Dear Gord Downie: Man, Machine, Poem

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Here we are at the end of August, by the glow of coke machines and VLTs. It’s hard to put into words the worth of a lifetime of music, a soundtrack to everything we’ve loved, and all we’ll lose. You’ve translated an entire nation, gave us a place to hold our identities, and hearts. Every small town hummed with every truth spoken, you offered long grasses of time, a reprieve of poetry.

I grew up spending summers around Bobcaygeon, where we’d steal Grandpa Jack’s vodka, and take to the trees. Spines to the earth, on our backs in an open field, we’d sing Hip songs, and drink in the constellations. You named a place within us; understood a landscape where the sky remains both dull, and hypothetical.

Here we are listening again, returning to the records –harnessing our Phantom Power, exchanging Day for Night, remembering all the Trouble at the Henhouse, and unlocking Man Machine Poem.

Here we are rediscovering our boat-load of nerves.

The first time I saw The Tragically Hip was when you were recording the video for “Ahead By A Century” in Brooklin, Ontario. My stepfamily lived nearby, and we circled the block a few times to catch a glimpse of a brown house with a yellow door, and the band playing outside of Medland & Sons, where you smoked us out.

Here we are a gift shop world, with illness on our minds.

Second time I caught The Hip was at Mile One in St. John’s. Fresh off the plane from Toronto, with its checkerboard floors, I was ushered downtown by my boyfriend and best friend, to see Sarah Harmer open. My flight delay made us miss most of her set.  I’ll never forget how Sarah’s face lit up playing “Silver Road” with the band.

Here we are with the moon lit up. The following day, in a post show haze, a friend drowned in a lake not far from the stadium.

Courage, your word.

Here we are, the anti-social poets, on the night of your final show. A country gathered in pockets, each of us dangerous and lulled, feeling small next to everything you’ve given.

After a long time running, we’re still held together like a bunch of dancers, but falling apart. Heartsick for the loss of something familiar.

A nation whispers, let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Gord, thank you for standing on your toes, stepping up to the mic, and reminding us: this is our life.

Tragically yours, where the expanse brightens,

Shannon & the Dire Wolves

The City of St. John’s has partnered with the George Street Association and Bud Light to host a free screening of The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration concert on Saturday, August 20 at 10 p.m. 

About Author

Shannon Webb-Campbell

Shannon Webb-Campbell is an award-winning Mi’kmaq poet, writer, and curator. Still No Word (Breakwater, 2015), recipient of Egale Canada’s Out In Print Award, is her first collection of poems. She was Canadian Women In Literary Arts critic-in-residence 2014, and is a board member. Shannon holds a MFA in Creative Writing from University of British Columbia, a BA from Dalhousie University, and currently studies and teaches English Literature at Memorial University. Her work is anthologized in IMPACT: Colonialism in Canada (Manitoba First Nation Education Resource, 2017), Where the Nights Are Twice As Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets (Goose Lane, 2015), This Place A Stranger: Canadian Women Travelling Alone (Caitlin Press, 2015), and others. She curated “Screening the Offshore” at The Rooms Provincial Museum, Art Gallery and Archives, and currently works as a curatorial assistant at Eastern Edge Gallery. Shannon is poetry editor at Plenitude Magazine. Her play Neither Love Letters Nor Moonlight, premieres at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland February 2017. She is a member of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.