In the face of his own mortality, Gord Downie chose to celebrate life, love and connections. Those are strong currents that run through the Tragically Hip frontman’s farewell album “Introduce Yerself,” a series of 23 love letters in song. Each one is addressed to a person or place that left an indelible impression on his life.

Canadian Press

 

Written in the months after Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in December 2015, he began working on this album — which is out Friday — through an organic collaboration with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew.

“Introduce Yerself” pays homage to the good times Downie shared with friends, moments of emotional intimacy, and perhaps even ties up a few loose ends. Sometimes the context is hazy and who he’s speaking to is often a mystery.

The album is best experienced on a set of headphones, which commits the listener to hanging onto every word of each story from Downie, who died last week at 53.

 

 

Here are five notable tracks and their back stories:

 

“FIRST PERSON” — Setting a sombre tone, Downie offers flashes of what seem to be early memories of his mother, Lorna. “First person, this is the gift of my life,” he sings. “First person to lean down and kiss me goodnight.” The song then drifts towards Downie repeating “goodbye” against the haunting sound of a piano and an intensifying kick drum that evokes the sound of a heartbeat. He finishes with a lesson he took to heart in his final days: “You said, ‘What you do is you.'”

“INTRODUCE YERSELF” — One of the songs Downie wrote after his invasive brain surgery, it begins while he’s riding in the backseat of a vehicle with a friend. His memory is deteriorating and he’s struggling with the name of his driver, even though he feels he should know him. He writes “Introduce Yerself” on his hand and pokes his friend, hoping the suggestion might ease the tension. Downie talks about how that moment stuck with him. On Christmas Eve, he decided to tattoo the words on his hand. But the tattoo shop was closed and the phrase was never inked, though Downie immortalized his idea on the album cover.

“YOU ME AND THE B’S” — Downie’s hockey obsession was no secret, so it’s completely appropriate that one of the album’s most upbeat songs pays tribute to the sport that brought him so much joy. His younger brother Patrick shares the spotlight in this memory, with Downie singing about their shared love for the Boston Bruins. “We talked about them nearly every day, for over 40 years now,” he sings. “We talked about other stuff nearly every day too, with the B’s you could never lose.” Percussion was recorded with a hockey stick on the driveway outside the studio.

“MY FIRST GIRLFRIEND” — Dipping into nostalgia deepest here, Downie reflects on his first relationship, with someone six years his senior. He frames their connection with a cinematic vigour. “You read books all the time and made me want to read books over my head,” he sings. “You had long blond hair to your waist and didn’t give a damn.” Eventually his lust takes over and Downie tries to make a move. She rejects his advances and tells him off.

“THE NORTH” — After last year’s whirlwind summer tour the Hip embarked on a trip to James Bay with Canadian novelist Joseph Boyden and a group of Indigenous guides. Downie tells of his mindset of “keeping things real and keeping things day-to-day” while he learned more about “life of the North, in a Canada we should’ve never called Canada.” He sheds light on problems that are “over 100 years old” and the scars left by residential schools. “They’re parents without kids, without parents,” he says. Downie takes the final moments of the song — which closes the album — to focus on hope: “Let’s turn our faces to the sun and get whatever warmth there is in the unnoticed world. The misunderstood world.”

 

Take a listen:

 

The Canadian Press

 

 

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