Winnipeg Tragically Hip cover band singer battles terminal cancer
Darren Sawchuk says iconic Canadian rock band wrote soundtrack to his life
When Darren Sawchuk sings "There's no dress rehearsal, this is our life," the words hold a new meaning.
The Winnipeg lawyer plays in Tragically Hip cover band 59 Divide, but he has more than a melody in common with his musical idol: Sawchuk also has untreatable cancer.
"When you hear lyrics to Ahead by a Century … really, those that are given a warning signal that you only have a certain amount of time left, you do what you can during that time to make the most of every day," he said.
In May, the band announced on its website that Gord Downie, the lead singer and lyricist of the iconic Canadian rock band, has terminal brain cancer. The band nevertheless went ahead with planning a cross-country tour in support of their album Man Machine Poem and will play in Winnipeg on Friday.
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The show will be memorable for many reasons, including the shared journey through terminal cancer.
Sawchuck was told in March that his cancer couldn't be treated.
"There is a certain connection that you have with other people who have received that kind of diagnosis, and I immediately felt for his close family and friends and for what they are going through."
Sawchuk was hooked with the 1989 release of the Hip's first full-length album, Up to Here.
"They were kind of like Canadian grunge, straight-ahead rock 'n' roll with rhythm and blues underneath it and great lyrics," Sawchuk said.
As each album came out and Downie and the boys told great Canadian stories with songs such as Bobcaygeon, At the Hundredth Meridian and Ahead by a Century, Sawchuk followed along. It wasn't enough just to listen; the Winnipegger also had to play. He formed the cover band with friends and it became an anchor through all of life's changes.
"The soundtrack of my life has included the opportunity to play their music with a great group of friends, so every time we get a chance to get together, we celebrate their music," he said.
Drummer Kristjan Kristjansson said he was a hair metal guy listening to Van Halen when Sawchuk introduced him to the Hip.
"Truth is that Darren's our [Gord] Downie, so my relationship with the Hip was through Darren," Kristjansson said.
"We had built our relationship based on this music, so it adds to the importance of this week."
Holding back tears, Kristjansson said he's proud of the strength his friend has shown. Although their cover band might just seem like a hobby, it is so much more, he said.
Sawchuk said his dream is to sing harmony when the Hip launch into Wheat Kings at the concert, but he's "not counting his chickens."
As he prepares to watch his hero with whom he shares so much, Sawchuk said it's important to always have hope.
"I'm not counting Gord down and out, and I'm not counting myself down and out. I hope that there are lots of these last tours to come," he said.
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59 Divide will host a cancer treatment and research fundraiser for Sawchuk at Jekyll & Hyde's on Osborne Street at Stradbrook Avenue on Thursday at 8 p.m. CT.