The Next Chapter

20 years ago, Gord Downie reflected on music, songwriting and how poet Al Purdy inspired Coke Machine Glow

Coke Machine Glow, the first solo project by Canadian rock musician Gord Downie, celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2021. In this 2001 interview, Downie spoke with Shelagh Rogers about music and writing poetry.
Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie released Coke Machine Glow to accompany his first solo album in 2001. (Chris Wattie/Reuters/Knopf Canada)

Coke Machine Glow, the first solo project by Canadian rock musician Gord Downie, celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2021. A new reissue will expand the project into a triple album and accompanying poetry audiobook entitled Coke Machine Glow: Songwriters' Cabal.

Downie was the lead singer of the Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip. He was a singer-songwriter, poet, actor, philanthropist and activist. He died at age 53 in 2017.

In 2001, he spoke with Shelagh Rogers to talk about music, poetry and how Coke Machine Glow came to be.

Poems, words and music

"Writing poetry is kind of freeing. Ultimately, when you're trying to put words to music, it gets fairly mathematical in a hurry. It becomes a challenge to write to the music. 

Writing poetry is kind of freeing.

"You're constantly running back and forth from 'the meaning department,' from 'the good sounding word department,' and checking in on each department to see if everything's OK."

'Finding the Secret Path': Capturing Gord Downie's final year

3 years ago
4:55
Before his passing, Gord Downie took this country on a profound journey. Now, one year later, Gord's brothers take us through his final year full of passion and emotion, and share what it was like to be right by his side the entire way. 4:55

The day I 'met' Al Purdy

"I picked up a tape of Al Purdy reading his poems in a delete bin, and I walked up to the desk to buy it for $2 and the guy said, 'You know, he died today?' And I was like, 'Wow.'

The day that happened, it gave me a strange permission. That day, I thought, I want to do this.

"I slapped it on my car and then I started 'reading' great things from him. His voice is pretty etched in my memory. It's a great, indelible voice.

"The day that happened, it gave me a strange permission. That day, I thought, I want to do this. I read a quote about him talking about why he wrote poetry. He said he writes poetry like a spider spins webs and probably much for the same reason to support his existence. That was my permission. That was good."

Pushing to the limit

"It's a challenge trying to make words rhyme and ultimately serve the song, to maybe push the melody a bit and allow yourself to be pushed. I happen to work with some guys that are supportive in that regard — we make music together in a cooperative environment.

It's a real challenge trying to make words rhyme and ultimately serve the song.​​​​​​

"It's for me, it's pretty great. It's always been intimate."

Gord Downie's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Watch | Gord Downie's Secret Path In Concert on CBC Gem:

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

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.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now