Tanis Rideout is a novelist based in Toronto.
I just got back from a walk on one of those perfect fall days. The Tragically Hip was pouring from car windows and open front doors. There was that voice, those words.
Gord was one of the Greats. Capital G great.
I was a fan before I ever met him. I listened to The Hip play at Fort Henry from my back step when I lived on the military base in Kingston, Ont. I stood in the pouring rain astounded for Another Roadside Attraction. I've seen The Hip more than any other band, in stadiums and bars. I'm lucky.
Kingston is a small town; I thought our paths might cross and they did, but I didn't think I'd ever be lucky enough to work with Gord and when I did, he was more than I ever could have imagined.
I met Gord, officially, properly, not just a brief hello backstage at a show, through Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, the environmental advocacy group that Gord championed so passionately. I was asked to write a poem to read for a series of shows that they were putting together. Gord had been working with them a while; I was new to performing, to advocacy.
I was terrified and awed to stand next to him on stage night after night and read words that I'd written, but he was generous and kind. He was a collaborator in the truest sense, always more than willing to step back and let someone else stand in the spotlight, always trying to figure out how to best communicate the whole of the show, not just his own part of it.
On stage, Gord talked about how it takes three generations to forget, to forget that it wasn't always like this, it doesn't have to be like this. If you can remember it, you can protect it. He talked about how our stories are our testament to the world we want to create – and, in fact, help create it.
I learned how to make words count through Gord. I became an advocate and a champion of the water, because of Gord. Gord didn't just talk the talk, he studied and worked; he wanted to know all the ins and outs of the issues that he was talking about, and then he put all of that knowledge through the insane magic that was his brain and came out with work that mattered over and over again.
Gord taught me that this work, of writing and playing that can sometimes seem frivolous or useless really matters, and that it can make differences in people, in the world. He taught me that nothing is too mundane to make art of, that our stories matter, our landscapes, and that we owe each other to do our work, to do better.
Gord's voice and lyrics are written on the landscape everywhere I go, his words a kind of shorthand I communicate in.
Whenever I see a new body of water I think yer not the ocean.
When I stand facing south in Toronto, I am always looking for that great plume of steam from across the lake.
Wheat Kings is me trying and failing to learn to play guitar.
Coffee Girl is a road trip down the West Coast.
Blow at High Dough is me sitting on that back stoop.
Courage is every dock on every lake at every cottage.
Chancellor is Wolfe Island on a summer night.
And Bobcaygeon is, well, Bobcaygeon.
The Hip is my soundtrack.
I will always be grateful that Gord's voice and lyrics are mapped on my landscape, that Gord pinned me to this place and made me see not just what I could do, but what I should do.
Gord spent his life, and particularly this past year, proving to us that we can do better, we should do better. He spoke up and out, he showed us how to do the work even when things seem darkest.
Thank you Gord, take 'er easy, eh.