Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nelson Mandela, Neil Peart and Me

What do the champion of anti-aparatheid, the greatest drummer of all time and a clerk in a collections department have in common?  We have all lost something more dear than we can measure.  Allow me to explain.  In a round about way.

One of the places I do love about Austin is Alamo Drafthouse.  So, I was giddily excited to attend a limited showing of the documentary film called Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage at the Alamo close to our house.  There I was, surrounded by fellow Rush fans and my family, watching the story of my all-time favorite rock band in my favorite movie venue.  What could be better?  Well, maybe having Geddy, Neil and Alex actually there to narrate, but all things considered, it was pretty to close to being a perfect evening.  However, I knew at some point the film would have to deal with It.  The Thing that almost everyone in the room knew had happened because our lives as Rush fans hung by a very thin thread for a very long time.  The Thing that, at the time, I felt grave sadness over, but also a wild sense of relief when it became clear the band had emerged intact from.  The Thing that changed multiple lives forever.

The Thing is that on August 10, 1997 Neil Peart lost his 19 year old daughter (his only child) in a single car accident.  Ten months later, eerily on June 20, his wife succumbed to breast cancer.  Neil Peart stepped away from music and the life he had known for what seemed to be an eon and drove his motorcycle 55,000 miles, pretty much up and down North America, reflecting on his grief and trying to heal.  Rush was on hold during that time.  That seeming eon was in fact about four years.  I remember that time as a Rush fan as one long anxious void.  I felt bad for Neil as a person, but I didn't really understand.  I was more afraid that they wouldn't come back as a band.  Of course, at the time both my girls were young and my biggest problem was that I was working all the time.  By the time Rush's return album was released in 2002, I was a little more empathetic to personal pain because Kelsey had begun the long, slow slide, but I could never really relate until last year of course.  Yet, even now, I don't know exactly what he went through, and I hope I never know the full level of his pain.  I've lost one member of my immediate family.  I'm not looking to lose more.  Yet, I know more about his grief that I ever thought I would when I first heard about it.

He's a private person, never as comfortable in the "limelight" as his band mates, and his level of loss is extremely personal, so I was interested to see how it would be handled in the film.  I thought it was done very well.  There was no ignoring it or glossing over it; it was a extremely important chapter in the story of these men, but the assumption of the filmmakers was that the core audience would already know what had happened, and they could focus on Neil's reflections on his time on the road and how and why he decided to return.  There wasn't a lot of gory details about his family.  Unfortunately, I was also a little worried about how the treatment of the situation would impact Greg.  The idea of retiring from life for a while and just hitting the road is a romantic notion.  But Neil Peart is a highly successful musician and writer.  He could afford it.  We're not in the same tax bracket.  Yet, I was the one who had a strong reaction to the story.

Marissa was already keeping a tight leash on me throughout the film, trying to make sure I didn't mortify her completely by rocking out a little too much or maybe breaking out in song along with the actual singer.  So, she was watching me closely when I actually uttered a noise in reaction to the interview with Neil when he choked up.  I swallowed it, sinking back a little more in my seat, trying not to react too strongly and cause undue attention to myself and embarrassment to my Rush-fan-kid.  But, there it was again.  Evidence that this feeling won't go away.  That I won't ever feel like me again.  It's been over a decade for him.  He's remarried and has a young child.  The band continues to be a force with a slavish devoted following.  He is, without question, the most talented drummer going.  He is a highly intelligent, talented, published author.  He has it all.  Yet, there he sat in front of me and became emotional talking about a time over a decade ago.  He doesn't have it all, as it turns out.  If he's that way, what hope is there for me?

So, I came home, both highly excited by the fact that I just spent two solid hours bathing in the glory of being a Rush fan and thoughtful about what I had seen.  I pondered the loss suffered by Nelson Mandela a couple days before, when his great granddaughter was killed in an auto accident.  It occurred to me that these two very different, yet very great (to my adoring eyes), men and I suddenly could be locked in a room together and actually have something germane to say to one another.  We have the commonality of our grief.  Wow.  This is not the connection I ever wanted to have.  I wish, for all our sakes, that we did not.

"Stratospheric traces of our transitory flight

Trails of condensation held
in narrow paths of white
The sun is turning black
The world is turning gray
All the stars fade from the night
The oceans drain away
Horizon to Horizon
memory written on the wind
Fading away, like an hourglass, grain by grain
Swept away like voices in a hurricane

In a vapor trail

Atmospheric phases make the transitory last
Vaporize the memories that freeze the fading past
Silence all the songbirds
Stilled by the killing frost
Forests burn to ashes
Everything is lost

Washed away like footprints in the rain

In a vapor trail"

- Neil Peart, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson

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