I saw a band once, near my hometown. The year was 1989, and I had just moved from Toronto to the exciting metropolis of Belleville (translation: Pretty City), located on the Bay of Quinte off the shores of Lake Ontario.
I went there to study, of all things, photojournalism.
The program had been recommended to me by a Toronto Star pressman, who said many of the Star’s photogs had studied at Loyalist College.
Among our weekly assignments were to seek out and shoot some kind of feature, environmental portrait, or spot news photo.
One day, my friend told me about this awesome band from nearby Kingston that we just had to see. He had caught them the year before when they had played at Loyalist, and said the singer was probably the most enigmatic frontman he had ever witnessed.
I had heard of Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip and actually had the band’s second album, Up to Here, which had just come out, on cassette.
The Hip was becoming big news, and my search to see, and photograph, the band was satiated.
Two years at Loyalist, trying to find assignments to shoot in what we students lovingly deemed as “Hellville,” did not produce the results. By this time, The Hip was busy travelling the country.
Flash forward three years, and I was now a cub reporter at The Alliston Herald, a then independently owned newspaper covering the Town of New Tecumseth and South Simcoe region (about an hour’s drive north of Toronto).
It was a great first gig. I got to interview former Red Wings goalie Manny Legace when he was still a junior, started reviewing theatre, and became famous in the newsroom for removing the spiders that crept up the drain in the darkroom.
I also got to photograph The Hip.
It was at the nearby Molson Park in Barrie, and the band was playing a special MuchMusic Canada Day event.
I was finally able to see with my own eyes what everyone was talking about. Downie was not only enigmatic, but his herky-jerky movements, facial grimaces, poetic licence and pure passionate performance were pure gold to the ears and through the lens.
Since that day, I have seen The Hip at Another Roadside Attraction in Vancouver, and right here in Vernon, when the band performed along with Sam Roberts at the then named Multiplex in 2002.
In 2011, I had the chance to interview the man himself when he was touring on the release of his third solo album, The Grand Bounce.
I tried to downplay my fangirlism, but did tell him what an amazing subject he is to photograph and, as he was then touting his solo work, avoided going on about The Hip. I didn’t even mention the name of the band directly. After the interview, he thanked me for my thoughtfulness. Gord Downie thanked me.
I’d like to finally reciprocate. Thank you, Gord. Thank you, forever.