“Right to the heart of the matter, right to the beautiful parts” — Emotion Detector
Back to work. Back to the real world.
My Starman water bottle greets me as I stroll up to my desk this morning. Ready for it or not, it’s time to face the day and try to carry on. It’s hard to believe this is the new normal.
Friday’s news of Neil Peart’s passing has left us inconsolable. We spent the weekend in seclusion, trying to make sense of it. The news was sudden and unexpected. It came out of nowhere and hit us like a gut punch. We will all remember where we were when we found out.
The tributes and condolences poured in from celebrities. Everyone from the Foo Fighters, Chuck D, Steve Smith, Jack Black, Geezer Butler and so many others expressed the massive influence he had on their lives. Those within his inner circle gave touching tributes, especially Geddy Lee, Chris Stankee, Donna Halper and Kevin Anderson.
“He was my hero” was all I could muster. Our inability to put our thoughts and emotions into words is well shared. Many of us find ourselves stumbling.
Why? Why has this man created such a profound effect in our lives?
It’s a question that’s impossible to answer, but we attempt. How do you explain something that is cornerstone to your life? The phrase Soundtrack of My Life has often been used by Rush fans, even reported by Neil himself as one of the greatest compliments he ever received. I have yet to find a better description.
We all have our origin stories, and remember exactly how we discovered Rush in the first place, a memory pleasantly seared into our minds, bringing us back to that point in time where life would change for us so surprisingly.
For me, I was in the twelfth grade at Thousand Oaks High School, a picture perfect suburbia that may as well have been the setting for the song “Subdivisions”. I was that kid, and that was my life.
“What a fool I used to be” — Presto
I discovered Rush as I made the foolhardy decision to join the varsity soccer team in an attempt to gain the attention of a girl— an ultimate act of bravado, as I had not even a speck of athletic ability or experience. Unexpectedly, I was greeted with apathy by the rest of the team. They treated my being there as a joke, with the exception of a guy named Darren, who years later would become the drummer for Steel Panther.
And then it happened. My friend Ken who encouraged me to join the team, gave me an audio cassette. “Here. Listen to Red Barchetta.”
That was the moment. I’d never heard anything like it before. Those drums! That droning rhythm! It was so far outside of anything I could understand, and yet I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
It happened at the right time. Hell Week started that Monday. And the entire time, that song carried me through, embedded in my head.
I earned my letter (technically), an act of placation and mercy by an exasperated coach Z. I never did get the girl.
But it set the world in motion for me, and I was soon travelling down a path of discovery and fascination. Neil’s lyrics set the stage as the world around me opened up and welcomed me to discover literature, art, science, history… College became my playground as I contemplated philosophy with my friends, Permanent Waves permanently stuck in my Nakamichi tape deck of my beat up ‘79 Mustang.
It’s that youthful optimism I’ll remember the most, the idea that we could joyfully come to know this world, and with integrity, purpose and hard work, we could live the life we want to live.
The world was ours.
“Leave out conditions, courageous convictions will drag the dream into existence” — Vital Signs
It was a coming of age as I met others who got it, and served as a rite of passage as I became weirdly socialized. My first beer was around the campfire in Yosemite with my friend Mike, as he brought out his guitar and busted out Closer to the Heart and Limelight. Many more beers would follow that night, which led to my first hangover the next morning. Anyone who saw the movie “I Love You, Man” nodded the entire time in agreement. We were all Sidney and Peter.
This was initiation into adulthood.
And then there were the concerts. Oh, so many concerts. We’d desperately wait in line for tickets, hoping for good seats, but overjoyed at the nosebleed tickets we were lucky to get. At least we got tickets.
Anybody who knew somebody who knew somebody who worked for the promoter or radio station was a God to us — the hope that they could get us floor seats sometime. Imagine my surprise when I found out my neighbor was a promoter, and with a phone call got us 10th row seats!
We never lost that part of our youth, as we grew into adults and shared what we loved with our children. Making Memories.
And Neil knew it. At concerts he’d scan the audience, and if he saw a kid enjoying the moment with his daddy, he’d send out a pair of drumsticks. My son was a lucky recipient of a gift he’ll treasure for the rest of his life.
“Reflected in another pair of eyes” — Chain Lightning
And in some way, it felt like Neil was welcoming us into the family.
All of these memories are coming back to each of us right now. And though most of us have never met the man, it feels like a big chunk of our life is gone.
Complicating this is that we have very little details of his passing.
Given Neil’s well known need for privacy, it makes sense that he would keep this hidden from the public. So we may never get any details we’d like for closure.
It is what it is — to borrow a line from my favorite song The Garden, which many of us aren’t ready to hear right now. Love and Respect. Our love and respect for him is beyond measure, and so we have to honor his need for privacy and extend that to his family and friends.
But I would like to share something with you, and I’m hoping this might help.
I saw a picture posted yesterday of someone enjoying a glass of Macallan with Neil. I’d like to share this with you, because it tells something very important.
We can see in this pic that Neil is wearing his “All Eight” hat, having successfully visited all eight Channel Islands. An Instagram pic from Michael showed that he joined the All Eight club in 2018. Thus, we know that this picture was taken in 2018 or later, well into the time that he was fighting this terrible affliction. As far as I can tell, this is the one of the few recent pics of Neil posted.
But look at the picture for a moment. He’s smiling. He’s happy. This very rare picture shows him doing exactly what he loved — Living his life quietly, and spending quality time with a friend. Even as he knew the inevitability of what he was facing, he’s happy.
From everything we know about him, this is exactly what he wanted, and exactly why he avoided letting his condition be known publicly.
And while we are all terribly saddened by his loss, we can take comfort knowing that he lived life on his terms, happily spending the rest of his days with the people he loved.
One last thought. As we reconcile our feelings, remember the quote Neil often used, attributed to Lesley Gore (1946–2015) “You gotta be true to your sixteen year old self.” Know that as we mourn, our sixteen year old selves would be proud of the adults we are today, for having never lost that part of who we are.