While it's been long obvious that almost no one from its glory days uses LiveJournal anymore, it remains for me an occasional outlet for things that just don't seem to belong anywhere else.
Such is very much the case for this, a very rare public post, in which i will openly struggle to capture some thoughts and feelings on a current event that falls near and dear to my heart.
Anyone who knows me beyond casual acquaintance has a sense of my love of music. It has, from the earliest stages of my life, been so many things -- joy, dream, refuge, intelligence, passion, identity, quest, struggle, salvation, and through it all, steadfast companion. My relationship with it has moved through chapters over time, and in a way, defines eras of my life as much or more as any other metric i can conceive.
Anyone who knows me fairly well or long enough, then, knows that i am a dedicated lifelong fan of the Canadian rock trio known as Rush. My discovery and exploration of their work, and the nascent development of my own music that was intertwined with it, is perhaps the most defining event of one of the most powerful and important of those musical chapters of my life. Some of this, of course, can be credited to timing -- so much of the strength of our links with art in our lives is driven by the experiences that came alongside them -- but no small measure of credit in this case must be given to the artists themselves, the power and message of their work, be it intentional or consequential, and the skill and dedication with which they professed it.
Anyone who knows the news and something of the world of rock music knows that the professor himself -- Rush's drummer and primary lyricist Neil Peart -- passed away this past Tuesday, 07 January, after a 3½-year battle with brain cancer about which i had known nothing until today's announcement of his passing. He was 67.
This news struck me with a devastation that i can only begin to articulate.
Understand that i feel this loss so sharply not because the world has lost one of its greatest artists -- which it has -- nor because i was looking forward to hearing about whatever new endeavors he might choose to share -- which i would have -- nor because i can say with any truth that i knew him personally -- which i didn't at all -- but rather because this man, insofar as i could tell from my perspective as a non-obsessive but undying fan, certainly deserved more and better years in this last stage of his life.
Yes, it is of course fair to say that -- as a musician and an artist -- Neil Peart did get to live the dream. He worked hard at his craft, starting out from ordinary beginnings, and developed a level of mastery that places him forever on the global stage of his art form. Alongside his achievement of technical excellence, he received recognition for it, not only in the form of accolades and deep respect from his peers and industry, but in the form of an over-four-decade-long career that grew and thrived organically and with artistic integrity, fostering one of the truest and well-deserved followings in the world. Lastly, he did all this alongside two dear friends, who shared in those levels of excellence and integrity, and who were with him until the end. I believe most artists would say that this is about as good as it gets.
Along this blessed journey, however, Neil Peart also faced some devastating tragedies. He lost his only child and then his wife within a 10-month span, to a car accident and terminal illness, respectively. After a long reprieve, he found his way back to music, and the Rush that we thought we'd never see again returned stronger than ever, bringing us another three studio albums, nearly 15 more years of amazing performances, many great live recordings, and their long-awaited induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. In this time, he again found love, and brought another daughter into the world in 2009. After this well-earned revival, Neil (and therefore Rush) retired after their 40th Anniversary tour in 2015, intent on spending more time with his new family. ... only to then be diagnosed with brain cancer less than 1½ years later, and now pass away with his daughter only 10.
Again, i am not the kind of fan who seeks to dive deep into the private lives of the artists i appreciate, even in the case of a band as personally influential as Rush. As such, i recognize that what i relate above is only a tiny piece of a rough outline of a man's life, and that there is always far more to such a story. That said, i can't help but feel deeply saddened that both he and his family didn't have more of the time for which he had so valiantly worked, fought, recovered, and waited.
In short, my feelings seem only partly caught up in the sadness of living in a world without Neil Peart, and far more in the empathy of what i imagine he and his loved ones had to face with this loss. My heart goes out to them, most of all, and to the doubtless countless others who feel these things along with them, as i do. As one dear friend succinctly put it, it is a dark day.
In a strange way, i struggle too with having known that this day would come. Having a favorite band comprised of musicians two decades my senior, i recognized many many years ago that someday i would hear the news of the loss of one of these artistic icons. I remember musing a little bit on how i would acknowledge such a passing. In my romantic youth, i imagined something like wearing a black armband to show my dedication and respect. In later years, i may have supposed that i would still be a working musician when it happened, and that some performance or recording might offer me a suitable means of tribute. Over my 30+ years of increasingly recognized appreciation of these artists, i suppose it's fair to say that i've had some time to think about this.
Now that the day has come, however, i can find nothing.
Amazingly, even after decades, i feel that some events of just the past year or two -- including a brief but thought-provoking crossing of paths with Geddy Lee last summer -- have made me realize just how special a place in my heart will always be held by Rush and their work. These events had me thinking on the idea of recording some kind of message to throw out into the world for fans and others to perhaps find, but now it feels too late. I guess i just thought i had more time. ... and that is a profound life lesson in and of itself.
Now, in the wake of this however-long-considered day, every idea i think of to attempt to express my feelings seems thin and inadequate. There is no ritual that i could undertake, no musical tribute that i could conjure, no great essay or oratory that i could summon that can convey what this particular band's music has meant to me over the course of my adolescent and adult life. It is, as best i can express it, inexpressible.
... which, in turn, brings me around to something very worthy of mention: gratitude.
Neil's departure, especially for him and his loved ones, feels terribly before its time. I don't think anything can change this. However, i find some solace in thinking about how fortunate we all were -- from those who knew him closely to those like myself who were just out here listening -- to have him. What he gave to Rush, and what they in turn could then give to us, was well more than a lifetime's measure of brilliance and energy, and if i dare to say it, a kind of love. It is a gift to have lived in this world alongside him, and to have gotten to see and be even an infinitesimal part of that. While i cannot even begin to truly understand what those close to him are feeling, and while i cannot lay any meaningful claim to knowing him beyond my simple and distant viewpoint of inspired musician and appreciator of his work, i can only say that i am so very, ignorantly, humbly, but still natively and profoundly, grateful.
In some recent and more private writing about my passing intersection with Geddy Lee, i wrote this of Rush:
Superlatives in art don't make any sense to me, and i honestly don't usually feel comfortable stating them in any other part of my life, either. ... but i can say, without a doubt, that for me, Rush was and is the greatest band of all time, and almost certainly forever will be.
For your potent and indispensable part in that, Mr. Peart, and for what i will gladly proceed to take on faith was a life otherwise just as well lived, you have my deepest thanks, respect, and admiration.
In whatever paths lie ahead for you and yours, peace.