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. 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."
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: