15 of the best quotes I ever got from Gord Downie

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By Steve Newton

The big Tragically Hip show in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario, is happening tomorrow, broadcast live on the CBC starting at 5:30 pm Vancouver time. I might not be back from opening day at the PNE in time to watch the gig unfold live, but I sure as shit plan to record it.

It’s the final date on the band’s sold-out, cross-Canada Man Machine Poem tour, and some are saying it will be their last show ever, considering frontman Gord Downie’s terminal brain-cancer diagnosis.

I’ve got a feeling it won’t be the last Hip gig ever, but I’m gonna check it out anyway.

Besides, they might do “Nautical Disaster”.

In advance of tomorrow’s historic gig I figured I’d throw together some of the best quotes I’ve gotten from Downie during the course of my five interviews with the Canuck rock legend. He was always an interesting guy to chat with.

“When we finish a track in the studio, we might say, ‘That was great; that gave me a good feeling,’ but it’s not like [switching to a formal radio-announcer’s voice] ‘This will appeal to the under-16-female-white-audience.’ I mean, you leave that to the deejays and the people who write bios.” –September 28, 1989

“If you’re aiming for a hole in one, and you get one, you feel lucky–but at the same time you can justifiably say, ‘Well, I was aiming for the hole anyway.’ ” –September 28, 1989

“If we weren’t in this band, some of us wouldn’t be playing at all. You have tiffs with someone when he has smelly feet in the touring van, but we all respect each other as friends first.” –-September 28, 1989

“I think a lot of people in Canada are moving towards some kind of things that identify us. Maybe there’s some kind of resurgence in Canadiana. I mean, we’re certainly doing our part.” –November 4, 1992

“On this album, especially, I basically let the music do the talkin’, let the music evoke images, and then tried to capture those images on paper before I could ruin them with too much thought.” –November 4, 1992

“Generally, when the band is feeling good and the music is feeling good, I go in and out. I sort of…you know, I go in and out. It’s an interesting thing for me, and…yeah, special to me.” –November 4, 1992

“I’m a music fan—I love meeting other musicians, I love talking to other musicians—and what greater opportunity to take advantage of whatever standing we might have to try and attract people? To say ‘We don’t know you, but we love you, and will you come play with us?’ Sometimes they actually do.” -January 18, 1995

“Even ‘The Inevitability of Death’ is kind of a funny song more than anything. I mean, I thought it would be funny imagining radio deejays cueing it up and announcing it as people are driving off to work.” –-January 18, 1995

“We’re witnessing the rebirth of the girl at the Tragically Hip show. The woman is reborn and alive again in the front row, and that’s good, ’cause I was getting a little tired of the sea of testosterone and regretting the fact that the girls were getting muscled out.” –July 2, 1995

“From what I gather, there was a lot of vicarious nervousness across the land when we played on SNL. My sister-in-law had diarrhea, and various other members of my family could barely keep their food down, let alone their palms dry. So I thought that was interesting; I liked that.” –July 2, 1995

“Once we went into the basement and learned a song, we felt successful. Then we learned two songs, and then we got a gig, and on and on—and that’s the way musicians think. I don’t know about other people—I mean, I don’t know about all musicians either—but some are more driven than others. We were just happy to be together, and that’s the way we’ve done everything.” –October 24, 1996

“So ultimately you’re up there and you’re grappling with the paradoxical dilemma of feeling at once silly and sublime, absurd and grand, and that makes one do interesting things, and lends itself to grandiose gestures and a sort of disbelief that your small, tiny words are really getting out there.” –October 24, 1996

“I feel like I’m playing the washboard more than the guitar. My friend called me ‘the scrubber’ the other day, and I really liked that.” –October 24, 1996

“Originally, that song [‘Ahead By a Century’] was entirely different. The lyrics were almost totally overhauled, which is not usually my style, but whatever—it seemed like the way to go. Originally, what was it: ‘First thing we’d climb a tree, and maybe then we’d talk; I will touch your cunt, you will touch my cock; then we’ll be married, then we won’t have to hide.’ Those were sort of working lyrics, but they stuck there, they said to me ‘innocence’, and that’s what I wanted, because I thought, ‘It’s two little kids, and they don’t know what a cunt is and they don’t know what a cock is—they just heard them called that.’ “ –October 24, 1996

“Hey, look everybody. Bruce Allen!” –July 13, 1995, onstage at UBC’s Thunderbird Arena, while pointing up at an airplane pulling a big SUBWAY banner.

Downie Tapes #1 (1989)

Downie Tapes #2 (1989)

Downie Tapes #3 (1989)

Downie Tapes #4 (1992)

Downie Tapes #5 (1992)

Downie Tapes #6 (1992)

Downie Tapes #7 (1992)

Downie Tapes #8 (Jan. 1995)

Downie Tapes #9 (Jan. 1995)

Downie Tapes #10 (Jan. 1995)

Downie Tapes #11 (Jan. 1995)

Downie Tapes #12 (July 1995)

Downie Tapes #13 (July 1995)

Downie Tapes #14 (July 1995)

Donate to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research by clicking sunnybrook.ca/gord.

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