It was a concert I will never cease to forget as it was my first. I had just been released from the hospital months before and new to the world as an incomplete quadriplegic. With the inexperience to the hardships of winter in a wheelchair, the wet snow & coldness was hardly registering in my best friend Ron's & my mind as he walked beside me and I pushed my way home from the Chinook C-Train Station & The Tragically Hip concert on a late night in February of 1995. Probably a little stoked from the cloudy plumes that seemed to form in the Saddledome over the course of the evening but also warmed by the adrenaline of our own belting out of Gord Downie's poetic lyrics while not wanting the music to ever stop. Since the late 80's, The Hip was a part of our Canadian rich blood and rhythmic heartbeat.
Last year, as the band gave the news of Gord's diagnosis and their final tour, there was no way I was going to miss their final concert here in Calgary. I spent hours calling Ticket Masters and negotiating the wheelchair seats with all the hoopla of the times. Yet, with what seemed like the act of the miraculous, both my wife and I managed to get tickets for the second show. Again, an unforgettable evening that will forever be etched in our mind!
Gordon Downie was a lyrical poetic master. The conveying of the pictures in his words were hardly pumped out from a machine and embraced the gritty humanism of most Canadians along with the cultural celebrations and social struggles of our country. But it wasn't until last Friday's broadcast of the CTV documentary special, 'A Long Time Running', that I would feel the social challenges of Downie's prowess. Removing the context of the full lyric, the segment highlighted Gord's line in a song from their final concert, "Maybe a prostitute could teach you how to accept a compliment."
Sitting there with my wife beside me, I don't know, the line seemed to be rubbing off on me with a moral uneasiness. A kind of rough shame or embarrassment that I am celebrating the years of my listening to a band that sang about prostitutes and porn addicts. It was a kind of profane ugliness that overtook the imagery to which Downie was painting. I felt convicted.
This past Sunday I sat with a small group of friends in Mahogany Church as we took part in a discussion around the story of a women who anointed Jesus with perfume in Luke 7:36-50. A Pharisee had invited Jesus to come and have supper with him and several of his friends. While they were there and relaxing after the meal, a "women of the city", a "sinner", and traditionally presumed to be a prostitute, came into the room and brought a jar of perfume. She broke it and unsparingly poured it over Jesus' feet and wiped it away with her hair. The Pharisees were horrified by this and were offended that Jesus, a supposed holy man and righteous in standing, would allow for such a profane women to touch him.
It was earlier that day Gord Downie's poetic words had come back to me but again here, in the midst of my friends and our discussion, "Maybe a prostitute could teach you how to accept a compliment." It was a line from The Hip's song Flamenco. A Flamenco is a Spanish dancer who through carefully choreographed steps and the colourful dress of allure, would, "walk like a matador", "turn breezes into rivulets", "sweep the air and weave the sun", and "stamp their feet" for the glory of everyone who watched and praised their beauty. It was an image of self righteous snobbery to any who could not match the Flamenco's perfectionism and Gord Downie was asking them the sarcastic questions of, "Does it diminish your super capacity to love?" "Does it exhibit your natural tendency to hate?"
There was a certain transformational moment & encounter in Downie's ingenious poetic beauty within the profane as I sat there talking with my friends last Sunday. The embrace Jesus gives to the profane realities of this world show a forgiveness to all who despite the ugliness of their life's attire, love with unconditional resolve, and of course have the greatest dependance on grace, too. ;) I cannot give words to the state or form of Gord Downie's faith but, perhaps, through the mystical works of wonder, Jesus gave words through Downie that might speak to us all.