Mourning the loss of someone you’ve never met — one fan’s perspective on the death of Neil Peart

Melita Hoffman
Jan 14 · 6 min read
Author photo — New Orleans, 2011

I’ve been a Rush fan since the mid-1980’s. And along with every other Rush fan I know, the news on Friday, the 10th of January 2020, that Neil Peart had died 3 days earlier from brain cancer, was a gut-punch we hadn’t seen coming. One that left us gasping for breath. Reeling. Unmoored.

And for many of us, also crying like we’d just lost a close friend.

Over and over through that weekend, I saw people saying, “How can I cry (or cry this much) for someone I’ve never met?”

I asked myself the same question. This hit me a lot harder than I’d ever have expected it to, even knowing internally how much the band has meant to me through the years.

I’m not sure I have completely pinned down everything I’ve felt through this process yet, but these are my thoughts up to this point.

First, I’d tend to reject the idea that it makes any difference that we had never ‘met’ him — because we probably know more about his personality, sense of humor, likes and dislikes, history, and things both trivial and serious than we know about even some of our friends or family. Not because we are ‘fanatics’, necessarily; but rather because he shared so much of himself with us.

Which sounds odd to say, given that he was such a private, shy person who actively shunned fan encounters.

I always understood that particular dichotomy, though. As an introvert, I know it’s often easier to share your innermost feelings at a distance. It can sometimes be easier to confide in a complete stranger than someone close to you. And it’s also often easier to write about what you feel than to say it, especially face-to-face.

Between his lyrics, his books, his blog posts, and interviews over the decades — Neil Peart shared intimate details of his life, to a degree that even our friends or family might not always be willing to share with us. Sharing pain is harder than sharing joy; and he shared the agonizing pain of losing his only daughter, and then losing his wife. He gave us a detailed look into the dark depths of despair; a window into a soul that had to make a conscious choice to continue living, after losing so much in such a short time.

And he shared the joy as well. Finding love again. The birth of another daughter. The little moments; anxiety over the pregnancy, the unique things that only a child observes, the feeling of sharing a special story/drawing that was made just for her.

Through his books and blog posts, he also took us on motorcycle journeys through the back-roads and small towns of America, coast to coast and north to south. He took us on a bicycle trip through Africa. He took us on ski and snowshoe treks through the wintry Canadian woods. He took us back to his not-so-successful time in England, and to various points of his childhood. He shared his discoveries with us — whether they were music or books that he liked, natural wonders, or historical trivia. He shared his friends with us to some degree as well, the people that meant the most to him.

Through his lyrics, he also shared things like what it’s like to be a misfit, not one of the ‘cool’ kids. To be present for a space-shuttle launch. To lose a friend, unexpectedly — and to lose one after a long and storied life as well. To make a decision to leave the life that’s been set in front of you, forge your own path. The memories you make as a teenager, that stay with you forever. What it’s like to be a celebrity that would really rather not be in the limelight. The gift of being present, appreciating a moment while you’re in it and wishing you could make it last a little longer.

Nearly every aspect of the human condition was explored in one way or another, through his lyrics.

So I say — we may not have ever met him, but he was hardly a stranger to us. He shared more of his life, his thoughts, his essence with us than we probably ever realized — or appreciated — until now.

And we also knew that none of it was manufactured, or just public image — it wasn’t a front. We knew that he was the person in those books, in those lyrics, in those interviews. “The most endangered species: the honest man” — and never more true than the times we’re living in right now. The loss of any honest man, any man of his kind of integrity, is painful, too.

There’s also the sense of finality that we (as fans) had to come to terms with. Sure, we all had a pretty good idea that R40 was the last tour even before anyone officially said so, but we still had hope even after they drew the line, said that was it. Maybe a Vegas residency? A weeklong stint at Madison Square Garden? Maybe a new album somewhere down the road, just no live shows? Maybe more collaborations with other artists, or drum instructional videos, or books, or blog posts? Maybe more interviews that would give us yet another glimpse into the making of an album, or what he thought about a given song?

As long as he was still here, hope endured. Maybe, maybe, maybe…however unlikely the scenarios we conjured might be, we could still dream.

So our sadness isn’t only for having lost the man himself; it’s also the final nail in our hopes for the ‘magic’ to last just a little longer. Maybe one more time, to open up a new Rush album with all the same anticipation that we brought to opening up the previous ones. Or to hear another impossible drum part and marvel at it, try to work it out for ourselves — even if only to air-drum it properly. To get another insight on anything he cared to talk about — the unique view of something, tangible or intangible, through his eyes and mind.

Many of us also grieved for his family, and the unfairness of being taken how and when he was, after all the tragedy he’d already endured. We knew from his books, blog posts, interviews, and the documentaries, how much he hated leaving his young daughter Olivia to go on tour; in 2015 he said, “I’ve been doing this for 40 years — I know how to compartmentalize, and I can stand missing her, but I can’t stand her missing me. It’s painful and impossible to understand for her. How can a small child process that? And there’s the guilt that comes with that — you feel guilty about it, of course. I’m causing pain.”

He seemed determined not to take this second chance for granted, not wanting to miss one moment of precious time that he knew could never be regained.

So, while we were sad that there wouldn’t be any more Rush tours, at the same time we couldn’t fault his reasons. And so we tempered our loss with the knowledge of what he’d be gaining — time to spend with his daughter, his wife — his family.

It’s just cruel. Beyond cruel. They should have had years, decades to enjoy together. Given the anguish he expressed over leaving for a month or three…one can only imagine.

I grieve for his parents as well. A granddaughter, a daughter-in-law, and now a son, lost; and all of them too soon.

So many lives that he touched, so deeply. My deepest sympathies to Geddy and Alex. To his siblings, family and dear friends. To Gump, Howard, Liam, Dave, and the rest of the tour crew — to Ray and all of SRO/Anthem — to Michael and Brutus — to Broon, Caveman and Booujze — to Hugh Syme and Kevin J. Anderson — to Matt Scannell, Peter Criss, Mike Portnoy, Doane Perry, Dave and Taylor, and all the other artists and producers and people he worked and associated with, who are feeling the loss.

And to the rest of the fans, who maybe now won’t have to wonder why they’re crying over the death of a man they never met/knew. And who can also be assured that they’re definitely not alone in feeling that way.

But most of all — my deepest heartfelt sympathy to his wife Carrie, and daughter Olivia. It really is so wrong, so unfair. To him as well as to you.

Ach…

Author Photo — Orlando, 2013

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