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Gord Downie’s brother to tell Tragically Hip’s story in new doc

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When documentarian Mike Downie sets out to tell the story of The Tragically Hip, he won’t just be charting the rise of one of Canada’s biggest-selling musical acts. He’ll be telling the story of a country that embraced the musical icons for over three decades.

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Downie, the brother of late frontman Gord Downie, announced this week that he’ll direct a four-part “definitive documentary” series for Prime Video that will trace the Hip from their early years as a high school band in Kingston, Ont., to one of the country’s most iconic arena-filling rock acts.

“My objective is to not just tell the story of the band, but I think in many ways, you know, tell the story about what’s been going on in the country for the last 40 years because I think in many ways, the band reflects that,” Downie said in an interview with the Sun earlier this week.

The series, which will feature never-before-seen footage and performances, is set to be released in 2024 to mark the 40th anniversary of the 17-time JUNO Award-winning band’s formation.

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Downie, who documented the band’s 1993 Another Roadside Attraction tour in Heksenketel, has been busily sifting through the Hip’s archives and said that the end result will appeal to viewers unfamiliar with any of the band’s 13 studio albums.

“This is a story about what happens when you believe in yourself and you believe in your friends,” Downie said. “The Hip is a great example of sticking to it, getting through the storms and coming out the other end.”

Even though he’s been part of the extended Hip family — which was made up of rhythm guitarist Paul Langlois, lead guitarist Rob Baker, drummer Johnny Fay and bassist Gord Sinclair — for decades, Downie says he’s learning new things about his brother Gord, who died of brain cancer in 2017.

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“My brother, Patrick, and I have all his notebooks and all of his diaries and everything else. And so I’m reading about my brother’s experiences when he was in his mid 20s down in New Orleans making (1991’s) Road Apples and he’s just jotting stuff in this book like a human tape recorder,” he said. “It is like I was in a room with him. Personally, it’s a chance to get to know my brother on a deeper level.”

The documentary will feature new interviews from the rest of the band and longtime fans of the group.

Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip performs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Aug. 10, 2016. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip performs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Aug. 10, 2016. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun Photo by Ernest Doroszuk /Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun

“When Robbie, or Paul, or Gord, or Johnny start to tell you a story, you know it’s going to be good,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s almost like I get to put a quarter in the machine and then hear a great story.”

The process has also brought him closer to his brother, after their collaboration on Finding the Secret Path, a 2018 documentary that charted the last year of Gord’s life and his effort to tell the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy who died while trying to escape a residential school in northern Ontario in 1966.

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“I get to have a conversation that I always wanted to have with each member of the band, and to a certain extent with my brother as well,” he said getting choked up.

“Some days when I’m sitting in my office and working away, I feel his presence and I think to myself, ‘What do you think of that Gord? It’s a good feeling. Like anybody who’s lost someone in their life knows, they’re not gone. He’s really not gone.”

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Culling through the old footage and reading through his brother’s diaries has been an emotional experience, Downie said. But when the docuseries is complete, it will not only offer closure for fans of the band whose creative output was cut short. The final product will serve as a testament to Gord’s work towards the end of his life to raise awareness about Indigenous issues in Canada and the country’s dark history of residential schools.

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Mike Downie
Mike Downie Photo by Canadian Press

“I think it gave him some peace to know that, we were creating the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund that still exists today and that’s doing work all over the country,” he said.

“This generation that’s in school right now are learning a much different history of this country and it was the lead singer in one of the country’s most important bands who woke up Canadians to the fact that we have racism here. We have lives here that are on a third-world level, and that’s nothing to be proud of.”

His brother knew that music fans coast-to-coast were deeply saddened by his terminal illness, and Downie says Gord “felt the love,” but he wanted to do something positive with his grief.

“He was thankful for the concern,” Downie said. “But he was saying (to fans), ‘You’ve got some work to do and I won’t be here to help you do it. So get on with it.’”

[email protected]

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Article content

When documentarian Mike Downie sets out to tell the story of The Tragically Hip, he won’t just be charting the rise of one of Canada’s biggest-selling musical acts. He’ll be telling the story of a country that embraced the musical icons for over three decades.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Downie, the brother of late frontman Gord Downie, announced this week that he’ll direct a four-part “definitive documentary” series for Prime Video that will trace the Hip from their early years as a high school band in Kingston, Ont., to one of the country’s most iconic arena-filling rock acts.

“My objective is to not just tell the story of the band, but I think in many ways, you know, tell the story about what’s been going on in the country for the last 40 years because I think in many ways, the band reflects that,” Downie said in an interview with the Sun earlier this week.

The series, which will feature never-before-seen footage and performances, is set to be released in 2024 to mark the 40th anniversary of the 17-time JUNO Award-winning band’s formation.

Advertisement 3

Article content

Downie, who documented the band’s 1993 Another Roadside Attraction tour in Heksenketel, has been busily sifting through the Hip’s archives and said that the end result will appeal to viewers unfamiliar with any of the band’s 13 studio albums.

“This is a story about what happens when you believe in yourself and you believe in your friends,” Downie said. “The Hip is a great example of sticking to it, getting through the storms and coming out the other end.”

Even though he’s been part of the extended Hip family — which was made up of rhythm guitarist Paul Langlois, lead guitarist Rob Baker, drummer Johnny Fay and bassist Gord Sinclair — for decades, Downie says he’s learning new things about his brother Gord, who died of brain cancer in 2017.

Advertisement 4

Article content

“My brother, Patrick, and I have all his notebooks and all of his diaries and everything else. And so I’m reading about my brother’s experiences when he was in his mid 20s down in New Orleans making (1991’s) Road Apples and he’s just jotting stuff in this book like a human tape recorder,” he said. “It is like I was in a room with him. Personally, it’s a chance to get to know my brother on a deeper level.”

The documentary will feature new interviews from the rest of the band and longtime fans of the group.

Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip performs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Aug. 10, 2016. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip performs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Aug. 10, 2016. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun Photo by Ernest Doroszuk /Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun

“When Robbie, or Paul, or Gord, or Johnny start to tell you a story, you know it’s going to be good,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s almost like I get to put a quarter in the machine and then hear a great story.”

The process has also brought him closer to his brother, after their collaboration on Finding the Secret Path, a 2018 documentary that charted the last year of Gord’s life and his effort to tell the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy who died while trying to escape a residential school in northern Ontario in 1966.

Advertisement 5

Article content

“I get to have a conversation that I always wanted to have with each member of the band, and to a certain extent with my brother as well,” he said getting choked up.

“Some days when I’m sitting in my office and working away, I feel his presence and I think to myself, ‘What do you think of that Gord? It’s a good feeling. Like anybody who’s lost someone in their life knows, they’re not gone. He’s really not gone.”

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Culling through the old footage and reading through his brother’s diaries has been an emotional experience, Downie said. But when the docuseries is complete, it will not only offer closure for fans of the band whose creative output was cut short. The final product will serve as a testament to Gord’s work towards the end of his life to raise awareness about Indigenous issues in Canada and the country’s dark history of residential schools.

Advertisement 6

Article content

Mike Downie
Mike Downie Photo by Canadian Press

“I think it gave him some peace to know that, we were creating the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund that still exists today and that’s doing work all over the country,” he said.

“This generation that’s in school right now are learning a much different history of this country and it was the lead singer in one of the country’s most important bands who woke up Canadians to the fact that we have racism here. We have lives here that are on a third-world level, and that’s nothing to be proud of.”

His brother knew that music fans coast-to-coast were deeply saddened by his terminal illness, and Downie says Gord “felt the love,” but he wanted to do something positive with his grief.

“He was thankful for the concern,” Downie said. “But he was saying (to fans), ‘You’ve got some work to do and I won’t be here to help you do it. So get on with it.’”

[email protected]

Advertisement 1

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

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