Once I almost died.

I was in a mosh pit. I’d been there most of the day… but it had been calm. Canadian one might say. A Canadian mosh pit, back when those were a thing.

Then there was a moment. The Tragically Hip came to the stage… The mosh pit which had numbered in the hundreds previously, suddenly became a mosh pit of 35000.

Another Roadside Attraction, July 19 1995.

I was in the front. The smart thing would have been to go over the fence, have security escort me to the side of the crowd. I was 18… I’m not going to say I wasn’t smart… but I was a kid. That didn’t occur to me.

The hands were pushing me in every direction. People jumping and bashing against me. My breath caught in my lungs. The panic rising in myself. The horror of realizing that for a solid 200 feet in either direction, there was a swarm of people that I wouldn’t be able to get through.

I felt myself starting to fall. I felt myself losing consciousness.

I fought.

I started to go beastial. I remember faces looking back at me. People having fun. People enjoying the moment.

They didn’t see the panic in my eyes. They didn’t feel the fear I was feeling.

I grabbed onto them. I threw them out of my way. I fought them pushing me back into the pit.

I don’t remember the faces all these years later. But I do remember myself. I remember myself afraid that I would fall… afraid I would be trampled by a small percentage of the thirty five thousand in that crowd who were all together.

Jumping, hopping, moshing… Enjoying the music.

After the fact, I have to say… I never considered The Tragically Hip as a super-moshable band.

I made it to the side of the crowd eventually. It seemed an impossibility. I made it.

I sat there and listened at the side of the crowd, from a place of safety. I listened to Gord Downie go off on his stream of consciousness rants. I listened enrapt. I absorbed every word. This guy, who wrote fantastic songs, was like nothing I’d ever seen on stage before.

I never forgot.

Nine days later I was diagnosed with cancer.

I never forgot.

There was a day years later when I was madly in love with a girl. I thought that I would live in the Netherlands. I believed I would speak Dutch and wear the wooden shoes. Well, ok… not the wooden shoes.

I was walking along the canal in Utrecht. I must have known by this time that the relationship wasn’t going to end the way I wanted it to. I was trying to believe that I could make my fate what I wanted it to be. That I could have the love that i was so desperately currently in myself returned to me by she.

I knew it was over… but I’m stubborn. I’ve always been stubborn.

I had tickets that night to see The Tragically Hip in Utrecht, Holland. The Tivoli.

I was psyched. But I was sad. I hoped that maybe if she saw what I saw… If she saw the love that I had for this band, that somehow it would reverberate through her and save the doomed relationship.

There, as I was walking down the canal, were three of the Tragically Hip. Smoking outside the club. Gord Downie wasn’t there… but I saw them. Unlike the hundreds of Dutch walking by every minute… I knew exactly who they were.

I was Canadian.

But in that, in being Canadian, in being twenty five, I didn’t walk up to them. I didn’t introduce myself. I was polite and stood off, as a Canadian should. Sure, it could have been that my tale of leaving Canada all for the love of a Dutch girl could have been enough to make an impact.

I walked by.

I went to the show that night. With her. She didn’t understand. The relationship ended. My love affair with The Hip didn’t.

Last year I was lucky enough to get tickets for both of the farewell concerts in Vancouver.

I know it was lucky.

To be honest, those nights are more of a blur than either of the other two concerts I mentioned are. The emotion was exhausting. To see Gord up there struggling, missing lyrics… and yet powerful and radiant… Was exhilarating.

To see one of my heroes struck down by cancer… twenty two years after I had unknowingly almost died of the same fucking beast. Twenty four years after I had lost my Aunt to the same fucking beast.

It was all the more personal.

This morning I woke up to messages asking how I was… how i was doing… was I okay?

I was confused.

When I did come to reality. When I read the news and understood where the concern came from… I cried. I tried to keep my voice steady… but I cried. Over many moments today, as a certain song came on… I would break. My voice would break. Those tears would come back.

I never had the honour of actually meeting Gord Downie… but his words played a soundtrack on my life. Above all others, it was The Hip that played at some of the most life changing moments. It was the intelligence of his lyrics. It was so much, that I could never entirely put it to words.

Today. He is gone.

Once, I almost died. Today I still stand and one of my heroes is gone.

Thank you Gord. You were an icon. In our history, there will never be another.

3 thoughts on “Once…

  1. Thank you for sharing, Jon. Yours is an incredible story. This morning when I heard, you were immediately on my mind … but I hesitated to reach out to you as I didn’t want to remind you one more time he was gone. Silly me. As if it was ever going to escape your mind that his spirit left the world today. Sending hugs.

  2. A beautiful tribute to a man who I know meant so much, in so many ways in your life. That mosh pit incident still makes me cringe, even after all these years. Who knew what a nightmare was just around the corner. RIP Gord. (I should have known better than to try and read this on transit this morning). Love you

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