Last week, one of the greatest drummers of all time passed away. While he didn’t make any huge humanitarian contributions to the world nor did he make any medical advancements, he made an impact on the lives of many socially awkward youth across the decades that he wrote and played music with his band.
As an aspiring musician in middle school, I was introduced to the music of Rush through my brother. As the younger brother, pretty much everything my older brother did for a time was cool to me. It was even cooler when I saw some of his friends donning the band’s T-shirts as they maneuvered their way through those awkward teenage years. All I knew is that this music didn’t fit neatly into a category. It wasn’t Top 40. It wasn’t metal. It resided within a realm that was outside of norms with lyrics that were far deeper than most of what was being played on the radio.
Having been indoctrinated to CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) as a kid, my first foray into “Secular” music felt much like other forays that I would eventually experience, dangerous and risky but so exciting. To begin to open myself up to music outside the concentrated bubble that I had found myself in for years was more than just a new experience.
As I continued deeper down the rabbit hole that was Rush and their music, I found more kindred spirits among their fans. Eventually, in college, I found my way to see them in concert. On the brink of my 21st birthday, I dissed my brother and my best friend to instead treat myself and my girlfriend at the time to a concert at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
I honestly don’t remember it as much as I would like to remember it, not because I had drank too much or taken some kind of mind-altering drugs, but just because that’s what ends up happening when I experience something so new and mysterious for the first time. There was so much to take in that I feel like I probably missed half of it because I was putting too much pressure on myself to drink in the moment.
Years later, Rush remained on my radar, churning out music, reinventing themselves, but their earlier music had made a significant mark on some of the most memorable years of my life. Funny, the music that has been indelibly tattooed on my brain isn’t the greatest of their catalog but rather hit me at a significant emotional and spiritual moment in my life. It was the music and the moment colliding at that time that left the mark and listening to that music today transports me to another time and place, a time that seems far less complicated than today.
It’s funny how someone that you don’t know personally can have such an impact. It’s not so much what they did but what they represented. The death of Neil Peart meant more than just the end of an era for a band, it meant the death of a part of my youth. It symbolized my mortality, standing there as a poignant reminder that, in the words of Peart himself, “We are only immortal for a limited time.” While that doesn’t speak to my faith and belief regarding what lurks beyond death, it seemed a true statement for the moment in which I found myself last week.
Neil Peart and Rush represented youth to me, but so much more. Dreams. Aspirations. Change. Discoveries. These things and so much more. Within those notes and within those lyrics a new world was found. So losing a piece of that felt as if I was losing a piece of myself.
Days later, having immersed myself once again in their music, having watched countless videos of the band and documentaries about them, it’s as if I’m still grieving a family member. Again, that’s weird considering that statement comes from someone who has experienced a significant amount of loss. Just like pictures of deceased family members can transport you to the place and time the picture was taken, so music can do the same. As I close my eyes and let the sonic movements wash over me, I am transported to the first time I hear these notes, where I was, what I was doing, who I was at that moment.
Eventually, the initial shock of loss is normalized, the freshness wears off. While the impact remains, life moves on. We maneuver through the waves to find ourselves once again sailing through the waters of life.
And so, I continue on, hearing songs as if for the first time. I smile as I think about who I’ve become. Once upon a time, decades ago, these same notes hit me differently. An era has ended but there will always be that indelible mark, an almost everlasting reminder of what was. We’ll always have the music.