vote for them for realz in a Federal election?" Well for starters - this simply isn't the year. It's not. And not because this election is "soooo" historic - I'd have said that for each of the last four elections too, and at this point imagine I will in 2020. But because the foundation has not been set. The third parties need to work from the small up. You get traction locally. Then Statewide. THEN Federally. Here's the bad news - it takes a long time. I am pretty confident that I will never see a real third party in a US election. It took the NDP from before I was born until 2011 to get so far as being the official opposition in Canada. Our "fourth" party in Canada has been at it since I was 13 and has won ONE SEAT in the House of Commons in Ottawa. It grew from 11 independent candidates in Atlantic Canada with common ideals to the fledgling Federal actor it is today.  If you want a third party to bloom, it takes time, and it has to build up to relevance from small winnable contests before it can legitimately challenge for the title. Sorry. It would be great if reality was different. But this isn't the year. Go out and run locally under the third party banner of your choice in 2018 if you want to see that change. But vote Democrat (or Republican) on November 8th 2016, 'cause when you get right down to it, you DO care which of the real options prevail.

3) Vote for Clinton. You probably are voting for Clinton if you can vote and are reading this. SO, feel free to stop here. If you are voting for Trump... please work through the following... (but you won't because, I just might say something that clashes with your dearly held position and makes you uncomfortable.)

  1. Are you rich and have your ability to get richer at the top of your "must haves" list when picking a candidate? Well, go fucking vote Trump then. I still think you are making a mistake. I imagine that you are making a mistake if you game-out the long-haul, but who am I kidding, you aren't listening to me anyway.
  2. Are you any one or more of: homophobic, racist, misogynist, war-mongering, or sociopathic? No? Then you have no reason to vote for Trump. Just stop it.
  3. "Second amendment, YAR!" Your guns are safe... or rather... your guns aren't going to be taken away from you, no matter who you vote for. Really. REALLY. But let's talk about the second amendment in more detail next week, okay? Go vote for Hillary.
  4. You think Clinton is worse than Trump, no matter what he is. Okay... I know it is really late in the game to be working this angle, because none of us have much time, do we? And there is SO much to unpack here. But seriously. Take your pet argument and its reasonable counter argument and go and look at the facts. Don't take the word of either candidate as gospel. Identify any element of the argument where the two sides disagree and do some hard Googling. Google keywords about the argument. Add "pro" and "con" and "debunk" and "fact" and "explained" and "Republican" and "Democrat" to the key word searches (separately) and read more than one article on BOTH sides of the debate. If you see an article that opposes your view - definitely read that one. If articles don't provide specific references to verifiable facts, then give them less weight than those that do. (Way less, honestly.) Sleep on it all. If you still think Hillary is worse than Trump, I'm going to want to rescind point number one above about voting... but I have integrity. If you are thinking maybe there is something to the alternate viewpoint - take your second favourite argument and see how the facts stack up.
  5. You aren't racist. You aren't a misogynist. You aren't a homophobe. But the US is going to hell in a hand-basket and Donald is the first candidate who is really saying it like it is. Look. This is going to be hard to hear, but he is taking advantage of you. He is. He is saying exactly what you want to hear. He is playing upon your fears (and other emotions) without any regard for reality. He is inciting you to look at everything in your life that you aren't happy with and he is blaming it on other people and promising he can fix it without saying how. "He has plans. Big plans." But what are they? You can't tell me that. "He's going to deport all the illegal immigrants." Well, that is what he says... but how does he plan to do that? You don't have to go far along his intended course of action before things become vague and unformed and unactionable. He has no interest in you. He only has interest in his own empire and the next step in building it even bigger is to be President, so he can tweak the laws further in favor of him and his kind - who have been preying on you for generations. He is turning you against people who have been preyed upon even harder than you, making you think they are the problem, when they are being victimised by him and his sort just like you. He wants you to blame someone other than him, so he shouts that he can fix the problem and points at people not too different from yourself and claims they are at fault. AND then whenever he can get away with it, he tells them similar things. He has claimed that things will be better in the United States for various minorities under his Presidency and then told other groups of people how those minorities are the ones to blame for how shitty things are. For starters, things aren't half as shitty as you imagine they are - I know that's hard to believe, but just watch a few YouTube videos about life in Guatemala or Mogadishu or Mosul or Bangladesh or really, most of the places on the planet that aren't North America, Western Europe, Japan or a handful of highly functioning metropolises scattered elsewhere on the globe. America is totally great. Still and already. And yeah, it could be better, but not by making it worse for the people below you. That is only going to make America a contemptuous place inside and out.
Donald Trump, is probably the vilest human being who has ever been this close to being your President, and that bar is so low to the ground that its almost impossible to fit under it, yet he does. It's too easy to invoke the names of some of the objectively worst leaders in the history of mankind and go Godwin on Trump, but the reality is that it is hard to exaggerate how awful he is without doing so.


I assure you that if you do, we - the REST OF THE PLANET - are finished with America as the accepted beacon of hope and light and the global leader of what human civilization can aspire towards. Honestly, you may not easily be able to undo the damage you have done in that direction already. The world may well have passed "Peak 'Merica," it is certainly worth debate, but if Trump is in the White House, the debate is over, you will have, with irony, made a mockery of everything that was ever truly great about the United States.
So vote for imperfect, not-a-criminal, well-prepared-with-a-staggering-amount-of-relevant-experience, first-female-to-hold-the-position, Hillary. And if that is not "good-enough," then get to work on Bernie 2.0 or Paul Ryan back-to-the-GOP-log-house or Jill Stein for Massachusetts' 5th Congressional District 2020, or whatever your version "better future" is.

Friday, August 19, 2016


It is upon us. No dress rehearsal - this is our life. One more show to go. Just over 24 hours away. The band united a nation. First, slowly over the course of years of faithful commitment to the True North, and then again underlining it these past few months since we first heard the news, in one long concert event that has reached across the country and by the end of Saturday night will have gone around the globe. The band has reached an end that took thirty years to arrive at.

It may be true that not every Canadian is a fan of the Hip, but that fact that so very many of us are and that so many of those are snarling mad for them more than make up for those who yawn. So many of us won over throughout the years (I can walk you to the place in my hometown where I heard Small Town Bringdown when it first came out. Yea, I've been here all along.) All our home towns were cryptically being sung of then, and again over and over through the years. They shot a movie once, in my hometown, it's where I saw the Constellations pushing around a weathervane Jesus while stranded at the Unique Motel. Gord Downie managed to speak specifically to and of all of us.

This goodbye has been so unusual – unique even. Bands have broken up before. Musicians have died. Great things have come to an end because of tragedy and illness. But how many times have an artist’s fans been gifted with a farewell like this? How many times have the artists been gifted with it? Bowie – he knew what was coming and he made it art, but none of us knew what it was all about until he was gone. And we never got a chance to say goodbye. Prince – just gone. Even Spirit of the West… while close in essence… they didn’t fill arenas and there was no last great work – the magnitude was not there, and though I did not get to see any of those last shows, it sounds as though off-stage John Mann had already lost much of himself (which is heart-breaking). But in this case, Gord (and the rest of the fellows too, but let’s face it, their tragedy is that after thirty years of being the ‘other guys’ in Gord Downie’s band, they end has really – understandably - been ALL about him facing his final bow) has also been given this gift. 

I was fortunate to get to see them on the second night of the tour – the first of the two Vancouver shows. It wasn’t the best concert I’ve ever seen, nor the best Hip concert I’d ever seen (Tie: Canada Day 1992, Thunderbird Stadium or November(ish) 1993 Royal Theatre, Victoria – too hard to call.) but I have no doubt it is the one that I will remember the most. There is a moment – a very long moment – that will probably be the single most memorable concert moment of my life (and hey, I saw U2 right after the Enniskillen bombing). Grace, Too was the last song of the main set and there was a point where Gord stopped and looked out at the crowd where a look came over his face….  It went on for probably half a minute. I think we can safely say that Gord Downie was not known for his emotional honesty. Which is not to say that he was a disingenuous performer exactly, but that his style was (and for one more night, IS) a weird fantasy world of mime performed to dense, sung poetry and surreal monologues. Whether he had entered the persona of a doomed sailor, or an ill-fated pool-cleaner or half of a Canadian Bonnie & Clyde, or any of the thousand other characters from tales he vaguely told in a thousand different concerts, he was rarely showing us what Gord Downie himself felt. But not in this moment. He took in the crowd. Appreciative of them and appreciative of the moment. Appreciative of the place in our country’s history he has been given. A place he built out of a thousand pieces of the obscure Canadiana he appreciated. He wasn’t saying “thank you.” He was just being with us for a moment, knowing that all the tiny pieces like this one – that each we had taken for granted as they past had added up to something bigger and this moment embodied it. His part in our collective history, mirroring the impact of his career. Obviously, I don’t know what he was thinking in that moment – but that’s what I took away. Then the moment passed and the mime returned, hitting balls and throwing javelins into the crowd – shining a microphone-shaped flashlight out into the dark….

The moment in question occurs shortly after 2:45 - but you're going to watch the whole thing, right?

I’m trying hard not to put expectations upon tomorrow’s show. I'll watch the CBC broadcast from Kingston in the Woodward's Atrium - practically home. I’m going because it’s the last. I’m going because it is something that Canadians across the world will be sharing.  (For two hours or so, we will collectively quit paying attention to the Olympics. This band means a lot to Canada.) I’m going because I can share it with Jodie and December. (The former isn’t a Hip fan, but understands the importance. The latter doesn’t really even know the Hip yet, but someday I hope she will look back and recognize that the event was significant to me and that she was glad to have shared that.)  I do expect they will do the same thing they’ve done across the country where they spend the first half hour playing to each other, all but ignoring the audience – which is a tremendously powerful statement of brotherhood. I expect the crowd will sing along to even the most obscure of tracks. I expect I’ll cry before its over – hell, I’ve been crying intermittently about it being over since May.

And yes, Gord, you were always right. We will miss you. None of this “wait and you’ll see” bullshit. We will. Fully. And Completely.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Highest Office

Good morning Padawan.

By the time you read this, it will be old news. In fact it was practically old news by the time it happened. Yesterday something pretty amazing happened. Something that was a foregone conclusion by the time it happened. But something that had taken far longer to happen than it rightfully should have.* For the first time in history a woman was nominated to run for the President of the United States.**
It didn't happen here. Canada has already had a woman as Prime Minister, but we have yet to have a woman lead a party to victory, so we ourselves have some ground to cover. But the US is not only our (get ready for a few cliches) the big dog in the yard and our closest ally, but also totally fascinating - and fascinated with itself, so its hard to ignore. For all its myriad failures, it does get a lot of things right... or it least it has been - we shall see what happens in November.
Come November we will be witness to one of two things - either a woman will be President of the US for the first time, and that is pretty exciting; or the most objectionable candidate ever*** will be in office and while I don't want to be one of the historical cycle of sirens of the end-times who think the Golden Years are behind us, if Donald Trump becomes President, things are sure going to get interesting and while its likely to be entertaining, it isn't likely to be the sort of entertainment the world wants.
I really want to believe in this moment in our better angels. I want a world for you where you can reflect back on the day your Dad told you that this amazing moment in history had just happened and how it meant nothing to you at the time, and that though you hardly recall what it was like before you are so blessed to live in a true Golden Era where the bounds of equality are more inclusive than any generation before, where you, as a woman know no limits to what you may achieve. Where the men at your elbows are friends and colleagues and equals and no-one bears a false imprimatur of value based upon birthright of any measure.

Anyway... when you read this in whatever future manifests, the day I just spoke of - that was yesterday for me.

Love Dada.

*Note that Hillary Clinton losing the Democratic nomination in '08 should not be considered a social failure. Everything that was lost in women's causes was gained and more by people of colour.

**I acknowledge that other women have been in contention in the past as Vice-Presidential candidates, running for nomination without achieving it and running as nominees of parties that are politically irrelevant in terms of their ability to launch a campaign with any (let alone realistic) chance of success. Being didactic about this diminishes the impact of the actual achievement, I don't want to delve any further into it at this point.

***Yup, even more so than Nixon - his pinnacle of vilification came after he was elected.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Gord Full Stop

“It makes no sense how it makes no sense.”
                Blow at High Dough – from Up to Here

You pretty much have to be Canadian to know that 2016 has struck again.
This morning the news hit my generation of Canadians like the Rogers Pass avalanche. (The only way to do this right has to include a few obscure pieces of Canadiana.) Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer - a glioblastoma.
He isn’t gone yet. But I have to process this now. Forgive me for eulogizing him prematurely. I can’t do this twice.
You may have to have hit adulthood in the late 80s or early 90s above the 49th parallel for this to be true, but for those of us who did, this is Prince. This is Bowie. This is one assholebastardmutherfucker of a year.

“There’s more worms than earth in the afterlife.”
                Leave – from In Violet Light

I’ve lost track of how I ended up being the harbinger, but it has become a bit of a sick joke among friends that this is all my fault. I suspect that I wake up early enough that I am the first one tapped into the news cycle… although Jodie has actually been the one breaking the news to me on most of these things.  Lemmy (three days short of 2016), Bowie, Prince, very nearly Sinead O’Connor (and don’t begin to think that drama is over yet) as well as a long list of diminishingly relevant supporting cast from Glenn Frey (who touched our generation, but was really a luminary of an earlier time) to John Berry – the Beastie Boys’ Pete Best, to Phife Dawg… the depth of my rap and hip hop cred is admittedly shallow. It has escaped few people that 2016 has it out for our music idols.  In Canada we’ve already faced the farewell tour of Spirit of the West, as John Mann cannot carry on due to early on-set Alzheimers, and now we are awaiting dates for the final Tragically Hip tour. I will try to be there. But I’m going to be a complete mess.
Both Bowie and Prince hit me. Bowie comes a hair short of making my list of artists I think can do no wrong, and is responsible for one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. Prince, I never loved, but I always appreciated and I respect his impact on the music world.  I didn’t cry for either of them.  But this morning I wasn’t surprised when a few minutes after getting the news I felt the tears well up in my eyes.
As 2016 cut swathes through pop-culture I was holding my breath and crossing my fingers that at least my top three would get through unscathed. But that hope is gone now. (U2 & Pearl Jam, to answer the associated question.)

“Get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy.”
                At the 100th Meridian – from Fully Completely

I could take you to within yards of where I was when I heard my first Tragically Hip song. I was listening to the radio on my way to a friend’s house.  The DJ had some blah blah about a new Canadian band out of Kingston and then Small Town Bringdown was unleashed upon my future. A few years later, playing in a band myself, our bassist suggested that we should play Blow at High Dough from “this new band” he’d heard of. I was delighted that The Hip weren’t yet another of the long list of bands that hit my radar once and then disappeared.
When I was touring in the early 90s with the Juanabees, The Hip were always in high rotation and we did our best to convert non-Canadians to the church of Gord – his bizarre mid-song sermons of fractured thought.  “I’m wearin’ my red shirt!” he told us on Canada Day in 1992, as he went on to muse about whether he should burn it there on the stage or save it for the next 25 year benchmark of Confederation. It looks like he should have burned it. That concert – their third in that day as they played coast to coast – still stands as one of the greatest I’ve ever seen. We had been in the sun all day and The Hip were probably the 10th or 12th act of the day, but everyone in that stadium found the reserves to give every joule of energy put out by the band right back to them ten-fold. It was a revival.

“God has left the museum for good.”
                Scared – from Day for Night

The band behind him was – is – a highly functioning rock and roll unit, and it is unfair as it is inevitable to diminish their contributions. Despite the fact that they were all better raw musicians than Gord, The Hip were nothing without him.  It wasn’t just his riveting stage antics that did it.  While he wasn’t the greatest vocalist, indeed some of his cliché embellishments were kind of mock-worthy (E.g. By 1994, his penchant for hopping up an octave on the last syllable of a line was boringly predictable… fortunately he out grew that one.), his lyrics made him an unofficial poet-laureate of Canada. Each song was a perfectly crafted puzzle – always with enough clear intent to invite you to glean more, but every one with enough depth and obscure reference as to be tantalizingly out of reach.  And every now and then he would succinctly encapsule a universal feeling with hideous economy that could strike me to the core.  Never was this more the case for me personally than with the last line of “Ahead By a Century.”  By now I’ve forgotten what exactly was going on in my life that made it so pertinent, but on the very first listen that line – “Disappointing you is getting me down” – tore into my present with the violence of the Lac Megantic explosion. I was in tears before the final chord faded.

“Did I read it all wrong? Or have I just not gotten it yet?”
                Bring it All Back – from Road Apples

More than that though, over the course of his thirty years in the spotlight, Gord focussed his own eye repeatedly on a number of subjects that recurred throughout his poetry that seemed to tie together his work into some kind of tangled unity. Numerous Hip songs make reference to any number of nautical mishaps either in process (Nautical Disaster) or in the narrator’s past (Fiddler’s Green), with varying levels of direct (The Dire Wolf) and oblique (Locked in the Trunk of a Car) reference.  The same goes with crime – usually lurid, often Canadian;  Hockey – Gord was a goalie of accomplishment… at least at the Juno Cup; and of course more diabolically dysfunctional relationships than any lifetime has time for. But throughout it all it was unabashedly Canadian. Canadian in a manner that not only defined his style, but also in a manner that could mark something as Canadian by right of having fallen under his gaze. He loved Canada and he became a singular part of Canadian culture.

“Heaven is a better place today because of this. But the world is just not the same.”
                Heaven is a better place today – from In Between Evolution

I saw them 5 or maybe 6 times. It would have been more if not that by some frustrating bit of fate The Juanabees tour was always travelling West when the Another Roadside Attraction Tour was travelling East. Without fail we would play Winnipeg while they were in Saskatoon and two days later we would have switched places. I'm not sure I'll handle it well if I go to this last tour, and maybe it would be best if I don't. But if the opportunity presents itself, I don't think I can afford to not see them one last time.

"Those melodies come back to me. Time beyond our heartbeat."
                Escape is at Hand for the Travellin' Man – from Phantom Power

We have one last album. Man. Machine. Poem. Its due in a few weeks. Even the title scares me, like once again he has said more in three words about one idea than I can express in several pages of rambling. Of course he is much closer to whatever thought processes face the terminally ill. I feel like there are emotional hand-grenades destined to be hidden in there - little windows into his mind as he faces the event horizon of life. And we all know he is capable of expressing those ideas in ways that will fascinate, confuse and devastate. I eagerly want to tear into it, but I've avoided the pre-release single. I didn't have a reason before now. I don't want to face the reality that it is the end.

"When the birds can be heard above the reckoning carts doing some final accounting."
                Poets - From Phantom Power