When I heard that he was gone,
I felt a shadow cross my heart…
In the last nine months, I lost my dog suddenly to cancer, a got daily updates from my childhood best friend as his mom slowly died from cancer, and Neil Peart died. Of cancer!
All three deaths affected me greatly but in different ways.
But of the three, only one sticks as an outlier.
I never met Neil Peart and he had no idea I exist.
Remember when Michael Jackson died? Twenty-four hour news coverage. Fans flocking to vigils with many in tears. When George Michael died I mentioned it out loud to family who were over for Christmas dinner. Oh that’s too bad. But we quickly moved on. I found out later my wife had to hold back tears because, well, why would she be getting that emotional over George Michael the singer of Wham! She did; as he brought to life fond childhood memories and a joy she took from his music. I know several who were speechless when Tom Petty passed.
Icons, music gods, heroes, even mentors. Call them what you will.
But when I heard the news of Peart’s death I instantly experienced that feeling you only get when tragic news strikes, personally.
Really? Over some drummer for a rock band?
But for those who do, music takes on a sublime position in the life of the listener. Music, it seems, grabs our soul and clings there for life. Then when musicians stick it out for years on end, they become a friend, or in some cases family, to those who absorb their wares through the airwaves.
How Does Music Affect People?
According to the medically reviewed article “How Music Affects the Brain” posted on bebrainfit.com “…music activates every known part of the brain…” and “Music can make you feel more hopeful, powerful, and in control of your life.” The article went on to list other areas music affects the listener including:
- Music Improves Your Mood and Reduces Stress
- Music Boosts Brain Chemicals – including dopamine the same chemical responsible for the feel-good state
- Music Acts as a Natural Panacea – alleviating anxiety, depression and PTSD among other mood and mental disorders
- Music Therapy Improves Quality of Life
Elsewhere, in an article on wellandgood.com, Aly Semigran discussed the emotional impact celebrity deaths have on fans’ life and reflected her own reaction to Luke Perry’s death in March, “…pros say this reaction to mourn a celebrity crush makes total sense, especially when the person was someone we admired who served us interactive art that could leave a memory imprint.”
Moreover, Semigran interviewed therapist and grief counselor Jill Gross, PsyD who said, “They’re never supposed to die…When they die a little part of us dies, too—our innocence dies with them.” Gross, a fan of David Bowie, said in regards to his 2016 death, “I grew up with him. He was a big part of my teen and young-adult identity and my love of music. There’s a comfort knowing certain people are in the world, and when they’re not anymore, we have to rearrange the pieces of our life that don’t include them anymore.”
When Petty died, I immediately recalled some fond memories of his music and though I was hardly a superfan, I related to his music and enjoyed it. I was sad and especially grateful to have seen him from the second row a few years earlier where his stage presence produced a larger than life aura.
When Peart died, I related my despondence, upon finding out, to friend Wes Orshoski, co-producer and co-director of the rockumentary Lemmy, who said he would expect nothing less from me. He understood. My wife understood, and a handful of friends understood.
You see, outside of Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, no one else in the music world will affect me as emotionally as Peart. And because Peart was first to die from Rush, it could be argued his death hits the hardest, as would Lee or Lifeson had we suddenly found out either of them died earlier this month.
Music often makes up the soundtrack to one’s life and can leave you in an emotional trance when working through a bad break up a la (insert any number of great break-up songs here) or get you ready for “battle” as a friend in high school claimed to listen to “In My World” by Anthrax prior to football games. Is there any wonder why athletes always seem to have headphones on before the game?
To this day, elements of Hold Your Fire bring back specific memories and feelings, so does Grace Under Pressure, Roll the Bones and even Test for Echo. I can generally recall where, sometimes when, and often how, I got certain Rush albums. All of this – More than any other band I listen to. Pre-internet, my only source of information for a pending Rush album came from the release board at Tower Records followed by those sometimes aggravating delays. Seeing “Rush” along with a release date triggered Christmas morning elation.
I’m not alone.
My wife has a similar attachment to Duran Duran, I worked with a guy who had an affection for U2, and expect far more news coverage than Peart when Paul McCartney dies. If you were around in the 70s perhaps no one will ever get a send-off quite like Elvis Presley. The deaths of Prince, Chester Benninton, Scott Weiland and Chris Cornell in recent years affected scores of people who grew up listening to their music and became attached to these singers and songwriters.
Semigran said “Our relationships with celebrities don’t necessarily follow typically understood measures of time and space, making them seem subconsciously immortal to us in a sense.” Despite Peart’s “We’re only immortal for a limited time” lyric from “Dreamline” Rush in many respects seemed immortal. Forty years in, Geddy, Alex and Neil played with as much consistency and vigor as 25 years earlier and one could argue their final 10 years were some of their best on stage.
Rush was also an anomaly. Infighting was rare and more akin to a marriage, not one drug overdose and KISS playfully teased them for staying in their hotel room while everyone else partied. And speaking of marriage, Rush didn’t write songs about “Girls, Girls, Girls” or title an album Slippery When Wet.
When Rush ostensibly ended their run on Aug. 1, 2015 the band kind of left the door open that this wasn’t the end but despite more and more comments from Lee and Lifeson in the following years that indicated Rush was indeed over (now we understand why) I know many in Rushdom deep down hoped and anticipated a surprise announcement somewhere along the way.
After Peart died, the outpouring of grief was understandable, but along with the usual “great drummer,” “RIP Neal Peart,” and “He will be missed” toasts were a select few who commented to various articles about Peart’s death along the lines of “This one hurts,” “I’ve never shed tears over a musician’s death…” or “I’m in total shock and disbelief,” I don’t recall reading for anyone else in the unfortunate onslaught of musician deaths of late.
Perhaps it was the suddenness of it all, Peart’s relatively young age (67) or the hope we could freeze the moment a little bit longer, but Rush provided something authentically tangible for those who counted the minutes to the next release or opening night. It’s all gone now. Never to be experienced again.
And that’s what hurts. When the music stops there’s only the sound of the rain.
To the Rush fan, not the casual Rush fan, – those who bought the CD and cassette, and eventually the vinyl record, have a book shelf or two lined with Rush books, and perhaps a closet of memorabilia that is cherished just about more than any other thing – the loss of Peart will exceed what Beatle fans will struggle with after losing McCartney and far outpaces what those who lost Elvis, Michael Jackson and any of the aforementioned felt.
Driving down the razor’s edge ‘tween the past and the future
Oh, turn up the music and smile
Get carried away on the songs and stories of vanished time