CLARENVILLE, NL –Rev. Bob Mercer of Memorial United Church in Clarenville says it was a lyric that he never forgot.
I had my hands in the river
My feet back up on the banks
Looked up to the Lord above
And said “hey man thanks”
The line was from the Tragically Hip's 1989 track “New Orleans is Sinking,” a song that soon became a staple in the Hip’s repertoire.
“That just stuck with me,” explained Mercer. “I hadn’t even thought of ministry at that point… but I just loved that line. Here he was saying, ‘Thank you God for everything,’ and he did it in a way that so was natural and beautiful.”
When Mercer heard of the death of Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie on Wednesday, his mind went back to, among other things, that lyric.
The next day, he took down the old message from the church sign (a humorous quip about the church now offering pumpkin spice sermons) and put up a new message:
I looked up to the Lord above
And said “Hey man thanks.”
He says he felt it was a fitting tribute to the late artist, who captured the heart of Canada over his 30-year career.
“Gord Downie was an artist. And not only that, he was a Canadian artist. The man personified Canadiana,” said Mercer.
Mercer saw The Hip live when they performed at Memorial Stadium in St. John's in 1988. He was also chosen to be part of the local “roadie group” for the band (music jargon for a group that helps prepare the stage for the concert and disassembly afterwards.)
Though he didn’t get to meet the band, he does say their payment for roadie-ing was above and beyond what was expected.
“I have to say, The Hip paid their local crew really well. We got laminates, as much Coke or Pepsi as we wanted to drink, we got paid, we got a free T-shirt out of it.
“I've done, call it roadie-ing work, for other bands, and I didn’t get none of that. The best I got paid from doing some local roadie-ing work was through the Tragically Hip.”
Mercer says the reaction to the sign's new message has been overwhelmingly positive. He shared a photo of the sign to Facebook, which as of Friday morning – less than 24 hours since the sign went up – has been shared just under 300 times.
Mercer says there is a lesson all Canadians can learn from Downie's example.
“We have been blessed by God with an amazing country, and amazing people, an amazing way of life, and we can share that with so many others. To be able to share in love, because we care.”
He says he will keep the message up for a week or two.