"Poetry is a voice that characterizes a nation. We should become a a nation of poets rather than America-haters. It's certaintly more interesting."
The Musicians and The Wordsmith
Although Gordon Downie is recognized mainly for his singer/songwriter capabilities, The Tragically Hip's front man has also ventured into poetry, video directing, and even the occasional cameo on a Canadian sitcom or a movie about a men's curling league. He was born on Feburary 6th, 1964 in Amherstview, Ontario. As a child he always had a keen ear for music and while all the other kids were spending their allowance on baseball trading cards, he was purchasing vinyl in the 45 inch form from the fathers of rock'n'roll. He was brought up in Amherstview, Ontario and went on to study at Queen's University, however, graduated from Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute in 1982. He now resides in Toronto happily married to a loving wife, and together have children. While at Kingston Collegiate he met Paul Langlois, Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fray, the four guys that now make up one of Canada's best and most influential rock groups. The Tragically Hip was formed the following year and has been very successful since then bringing home multiple awards - Juno's and Grammy's among them. In 2002, the band was given a sidewalk star among the likes of Rush, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. In 2005, they were inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame. Presently, the band has been called the long reigning kings of Canadian rock'n'roll. With their easy going campfire and front porch vibe, they capture a rare sound, and Gord delivers a powerful message through his meaningful lyrics which most would say is distinctive to The Hip.
- 1990: Most Promising Group of the Year
- 1991: Canadian Entertainer of the Year
- 1993: Canadian Entertainer of the Year
- 1995: Entertainer of the Year
- 1995: Group of the Year
- 1997: Group of the Year
- 1997: Album of the Year (Trouble at the Henhouse),
- 1997: North Star Rock Album of the Year (Trouble at the Henhouse)
- 1999: Best Rock Album (Phantom Power)
- 1999: Best Album Design (Phantom Power)
- 2000: Best Single ("Bobcaygeon")
- 2001: Best Rock Album (Music at Work)
- 2006: CD/DVD Artwork Design of the Year (Hipeponymous)
- 2006: Music DVD of the Year (Hipeponymous)
The gripping aspect that arguably defines this all Canadian group is Gord's powerful lyrics that deliver a message to every audience they rock out in front of. With hits like "38 Years Old", "Bobcaygeon", and "New Orleans is Sinking" - music buffs get more than a bang for their buck. Despite the bands overwhelming success in 2002, Gord decided it was time for something different. He decided to put his works of poetry and collection of lyrics together to produce his first solo album entitled Coke Machine Glow. This was also the name of poetry which accompanies the CD and is on sale in Indigo and Chapters stores across Canada. After reading this book, Gord proves that his talents in the written word are just as swell as his talents in the sung word. The book is divided into four sections which follow the themes of family, private memories and road poems. When asked about the transition from the figure head of a rock group to a poet, he responded "I had to stop hearing the music. And that can be done by pulling out a well placed rhyme." Battle of the Nudes was released in 2003, his follow up album proved not to be a dissapointment. Critics describe his poetry as urban, political, romantic, nostalgic and universal. By putting forth this melange of poetry, Gord simultaneously fell into the ranks of other great Canadian poets such as Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell.
Influences and Motivators
"I enjoy the process of writing to a fault, I love doing the work. I love solving the puzzle." Gord describes his writing influences mainly as people and things he can relate to. Great artists and poets before him such as Irving Layton, Al Purdy, Sam Shepard and Raymond Carver. Some well known works from the aforementioned list include Listening to Myself - Al Purdy, Flowers for Hitler - Leonard Cohen and A Red Carpet for the Sun - Irving Layton. Perhaps one of the reasons Gord admires Irving Layton in particular, is because he is known for his "tell it like it is" writing style and persona which, at times, Gord also posesses and comes across in poems like "New Orleans" and "My Road Diet". Although many write poetry as a ventilation tactic, Gord claims that he writes for his family and friends as a thank you of sorts. His wife and children also double as a great motivator for this family man. His writing habits are to write at least once a day, whenever inspiration strikes him. He jots the thought down and reflects on it later. Gord describes his children as influencing his writing in a positive way because they force him to be on a functional schedule. Juggling a road life and all of the things it entails can be difficult knowing your family is waiting for you at home. Gord tackles each day in a stride, putting a focus on whatever he feels needs more effort put into it, while maintaining writing at least once a day. "I wanted a work a day approach to what I'm doing." The person he is on stage is very different than the one away from the microphone's feedback and sweltering stage lights. He's said that he doesn't much like all the things that the rock'n'roll lifestyle has to offer and that his family and work are what grounds him.
His Impact on Canadian Writing
Gordon Downie should be an inspiration for any parent juggling raising children and a successful career they've always wished for. With his all Canadian back bone and with answers like "Life is too short for bad coffee" to the question "What is the single most prominent guiding principle in life," what's not to like! He should be recognized as one of Canada's finest musicians, poets and singer/songwriters because, whether his message be literal, politcal, thought evoking or even a joke to brighten someones day - his words carry meaning. This is sometimes rare to find in our cluttered, fast paced, in your face lifestyle. To put a cherry on the sundae, he's also an environmentalist of sorts and does his part to go green and reduce his carbon foot print. He's dedicated, determined and shares how he thinks with the rest of the world. This should serve as motivation to any poetry pursuer. Whether with bandmates or under a single spot light, his words are universal amongst his listeners because they can identify with them and relate to them on some personal level.
By: Vanessa Metcalf