Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie spoke with Peter Mansbridge in an interview that aired last night, Oct. 13, on CBC's The National.
Downie had not granted any interviews since his diagnosis with terminal brain cancer earlier this year, followed by a highly emotional cross-Canada tour with the Tragically Hip. During the sit-down interview at a friend's house, Downie and Mansbridge talked about a number of issues. The Tragically Hip lead singer reflected on the tour, his health and his focus on Indigenous issues through projects like his upcoming album, The Secret Path.
Here are a few things we learned from the conversation.
1. Downie's memory loss is a huge factor in his everyday life
Downie has undergone surgery, chemotherapy and various other treatments for glioblastoma, the aggressive form of brain cancer with which he has been diagnosed."I am resigned to the direction this is heading, yes I am,"said Downie. Despite the love and support of those close to him, Downie is dealing with how the diagnosis is severely impacting his everyday life. Downie said his memory used to be his "forté," and now he often can't remember the names of his own children. He said he often writes things on his hands to combat his memory issues, revealing to Mansbridge that despite knowing him for 25 years, Downie had to write "Peter" on his hand for the interview. "And I say that just to be upfront, because I might call you Doug, and I apologize in advance," he explained. "It's just because this is happening."
2. The recent cross-Canada tour with the Tragically Hip was 'heaven on Earth'
The Tragically Hip's recent cross-Canada tour in support of its latest album, Man Machine Poem, drew fans from across the country — some who had travelled several thousand miles — to see the group perform, culminating in the Aug. 20 broadcast that was streamed across the nation from the band's hometown of Kingston, Ont.
Downie told Mansbridge that he needed six teleprompters to get through the shows so he would not forget lyrics. Through it all, Downie remained the consummate showman, and the distinctive leather suits he wore were part of taking the time to savour being onstage. "I took full advantage of it. I had seven leather suits — and leather is not too cool," Downie told Mansbridge. "But I took my time, I played every other day. So as far as a singer, it was just heaven on Earth. And all these sorts of provisions were made for me. Just every fantasy I've ever had for a show was coming true."
3. Downie and his brothers 'taught a lot of men to kiss'
Downie's relationships with those close to him are hugely important, and he is insistent on giving and receiving hugs and kisses. "Yes, hug and kiss," said Downie. "And my dad, Edgar, definitely kissed on the lips. And me and my brothers taught a lot of men how to do it." Downie even ended the interview by asking an obliging Mansbridge for "a little kiss."
Still speaking on family, Downie said he's concerned about his relationship with his children. "I want my kids to be good. I want them to be safe and have a great, long life. And take what they need from me and leave what they don't. Definitely leave what they don't. Being a dad, and being in a rock band, it's harder than it looks. But we tried. And we try."
4. Downie's new album, The Secret Path, is part of a bigger plan
The Secret Path is a multimedia project that consists of three things: graphic novel, animated film and solo album for Downie. The project focuses on the death of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy who ran away from a residential school in 1966 in an effort to get home, only to die alone of hunger and exposure by the railway tracks. Downie became aware of the story when his brother pointed him toward a 1967 Maclean's article.
As the 50th anniversary of Wenjack's death approaches, Downie believes it's a time to assess Canada's relationship with its Indigenous peoples, and has established the Gord Downie-Charlie Wenjack Fund. "We are hoping to bridge the gap, ultimately, between us and them," says Downie. "The weird thing is I think everybody in this country cares about this." Downie feels Canada's upcoming 150th birthday celebration is a prime opportunity to make a concerted effort to rectify the issues. "The last 150 years aren't as much worth celebrating as we think," says Downie. "But the new 150 years can be years of building an actual nation. Imagine if they were part of us and we them, how incredibly cool it would make us? That's what's missing as we celebrate doughnuts and hockey."
5. There could still be more music to come from the Tragically Hip
Downie says he has material for up to four records in the vault, and confirmed the Tragically Hip is working on a new record. "To the point where it'll be like, 'Jesus, is that guy not dead yet?' Canadians can be funny," Downie said.
Watch Gord Downie's entire interview with Peter Mansbridge below.
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