In the spring of 1998, I made the trip from my new (filthy, disgusting, ridiculously cheap) student accommodations back home to Moncton. My mother had driven up to help me move my few meager belongings, and my uncle had come along with her. My mom and I spent the day arguing about the state of my new abode (I vividly remember the phrase “I didn’t raise you to live like this!”) so when it came time to turn around and travel the 10 hours back home she took the opportunity to sleep in the back seat and try to forget the horrors of a room for $200/month. My uncle drove into the night and I manned the radio.
My uncle wasn’t a big talker. For sure we had a few deep discussions over the years, but it was pretty rare. But one thing we always connected through was music. When I was quite young he would grill me about songs on the radio, making sure I knew the name, and the artist, and he probably tried to get me to remember what year it came out too. He asked me to put in a cassette, since the only radio channels we were receiving were en francais.
I happened to have a copy of Fully Completely, and I didn’t say anything as I popped it in the tape deck. The guitar riffed and we looked at each other, and that was it. We spent the rest of the trip allowing the cassette to loop around and around, singing both under our breath and at the tops of our lungs.
At my wedding in 2009, my husband and I had our first dance to Long Time Running. My uncle had come to the wedding, and dressed in a gorgeous suit which was very out of character for him, and when I took a moment out of the dancing and shenanigans to tell him how ecstatic I was that he had made the trip, and how it filled my heart, he leaned close and said “I loved the song choice – remember that drive we had?”
Almost two years ago my uncle died of a brain tumor. If you have been a regular reader here then you know it was very sudden, very shocking, and very traumatizing. I was angry I wasn’t there, angry it was so fast, angry that the last time we spoke was by phone while I sat freezing on a stoop downtown.
And a few months later Gord Downie was revealed to have been diagnosed with the same form of cancer. Incurable, but surgery prolonged his life enough that he toured, and lived, and did good for a little while longer. And I felt sad, and nostalgic, and burned by the irony, and jealous of his family. We went to one of the final concerts, in Ottawa, and I cried so much, for Gord but also for my uncle, who loved The Hip so much.
I usually get hit hard when artists I love get sick or pass on because I think about all the beauty the world will be missing. But Gord’s passing on Tuesday is so much more complicated than that for me. I don’t know how to explain it. And while I’m thankful for the extra time we all had, to show our love and appreciation, I would have traded it for some extra time with my uncle Joey instead.