The night Gord Downie helped me woo my future wife
It was Oct. 6, 1994.
Full disclosure: I may have been drinking. I may have been a little drunk. Okay, maybe more than a little.
The day began with a long drive. I and five other university friends (one of whom would become my wife) departed Lethbridge headed south for the US border. In our hands, we held tickets to the Tragically Hip. We arrived in Spokane early, hit the Brass Rail – a local bar – where we downed a few quick rounds of drinks and then headed for the venue.
I had fallen in love with Jenny that year, but being someone who always felt awkward around women, I could never summon the courage to relay that message. During the Hip show, up in the second balcony of the Met, I got the half-baked idea that a sure fire way to impress her would be to sing with the band.
Today, as a performer, I really hate that I did what I’m about to tell you. I can only say that this happened before I bought a guitar, before I had any aspirations of performing, and before I knew how distracting and scary this kind of behaviour can be for a performer. I blame it on too much bourbon, the giddiness of adoring someone new, and just plain trying way too fucking hard.
Without saying a word to the group, I left my seat and made my way to the ground floor of the theatre. I walked down the centre aisle. The band was killing it, and the crowd was on its feet.
In front of the stage, all facing the audience, was the security detail. I would have to be swift. As I approached, one security guy eyed me and moved in my direction. With a smile I pointed to front row centre, as if saying, “Don’t mind me; I’m just returning to my seat.” He bought it and directed his attention elsewhere. I made my move. With the finesse of The Great One, I head-bobbed right and deked left and bounded right past him, four feet onto the stage and headed for the closest microphone.
The band was playing “Courage” when I arrived at guitarist Paul Langlois’s mic and began singing harmony. I managed to get out one line. My head snapped back when a couple roadies yanked me from the mic and hustled me off stage into the wings. I heard Gord say, “Whoa, that guy scared me.” The crowd cheered.
Back stage a theatre guy in a blazer with one of those FBI things in his ear grabbed me by the scruff. The three of them hustled me down a long hallway into the bowels of the building, and, just like in the movies, they used my head to open the loading dock doors and tossed me out into the alley, right beside the dumpster.
I found my way back to the Brass Rail and sat at a small round table. I felt dumb. While my friends and the girl I was trying to impress were together celebrating the band’s encore and the end of an epic day, I was drinking beer alone.
After the show, my friends found me. I looked to Jenny. Somehow she knew I had done this “for her,” but she was neither impressed nor unimpressed. She was the way Jenny always is, the way she has been since the day I met her: kind. She mentioned nothing about my stupid stunt but instead asked, “Did they hurt you?” We married two years later.
As I watched the Hip’s final show in 2016, I thought about that one line I sang with Gord, “Courage. It couldn’t come at a worst time,” and how very true it was for me that night in Spokane. But more so, I thought about the irony of a beloved frontman with terminal brain cancer singing that line for the last time in front of his hometown crowd, because at that moment, for Gord, courage came at the best time. Thanks Gord.
See John Wort Hannam live:
- Jan. 16 – The Exchange, Regina, SK
- Jan. 17 – Roots at Rusty’s, Roblin, MB
- Jan. 18 – Pinawa Community Centre, Pinawa, MB