Man, first an unimpeachable American talent like Tom Petty leaves us suddenly and then – even though we knew it was going to happen – we get the news today that we’ve lost the irreplaceable Gord Downey.
I spent the better part of the afternoon responding to questions from TV crews and radio hosts, much as I did two weeks ago after Petty’s death and even though it was only a matter of time for Gord, it’s still a very tough pill to swallow, knowing that he’s gone and he’s not coming back. I expect we all feel this way; that we all held out hope for some miracle, that somehow he – of all people – would be spared because he deserved to be spared.
The questions were what one would expect: When did you first meet him? When did you know the band was going to be big? What was he like personally? What has Canada lost? What, do you think, will be his legacy?
Whatever my answers were, they don’t come close to actually articulating what his loss means to us, to the country. And not because he was an iconic Canadian musician, he most certainly was, but because he was an exemplary human being, regardless of the accident of his nationality.
Yes, he wrote about this land we all love, and he communicated, expressed, that love better than anyone I’ve ever met but he also wrote about our shortcomings, our collective historical sins and our need to learn more about ourselves and to embrace – and acknowledge those, despite revisionist, or sins-of-omission, history.
Knowing that he had a limited time left with us, he chose to focus his remaining attention and creative juice speaking up for those who did not have the means he had at his disposal to do it. Imagine for a minute. Would you, or I, have done that? That’s a completely other level of courage and Gord had no shortage of that.
We are SO lucky to have been given warning of this! Perhaps that was the universe “sparing” us a greater grief. It allowed him to give us all he had to give before leaving: the final tour, the incredible documentary “Long Time Running,” the brief Secret Path tour, the new album that’s coming out soon. Honestly, I don’t know anyone, healthy or not healthy, that could have crammed that much production into such a short period of time with such beautiful, and selfless, results.
He was a singular performer and we’d not seen anyone like him before he came along and we won’t see anyone like him now that he’s gone. Be thankful you lived when he did and if he meant anything to you, honour him by trying to live your life the way he did – with grace, and compassion, and tolerance, and with the courage to change what you can to make life for those less fortunate even just a little bit better.
I am a better person for having known him and I will miss him…