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An ill-fated trip with Hip's Gord Downie and Yellowknifer's Fishin' Technician

Editor's note: This column originally appeared in Yellowknifer on Aug. 1, 2001. It follows a visit to Yellowknife by the Tragically Hip's Gord Downie, who performed at Folk on the Rocks, filmed a music video for his solo album Coke Machine Glow and found time to hit the water with Yellowknifer's Fishin' Technician who had just returned to civilization after a lengthy canoe trip. Downie died Tuesday after a lengthy battle with brain cancer.

NNSL file photo
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip and Fishin' Technician Mike W. Bryant spent an afternoon aboard a wobbly canoe casting for pike on a summer afternoon during the singer's visit to Yellowknife in 2001. Downie died after a long fight with brain cancer on Tuesday.
NNSL file photo

Oh my, back to work, back to the Precambrian salt mines of community journalism.

Yes folks, the clamp of the yolk around my neck has never felt tighter or oddly more comfortable.

Well, there I was out by the canoe with Gord Downie, lead singer of the Tragically Hip (and I guess he's some sort of poet now too), staring at his toenails.

They were painted day-glo green and the hair on his feet looked surprisingly soft for a man who's rocked the nation for over a decade.

“My daughters painted them,” he told me when I inquired of his cosmetic pedal enhancements. “It keeps me close to home.”

Jeepers, creepers, I was thinking. Here we are going fishing out on the bay and he's barefoot in the canoe like he's John the Baptist or something.

What the hell would happen if we got a big jackfish in the boat chomping at his feet? He would have to go home to his daughters with only a pair of nubs left where his feet were.

And then we would have this pig pike swimmin' around Yellowknfe Bay, crazed with toxic shock – nail polish oozing into its nervous system and biting kids on their jetskis.

I think you can agree with me, Gord, that we don't need Peter Benchley snooping around here trying to revive his screenwriting career or some other stupid thing.

One-armed drummer

And you know, there's only so many amputee rock stars out there. That one-armed drummer guy from Def Leppard made a go of it for a while but he also had some pretty big hair at the time, and that probably helped him out a bit.

“Actually, I'm down to one hairstyle – my last hairstyle,” Gord lamented, while nervously pulling at the edges of his crusher hat.

Yep, getting older can be tough. You wear your trousers rolled and start walking around with a crusher hat on everywhere you go.

I remember seeing the Hip way back when at my college pub in Winnipeg, and they were all really sweaty and hairy, and none of them were wearing hats.

But we're all getting a little older, fatter and balder, aren't we Gord? Well heck, that's not going to stop us from going out fishing now, is it there ol' buddy?

“I know enough about fishing that it's all about the company you keep,” he said warmly and cast out into the water.

He seemed to be feeling a little more at ease than he was the night before.

I spent a lot of time with Gord while he was up here, basically just drinking beer and shooting his new video, but getting him into the boat took a little more prodding, if you know what I mean.

“I'm not going to need an insurance agent, am I?” he asked the night before the trip. The trepidation on his face was becoming more apparent.

“Oh no, no,” I assured him. “It's all cool, just don't move around in the canoe too much. It's a bit wobbly … Mind if I have another beer?”

Of course, now we know where those songs about death and drowning come from – Mississippi Sinking, Nautical Disaster. The ol' man was afraid of water, I guess.

I figured it was a good thing that we were only paddling around Latham Island. If we tipped the canoe, we were more likely to get covered in duck poop than we were to drown.

The canoe was pretty wobbly, though. It belongs to some friends of the family, and though I was grateful it was around, it is basically a plastic bathtub with seats.

But what the hell, it served our immediate purposes, and Gord was a good enough sport to get in and try for a couple of pike with me.

Unfortunately, because I'm such a spazz, Gord was hanging onto the sides of the boat in a death grip.

We didn't catch anything, of course, but hell, good times were had by all nonetheless.

I asked him what he'd do if he wasn't a rock singer (“soul singer,” he corrected me), and all the fear and pent-up angst washed away from his face.

“I'd fish,” he said, and smiled.

Well cheers there Gordie. Maybe some day we'll get painted up and give 'er another try, eh?