The passing of Gord Downie last week has left everyone across the country with a tear in their eye, a lump in the their throat and a song in their heart.
I think we all have a Tragically Hip story.
In April of 1993, I was recording my first album in Dallas Texas.
A couple weeks later (on Good Friday, no less) the Tragically Hip were playing at a club in town called ‘Dallas City Limits’.
I was (and continue to be) a massive Tragically Hip fan and had never seen them live.
Needless to say, but I was more than a little excited to see them.
The morning of the show, I decided that I was going to go to the club in the afternoon and see if I could maybe sneak in for sound check.
I also had the harebrained idea, that if we met the band, I’d ask Gord Downie to sing on my album.
Again, why not?
A friend of mine, Darren Horyn, was visiting from Bonnyville and he figured that those were the two best ideas he’d ever heard.
That was all the convincing I needed.
A couple hours later, we drove to the club.
There was a tour bus parked along side the building.
We walked into the club and sat down at a table.
The waitress came over and took our order.
Coffee and an ashtray.
The Hip’s crew were on the stage setting up the gear.
In case we managed to meet the band, we brought copies of “Up To Here”, “Road Apples” and “Fully Completely”, so we could get their autographs.
About 30 minutes later, the guys in the band started walking in.
On their way to the stage, they all stopped by our table, said hello and signed the CD’s.
They couldn’t have been nicer.
About ten minutes later Gord Downie walked in.
He walked up to our table and said “I’m not in the band, but is it ok if I sign the CD’s too?”
He sat down and talked to us for about 45 minutes, while the rest of the band went over a bunch songs on stage.
It was one of those moments where you gotta pinch yourself.
You know what I mean?
Anyway, he couldn’t have been more down to earth.
He asked what we were doing in Texas.
I told him that I was in town recording my first album.
“Cool, man, well, good luck with that…”
You know what they say about courage…
It couldn’t come at a worse time.
I got the nerve to ask him if he ever sings on other peoples albums.
He said not very often, because he would have to run the idea by the guys in the band and then their managers and the record company would also have to sign off on the idea of him doing a guest appearance.
But, he did say that they were going to be playing at a festival in Dallas the following weekend and if he had time, he’d like to hear how the album was coming along.
He asked me for my phone number and said that he’d track me down the next week.
He took out his lyric book, flipped to the back page and wrote my number down.
Can you believe you that?
I certainly couldn’t.
Anyway, after about 45 minutes, he stood up and said, “Well I gotta get up there and sound check, I’ll see you around. Nice meeting you guys.”
For the next half hour or so, we sat there and watched our very own Tragically Hip show.
Just me and Darren.
Though I didn’t recognize any songs they played at sound check, I have a feeling that we were hearing the seeds of what would become the “Day For Night” album.
“One day in El Paso, the cops go in to the crowd…”
Anyway, at about 9PM, there were about 700 people stuffed into the club.
Darren and I were front row.
They opened with “Locked in the Trunk of a Car”
For the next 90 minutes, it was complete insanity.
Fully, completely, you might say.
The crowd went back and forth between chanting “Hip! Hip! Hip! Hip! Hip! Hip! Hip! Hip”
and “Gordie! Gordie! Gordie! Gordie!”
It was the greatest show I’d ever seen.
After the show, Darren and I drove to this little pub that I played occasionally in Deep Ellum called “Chumley’s”.
We sat at the bar and ordered a couple drinks.
Chumley, the guy who owned the place, oddly enough, asked what we were up to earlier that evening.
I told him that we went to Dallas City Limits to see a Canadian band called the Tragically Hip.
“The Hip were in town tonight?”
“Yeah, man, are you a fan?”
“Fan! I’m a huge fan! But I’m not just a fan, I’m buddies with them. They usually swing by to have a drink and shoot some pool whenever they play in town…”
Needless to say, we hung around in hopes of crossing paths with the Hip again.
But it was not to be.
After an hour, things were seriously winding down, so we paid our tab and headed home.
I lived about 15 minutes west of town, just past Texas Stadium, on the 183.
We walked in to my apartment and I noticed the red light was flashing on my answering machine.
I hit play.
“Hi, Mike, this is Gord Downie from the Tragically Hip. We just walked in to Chumley’s, and I guess we just missed you… I’ll track you down next weekend…”
I called Chumley’s.
“Hey is Gord Downie there?”
“Yeah, hang on, Gord, yer wanted on the phone!”
I couldn’t believe that I was talking to Gord Downie on the phone.
He asked me if I liked the show.
“Are you kidding? It was amazing! So intense! Loads of fun! What’d you think of the show?”
“Same as you. Intense and loads of fun. ”
We talked for about 15 minutes.
They were just about to get on the bus and drive overnight to Houston.
He said he’d try to track me down the next week.
And he did.
He said that their schedule was really tight and there wouldn’t be a whole lot of time to cross paths, but he hoped to someday hear my album.
Fast forward to February of 1995.
The Tragically Hip were at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton.
Again, the show was amazing.
Loads of fun.
There were about 16,000 more people at the Edmonton show but it was a crazy show just the same.
Somehow, I got backstage passes.
There were about ten of us there, waiting to meet the band.
They walked around the room, signing album covers and t shirts and making small talk with everyone.
Just a nice bunch of guys.
Downie walked up to me, stuck out his hand and said “I’m Gord.”
“Hey Gord, I’m Mike, I met you a couple years ago in Dallas when I was…”
“Weren’t you were recording an album down there?”
“Yeah I was!”
I couldn’t believe he remembered.
“How’d that go for you?”
“Well, I got a copy right here for you…”
He opened up the CD and leafed through the liner notes.
“Cool, Mike, congratulations…”
“So how’s it going? You gigging lots?”
“It’s going, but it’s tough. But that’s nothing you don’t already know…”
“Yeah, well, you know, Mike, nothing works better than hard work.”
“Nothing works better than hard work.”
What a line!
Their next gig was in BC, so they were all about to pile on the bus and drive through the night.
He asked me if I needed a lift somewhere.
“Hey, no thanks, man, I’m cool, my car is parked a couple blocks away…”
I stood on the sidewalk as the bus pulled out of the Northlands parking lot.
It had really started to snow.
Not a blizzard.
But steady just the same.
I wished that was me rolling down the highway to another town.
That’s the life I’d always wanted.
Nothing works better than hard work.
As the snow came down, I walked the two blocks back to my car, only to find that it had been towed.
October 22, 2017