It’s been nearly two weeks since we lost Gord Downie and just a few days since his last solo album, “Introduce Yerself,” was released.
So much has been written about the album, called everything from his parting gift to fans to a love letter.
It’s all true.
What sets apart this album from David Bowie’s “Blackstar” is we knew Downie was sick; we didn’t know about Bowie’s cancer until after the album was released days before he died. Whether we want to admit it, we all knew our time with Downie was short and to be treasured. He announced this album in September, surprising everyone other than those who work on it with him.
In its review of the album, the Toronto Star warns that “Introduce Yerself” will haunt listeners. But there are moments of playfulness here too, moments of humour that need to be acknowledged, even if that humour is tinged with the loss of a memory and brain that lifted and carried the stories of a nation for so many years.
The song’s title track has Downie talking about getting a tattoo on his hand to remind himself, and maybe others, to make introductions. Remember his interview with Peter Mansbridge, airing in summer 2016 between the close of the Man Machine Poem tour and the surprise of “Secret Path.”
Downie used to be known for his remarkable memory, “and now I can’t remember hardly anything. I have ‘Peter’ written on my hand. I have a few things written on my hands. And I say that just to be up front, because I might call you Doug,” he said at the time.
Many are pointing to “Bedtime” as the point at which their tears came. The album’s third song is lovely and touching, of course, and it’s hard not for the listener’s heart to break a little, thinking about their own kids (or nieces and nephews as the case may be) but also thinking about the four children Downie’s left behind.
Listen, too, to the album’s final track, “The North,” in which he’s calling once again on Canada to “do something” toward reconciliation. Since that night in Kingston, he said repeatedly his work with First Nations peoples, in particular those whose lives were troubled by residential schools for a shockingly long time, should be his legacy. That’s what he wants to be remembered for, that’s what he wants people work toward in his honour and his memory. It’s fitting his final song is for them.
But allow me this divergence: Listen to the little moments, the small sounds, the codas to many of the songs not for the lyrics but for the backgrounds.
“You Me and the Bs” ends with the sound of hockey sticks hitting the ice or the boards of a rink.
“Yer Ashore” sounds like it closes with a turntable spinning, the needle riding the blank grooves at the end of a side.
“The Lake” finishes with the distinct sound of geese honking.
The little moments, the little treasures, the little glimpses are what we hold most dear when we’ve lost, or are losing, someone we love. Hold these songs, too, and remember.