Song of the Day: Gord Downie – A Natural

photo by: Gordon Hawkins

photo by: Gordon Hawkins

By Jason Anderson

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Today’s song, featured on The Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “A Natural” by Gord Downie, a song from the album Introduce Yerself, which is available via Arts & Crafts.

Gord Downie – A Natural (MP3)

As a richly observed evocation of childhood and summertime that deftly shifts between younger and older perspectives, Gord Downie’s “A Natural” would deliver an emotional wallop even if it didn’t carry the baggage it does. Nearly two years ago, the frontman of the Tragically Hip was diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer. Unsurprising given the band’s national-hero status up north, the Hip’s final tour in 2016 generated very big emotions. Yet more tears were shed when Downie died in October of last year at the age of 53. Such was the intensity of the collective grief, no one mocked Canada’s panda-hugging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for breaking down on camera as he spoke about Downie.

Written and recorded during his final months with the help of Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew and other friends, Downie’s Introduce Yerself encapsulates a wide range of feelings as the end loomed. Since Downie was leaving four children behind, the songs that touch on his feelings as a parent may have the biggest impact. Yet “A Natural” boasts a sense of gentleness and joy rather than despair. Always a careful, detailed-oriented songwriter, Downie creates a vivid vignette that positions him as an observer of another kid – maybe a childhood BFF, maybe one of Downie’s own children – “taking deadly aim with your BB gun” at a row of cans and fully savoring the attention. Somewhere in there is a certain envy that adults feel about all the things that are gone to them but fresh to the kids in their lives, especially on those summer days that felt so endless. Downie sings it in an unhurried manner over the kind of spacious, low-key setting that was more characteristic of Downie’s idiosyncratic solo endeavors than the Hip’s more arena-ready rock sound.

And while his voice sometimes faltered during his band’s last shows, that edge of fragility adds yet more poignancy to the sentiment here, which is that the moments that often carry the most meaning are the ones that initially don’t seem to carry anything at all. As he sings, “I’ll probably miss those days whiled away with you spent on nothing much.”

“A Natural” is out now on streaming services and Gord Downie’s website and Facebook pages. Below, you can watch one of the Tragically Hip’s final performances.

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