Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Shanies: Artist of the Year

2016 was a weird (kinda shitty) year. Aside from canonizing the laundry list of incredible musicians who died this year, for me, there was one individual who, in the face of all odds, lived for the year like no other. And, as a Canadian who grew up in the 90s, even if he'd sat back and done nothing all year but through simply existing, encouraged us all to listen to the words, "If I die of vanity, promise me if they bury me someplace I don't want to be, you'll dig me up unceremoniously," it may have still been enough.

I'm of course talking about Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip. We all know the story. After being diagnosed with a terminal form of brain cancer, Downie did more in a year than most of us hope to do in a lifetime. Releasing Man Machine Poem in June, the Hip then set off on a cross-Canada tour that would act as some sort of strange pilgrimage-meets-goodbye to the country that embraced them for so many years. But for Downie, the end of the Hip was only the beginning of his year.

He would release Secret Path in collaboration Kevin Drew (BSS) and illustrated by Jeff Lemire. This was a concept album about a young Anishanaabe boy who died in 1966 trying to escape a native school to his home. This project would both fund and raise awareness for the Truth & Reconciliation movement in Canada and do a great deal to raise the profile of this crucial cause.

However, what Downie did in all of these acts is remind us of the Canadian spirit. The never-say-die, look-out-for-the-little-guy, love your neighbour, challenge your country, and push yourself, spirit that lives within all of us. I still remember watching the final Kingston concert with a group of coworkers on a camping trip in the middle of Ontario, huddled around my tiny smart phone. It was a moment of shock and sadness, but also a celebration of life and meaning in the world.

Gord Downie is my artist of 2016 because he reminded us all to be artists of our own sort.

-Topple the days through the uncertain haze around the back of this maze and to you.