Introduce Yerself
Gord Downie
Arts amp; Crafts

At death’s door, Gord Downie refused to sing about death.

On his final album, Introduce Yerself, the late singer-lyricist addresses the people and places that meant the most to him, one of them his bandmates, Lake Ontario, his Native acquaintances, his children, even his first girlfriend. This is not the oblique poet his fans have come to understand; his words are neither fancy nor mysterious. More private than philosophic, he’s left the meditations on mortality for others to perform.

Late in life, Mr. Downie took to kissing his friends and fellow musicians softly on the lips. Set to be released on Friday, the 23 songs of Introduce Yerself continue that tradition. Inspiringly intimate, they need to be taken as the balladic and gently rocking letters of a long goodbye.

Mr. Downie, the lead singer of this Kingston-bred rock band the Tragically Hip, died on Oct. 17 at age 53. After being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2015, in the early goings of 2016 he visited the Bathouse, a home and recording studio owned by the group in Bath, Ont., just west of Kingston. There, on the shore of Lake Ontario, he composed all the lyrics, each song about someone.

The first batch of songs was recorded quickly. Following that, the operation and treatment he underwent severely affected Mr. Downie’s memory. He was able to finish a brief summer tour with the Tragically Hip. In February of this year, he finished the album’s content (some of it co-written with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew).

On opening number First Person, he sings about advice given to him: that what you do, is you. The record reflects that notion. Introduce Yerself is an altruistic farewell, reflective of a generous guy.

The record is made by Mr. Drew, a collaborator on Mr. Downie’s Secret Course album, which was released in 2016 but recorded years before. The minimalist production and lean structures are like the manner of Secret Course, a song cycle inspired by the story of an Ojibwa boy who died in 1966 while running away from a home college in Northwestern Ontario.

Mr. Downie’s relationship with Indigenous people is revisited on Introduce Yerself with The North, the album’s closing track. The half-spoken tune is delivered and grateful to the people he met in Northern Canada. Against poignant piano notes, Mr. Downie repeats the term “children without parents,” a residential-school reference.

There’s absolutely not any way to know if all the songs were written prior to Mr. Downie’s invasive surgery, but the title track alludes to his post-operation memory loss. He sings about tattooing the words “introduce yourself” on his hands, to show to anybody he knew but could no longer remember. It’s heartbreaking, but provided with such warmth and a smile that it alleviates the majority of the sadness.

The lo-fi record is softly radiant sonically and musically uncomplicated. Mr. Drew’s excitement for the piano’s sustaining pedal doesn’t go unnoticed, while Mr. Downie’s earthy acoustic-guitar strum indicates a self-taught technique. Hockey-stick percussion happens.

Since it had been finished in Mr. Downie’s final months, Introduce Yerself will be compared to this leave-taking LPs of David Bowie (Blackstar) and Leonard Cohen (You Want It Darker). However, where Mr. Bowie flashed a cape and vanished with a dramatic flourish and Mr. Cohen offered something of a prayer, Mr. Downie’s kind-hearted sentimentality compares more closely with the folksy way of Neil Young’s Prairie Wind, recorded following the singer-songwriter’s near-death adventure in 2005. “When your summer days come tumbling down and you end up alone,” Mr. Young sang on Here for You, “then you can return and be with me.”

And so, Mr. Downie bequeaths You Me and the B’s to his younger brother, Patrick. The “B” stands for the Boston Bruins, the NHL team both adored.

One of Mr. Downie’s kids is awarded Bedtime, a touching remembrance of a baby being put to sleep by means of a father’s embrace and a rocking chair’s rhythm. Another child is left with Spoon, about Hawaii and a Toronto concert from the American indie rockers Spoon.

We learn on My Girlfriend that Mr. Downie’s first love was complicated and six years his senior.

In the end, the album is all about love. The bopping Love Over Money is written to (and about) his Tragically Hip brothers.

Mr. Downie reminds the rest of us that some day we are going to be gone too, and leaves us with a life lesson. “Let us turn our faces into the sun and get whatever heat there’s,” are among the album’s closing words.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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