Entertainment

Read Gord Downie's lyrics about dealing with cancer before his diagnosis

Gord Downie, The Tragically Hip lead singer who found out in recent months that he has terminal brain cancer, penned an album about dealing with the disease long before his own diagnosis: 2012's Now For Plan A.

Tragically Hip songwriter penned lyrics on 2012's Now For Plan A about wife Laura's breast cancer

Before his own diagnosis of brain cancer, Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip already dealt with the disease, penning the 2012 album Now For Plan A after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. (Kevin Frayer/Canadian Press)

Gord Downie, The Tragically Hip lead singer who found out in recent months that he has terminal brain cancer, penned an album about dealing with the disease long before his own diagnosis: 2012's Now For Plan A.

Downie was told about his wife Laura's breast cancer diagnosis as the band was working on that album, he said to CBC's Wendy Mesley in an interview in 2012.

The 52-year-old's lyrics are often cryptic, so deciding what they're about can be a Rorschach test for the listener. But Downie told Mesley the album is about "me trying to help, mutely, in that way that a man around breast cancer tries hard to help."

Here is a look at some of the tracks of the album, the band's 12th full-length studio recording, and what the iconic Canadian musician and lyricist had to say about them.

At Transformation

Partial lyrics: 

"Gently breathing lit by the morning sun
Through the night it'd been raining venom ...

I want to help you lift enormous things
A pinch a sting I don't feel a thing"

Notes: Aside from the apparent allusion to a chemotherapy drip ("raining venom") — a motif that recurs several times on the album — Downie said his wife "might say, 'I don't need help lifting enormous things. Don't just do something. Stand there.' [Like] Clint Eastwood's acting coach told him."

Man Machine Poem

Partial lyrics:

"Yer beau-
Tiful
Terrific
Your eyes
Empty Pacifics

Man Machine Poem"

Notes: One of the album's more lyrically oblique tracks, Downie said, "Man Machine Poem is me talking to my wife ... and turning this into a poem. The man, the machine, the poem. She's the poem. I'm the machine."

Man Machine Poem is also the name of the Tragically Hip's next album, due out in June. According to the track listing on the band's website, the first song on that album is Man and the last is Machine.

The Lookahead

Partial lyrics: "I go back to the brusque nurse
Her heart a bad cake in a melting box
I thought you should know it's no worse
Her blood is still clear and sanguineous...

You weigh a snowflake
The glamour of the sky
Descending
Past perfect eyes
And hearts leapt
To give me the lookahead
C'mon honey just gimme that lookahead"

Notes: Downie said "the lookahead" in the lyrics was, "That you know everything's going to be all right, no matter what. And she's got it. She always had it, but it diminished at that moment a little bit. And you realize how much you need it. How much I rely on it. And she's got it back."

We Want To Be It

Partial lyrics: "Drip drip drip
Baby when'd you get so Zen
When I used to know you when
When you thought all my dreams suck
I was just happy you gave a f--k ...

Drip drip drip
Baby, when'd you get so wrecked
And where are things at this moment
And all our friends gave us a week
And we're still happening as we speak"

Notes: Lyrics about a long-term relationship are seen through a different lens when you know about the cancer diagnosis, with "drip drip drip" a stand-in for both the passage of time and the rhythm of the drip bag.

About This Map

Partial lyrics: "About this map here we are here
See this is me and there you are there and
There's got to be more than just to despair"

Notes: Asked about the 'despair' lyric on an episode of CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, Downie said it was, "One of the many things a man tries to say to his wife who's going through this, like so many of her friends are going through this. A woman that's made all the right decisions, eaten all the right things, exercised right, and is trying to make sense of it."

Now For Plan A

Partial lyrics: "No matter how high or how rough
Nothing short of everything's enough

In your face
The endless patience
The fleeting nature of life
On display
And nothing short of everything"

Notes: The album's title track is another song about trying to help in a situation where you can't. Said Downie about the album in general: "I've always adhered to this quote that Raymond Carver's wife wrote about him: saying that poetry wasn't merely ... for what we meant to say: It's a place to be ample and grateful to those nearest and dearest our hearts. So I've always thought that. In this case, it seemed from a writing point of view that nothing was cutting it in that regard. Anything I had done up to that point didn't seem applicable somehow — and that I hadn't been reaching that, lately or maybe ever, I don't know. Just the ability to speak of this, to show my love and gratitude and devotion, fear for my wife, my friend."​

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.