SUMMERSIDE – As news broke of Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie’s death, Gord Lapp sat in his chair leafing through articles about the popular performer.
Lapp, former owner of the Regent in Summerside, brought the Canadian band to the Island in the late 1980s.
“We all knew it was going to happen at some point, but that hasn’t made it any easier,” he said of Downie’s passing.
“I worked with him half a dozen times. When he was diagnosed more than a year ago, the outpouring of fans was interesting. Initially they were thought of as alternative music, but now they are mainstream. It was well deserved.”
The Tragically Hip performed at the Regent in Summerisde in the late 1980s. Jeff Hornby photo
Downie died on Oct. 17 of an incurable form of brain cancer.
Lapp described Downie as an interesting guy.
“When you spoke to him, you knew he was listening. It wasn’t small talk.
“Artistically he was a great poet and writer. He’ll be sorely missed.”
Downie was very unselfish, he said.
“After he was diagnosed, it’s like he turned on the engines. He put out another album, spoke out for the causes he believed in. He was just that kind of guy.”
He was a big hockey fan, Lapp added.
“I remember he would sit up in our sports bar, before and after a performance and watch the game. He’d hang out and watch the game with all the folks at the bar.”
Lapp says his favourite memory is that fame never seemed to change who Downie was.
“Whenever we’d see each, other he knew who I was and we would have a talk. It never seemed like he wanted to be famous, he just wanted to be a guy that wrote and played music. He was never in too much of a hurry to get anywhere.
“No matter how big they got, they were still the same guys. They were always humble and interested in the places they were playing.”
For Summerside family, Paige, Jordan, Robbie and Jennifer Rankin any day was a Tragically Hip day.
“Sitting around? The Hip’s on. Driving in the car? The Hip’s on. Campfire? Hip’s on. It was like, no matter what we were doing, the Tragically Hip was always playing,” said Paige.
Robbie first heard the Hip when he was 19 and the band played in Summerside.
Since then, he’s seen the band about seven other times.
In 2015, Robbie and wife Jennifer saw the Hip at the Moncton Casino.
“Our seats were blocked by the speakers so they moved us to the floor. We were right by the stage. We were about six feet away from them. It was a very intimate feeling,” said Jennifer.
Jordan remembers hearing the Hip throughout his childhood.
“I remember Mom and Dad would have parties and the Hip would be going. I wasn’t a fan back then, but as I got older I developed a love for them. I’m easily as big a fan as they are.”
“I didn’t like them when I was little either, but now, I’ll listen to them on a good day or a bad day. They’re good for anything.”
Paige’s favourite thing about Downie was his lyricism and compassion.
“He was more of a poet with his songs. When you really listen to them you can tell there is a story for any person in each of the songs. It was clear he was caring and kind to every person.”
Now the family is mourning the loss of seeing their favourite band perform as one unit.
“I don’t think I’ll ever have the same feeling again. With the Hip, I would pay to go see them anywhere. But I don’t feel like that about any other band.”
Jennifer added, “It’s not like we knew them personally, but when we heard about his cancer, we were devastated. Then when we heard the news this morning, our first instincts were to tell Paige and Jordan.”
Their only regret is not going to the final concert tour.
Wayne Maddix, a former limo driver, remembers the day he became an unofficial member of the Hip.
“It was 1991 and they were playing in Summerside. I called up the owner of the Regent and offered my limo service to the band. The next day when I called to set it all up, their road manager said they weren’t much of a limo kind of group. But they left me and my wife tickets to see the show and meet them afterward.”
After the show, while talking with the band, Maddix got his second chance to drive them around.
“They needed to go to Charlottetown to catch their flight. So they asked if I would take them. We get to Charlottetown and check into the hotel and then they said they wanted to take me to lunch. We went to the Old Dublin Pub.”
At that time in Maddix’s life, he had long hair like the Hip members.
“We’re all sitting at the table and one of the waitresses comes up and is saying how the owners are big fans of the band like I’m part of it. Then she asks for their autographs.”
That’s when Downie nudged Maddix saying, “Come one Wayne don’t be a jerk give them you’re autograph.”
So Maddix signed the menu and handed it around.
“There are a few signatures on the Island that don’t belong there,” he said with a chuckle.