'Hey, man, thanks': Clarenville United Church minister pays tribute to Gord Downie

'Hey, man, thanks': Clarenville United Church minister pays tribute to Gord Downie

"I looked up to the Lord above and said, 'Hey, man, thanks.'"

It's a line from one of the Tragically Hip's best-loved songs, New Orleans is Sinking, and the inspiration for a United Church minister in Clarenville to pay tribute to the band's late lead singer, Gord Downie, who died Oct. 17.

"The man personified Canadiana," minister Bob Mercer told CBC. "He touched so many people across this beautiful land of ours and brought people together. He was the everyman poet."

Mercer remembers hearing that line many years ago — the song is on the group's first full-length album, Up to Here, and was released as a single in November 1989 — long before he ever entered the ministry.

"I wasn't even thinking about the ministry at that point, but I always did go to church and everything, and I just loved that line, the way that he was able to communicate with God as a friend. Fantastic, fantastic."

Nearly 30 years later, the line adorns the sign in front of Clarenville's Memorial United Church.

"I decided to commemorate and do my little bit for remembering Gord with that one line, and I thought outside a church, I think it does. At least I hope it does," he said.

But Mercer has a surprising confession: he's not actually a fan of the Tragically Hip — his tastes run more towards the music that earned him the nickname "Metal Mercer" for his former CHMR radio show — but simply respects the way Downie and the band crafted their songs.

He did see the band perform once, many years ago, when he was hired as part of a local crew to set up and tear down the stage setup for a concert at the former Memorial Stadium in St. John's.

Tragically Hip paid local crews the best

"I've done that for a number of bands in the past, and I have to say, out of all the bands that I have done that bit of local crew, roadie-ing work for, the Tragically Hip paid the local crew the best," he said.

The sign hasn't been up long, so he hasn't had much of a reaction from the congregation yet. It's a different story on social media, where a post about the sign is attracting hundreds of likes and shares.

"I'm like, what the heck happened here? I just wanted to put something up there as a little memorial for Gord Downie, and all of a sudden it's taken off like a shot."