Tragically Hip tour will be 'heartbreaking' after Gord Downie cancer news

Fans and music lovers are shocked and saddened to hear the Tragically Hip's lead singer Gord Downie is battling terminal brain cancer.

Music historian says ‘Downie brought a real sense of poetry to his music and a sense of Canadiana’

Gord Downie announced his battle with terminal brain cancer on the band's website Monday morning. The band still plans to tour this summer and promote their latest album Man Machine Poem. (Canadian Press)

Fans and music lovers are shocked and saddened to hear the Tragically Hip's lead singer Gord Downie is battling terminal brain cancer.

Joey Serlin, guitarist for Winnipeg band The Watchmen, opened for The Hip more than 100 times.

Backstage and on the road, Serlin said Downie had a "tremendous sense of humour."

"He's generous, he's thoughtful — a really nice guy," he said.

The musician said he most admires how prolific Downie is as an artist. 

"How he connects with you lyrically, how vulnerable and real he is," said Serlin. "It's not easy to have a 30 year career and keep the creative taps flowing."

True North Sports and Entertainment said the Tragically Hip was the first concert ever at MTS Centre only 11 days after opening in 2004.

"This is a band that has made us proud to present Canadian music and support Canadian musicians as part of the fabric of what TNSE does," said Kevin Donnelly, senior vice president, venues and entertainment for True North.  

"The guys have always made time for us, whether it was a team photo with the Moose or being accessible for fans. This is a time to remember and embrace the good times that have been fuelled by the soundtrack of five good Canadian kids from Kingston, our friends The Tragically Hip."

Winnipeg-based music historian, John Einarson, calls Downie a "very iconic Canadian figure in music, as is the Tragically Hip. They became Canada's band."

The Tragically Hip posted the news on its website Monday, saying that despite Downie's diagnosis they plan to go on tour this summer to promote their latest album.

News that the band will continue to tour this summer was a bit of a surprise to Einarson.
Music historian, John Einarson, says Downie's style of writing about Canadiana has endeared him to fans. (CBC)

"It's going to be almost like a farewell tour, it's going to be incredibly emotional. It's really going to be heartbreaking."

Einarson said while many bands do a farewell tour and then go on to do different things, this tour will be somewhat more final for the band.

"This is a farewell tour where it's goodbye. 'I'm riding off into the sunset,'" he said.

Einarson says like most Tragically Hip performances, this one will be one for the history books.

"[Hip performances were] more than just a music concert. It became an event. And it was an event that you didn't want to miss if you were of a certain generation and you connected with their music. And they brought that real sense of spirit to Canadian music," said Einarson.

Einarson says the band's connection to Canada, and Downie's way of writing about the nuances of being Canadian are what made his music so endearing to fans.

"They sang about the 100th meridian, they sang a song called Bobcaygeon, about a community in southern Ontario. They sang about a hockey player from the [Toronto] Maple Leafs," said Einarson.

"Gord Downie brought a real sense of poetry to music and a sense of Canadiana to his music. I think he had a huge influence on a lot of Canadian singer songwriters to really look in your own backyard... and write songs from a Canadian perspective."

An iconic Canadian band

Into the Music owner, Greg Tonn, recalls the first time he saw the Tragically Hip play in Winnipeg 1989. It was early in the band's career at a bar called the Portage Village Inn, which was located across from where the MTS Centre is now.

"I think the thing that was apparent right from the beginning was just how charismatic Gord was, you couldn't take your eyes off of him," said Tonn.
Greg Tonn, owner of Into the Music, holds a Tragically Hip album in his store Monday. He recalls seeing the band play in Winnipeg in 1989 when they were just starting out. (Marjorie Dowhos/CBC)

"The Tragically Hip will always be an iconic Canadian band," he said.

"They're one of the first bands in Canadian rock to really explicitly talk about not just Canadian politics, but Canadian events, Canadian geography."

"Part of their appeal, their charisma, is that they got a lot of Canadians thinking about a lot of those topics. Part of our pride in being Canadian, the Tragically Hip are really a part of that," said Tonn.

With files from Marjorie Dowhos