We’re Only Immortal for a Limited Time
Back in 2015, I wrote the blog post In the End – Life (and IT) Lessons from Rush after I had seen what wound up being their last live show at the Forum in Los Angeles. It’s still one of my more popular blog posts, and in my opinion, one of the better ones I’ve authored.
I’ve referenced Rush before in blogs (such as Fun With Naming Conventions). If you’ve ever seen me present, I always put music references (among other things) in my demos. I often have a three-node AG with node names of Geddy, Alex, and Neil. You get the picture. I was first turned on to Rush via MTV in 1981 or 82 with the videos from Moving Pictures, so they’ve been a part of my life pretty much from the moment I started playing bass. Exit Stage Left was the first Rush album I learned to play back to front. Rush in one way or another has been part of my life now for nearly 40 years. Very few bands have stuck with me like Rush has (there are a few, and most people know Styx is one; that’s a story for another time).
Rush was a phoenix. After Neil’s tragedies post-Test for Echo, there was a high probability Rush would not play again. Between losing his daughter Selina in a car accident and his wife Jackie to cancer just about a year later, would you blame Neil for walking away forever? When Vapor Trails came out, it spawned a triumphant second act for Rush that in some was was probably more satisfying. Rush earned their retirement and then some.
On January 7, Neil Peart passed away after battling Glioblastoma, brain cancer, for about three and a half years. The news was announced last Friday the 10th and needless to say, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The last time I was this affected was from the death of my friend Mike who I’ve blogged about fairly extensively here (two examples Life Is Fragile and Some Anniversaries Are Just Not Happy Days). There are two similarities between the two: their passing were unexpected and sudden and both were WAY too young. Sure, Neil was 67, but these days, that’s really not old. It’s funny how when you are in your teens or twenties 30- or 40-something seems ancient. When I first saw Rush in December of 1987 at the venerable Spectrum (RIP) in Philadelphia, Neil was just barely 35. 35! I’m almost 50 now. 35 is a “baby”.
After Mike’s death and now Neil’s, it really brings the point home you have to make the most of your time on this planet. In the past few years I’ve been doing a bit of a self-reassessment and addressing things if needed. I’ve written before about how self care is important (one example: A Letter to Myself at 20). It shouldn’t take someone passing to put things in focus; sadly it sometimes does. Most of us get caught up and then time just flies by. When we stop to take a breath, sometimes we realize we got off track. If we screw up (and heaven knows I have), all you can do is own it and try to fix it. Getting back on course takes time. The results might even be better.
In a way, it’s crazy to feel so sad and mourn for someone you never met. Yet Neil (along with Geddy and Alex) have touched my life in so many ways for so long. I’m not the only one given all the tributes which have been from all walks of life. Very few knew Neil was sick. Some have admitted they did after the fact (such as his longtime drum tech Lorne Wheaton). You’ve got a good support system when something that major does not leak in three and a half years. I can’t imagine how Geddy or Alex felt every time they were asked about a possible Rush reunion knowing what they knew. Looking back at their statements – especially Geddy – he says it without saying it. Neil stopped publishing on his website about the time it seems he got the diagnosis. The bread crumbs were there; we just didn’t know.
Neil dealt with his cancer and his ultimate passing in the way he lived life. He was an intensely private person but at the same time, a fighter. The prognosis for Glioblastoma is grim and he outlasted the odds. Arguably his main reason for walking away in 2015 was to be there for his daughter Olivia. He got a second chance at life with Carrie which makes this all the more cruel. The last song on Rush’s last album Clockwork Angels, “The Garden”, always reminded me in a way of Genesis’ “Fading Lights” from We Can’t Dance – a goodbye. It’s a very poignant song besides being one of the more beautiful ones they’ve written. You can bingoogle the full lyrics (Neil was the lyricist for Rush besides being the drummer if you didn’t know), but this one always sticks with me:
“The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect”.
I think Neil would downplay it, but he had that love and respect in spades. Just look at the outpouring of tributes that started on Friday. Rest in peace, Professor. I hope Jackie and Selina welcomed you with open arms. My condolences to Carrie and Olivia, Geddy and Alex, and Neil’s friends and family. I hope all the tributes to him and his enduring work will somehow comfort you and know that he will never be forgotten.
Neil’s life is a lesson which can be tied to this month’s T-SQL Tuesday topic, “Imposter Syndrome“. Neil was a lifelong student. Even by the mid-80s, many considered him to be one of the greatest rock drummers of all time. What did he do? He took drum lessons as time went on from Freddie Gruber and Peter Erskine. Your drummer’s favorite drummer took private classes! At the same time, he was a teacher. His instructional videos are some of the best selling ones for drums of all time. The two are not mutually exclusive. Don’t believe me? Read this page of tributes at Hudson Music, the publisher of Neil’s videos, especially from Mr. Erskine.
What I hate is when someone wants to play “stump the chump”. Simply put, it is when someone asks you a question to intentionally show they are “smarter” than you. Look, I remember a lot of things. I even joke I’ve forgotten more about clusters than some have even learned, but I’m also not a walking encyclopedia or Wiki, either. There’s a reason Books Online and documentation exists. If you got me to admit “I don’t know” – words everyone needs in their vocabulary – congrats, jerk. I’m human just like you. I put my pants on like everyone else. I remember sitting at PASS Summit a few years ago and behind me surprised I was right in front of them. Um, what? I’m just a normal person and not sitting on a throne. I turned around, introduced myself and we had a great chat. A bit like Neil, I would rather talk about pretty much anything else than SQL Server when I’m not formally having to talk about it. There’s more to life than WSFCs, Pacemaker, AGs, and FCIs.
Neil always wanted to improve. I think the same way. I never think I know all the answers and the older I get, sometimes I feel the less I know. Believe it or not, I’m even wrong sometimes! Own it. I do. I’m constantly learning new things and am in awe of those who do other things such as esoteric performance tuning just as I’ve had people say they don’t know how they can do what I do when it comes to HA and are amazed at my skills. It’s humbling when people say you’ve influenced them or come up and say one thing you said made a difference. Like Neil, I try to pass what I know on, including from mistakes and failure. Successful people fail all the time. Failure or not knowing something is not a sign of weakness; far from it.
This doesn’t mean successful people will not have a bit of an ego or strong opinions; far from it. They just are open to feedback, criticism, and improvement. Sometimes you need to reinvent yourself even if no one knows it like Neil did with his drumming in the 90s. I’ve done it myself in my career even if no one noticed. If I was the same person I was 20+ years ago, never absorbed feedback – good and bad – I’d be out of a job. Does that mean I’m perfect? No! To quote the title of one of Neil’s videos, I’m a “work in progress”. If that makes me an imposter, I’m proud to be the founding member of the club.
The moral of the story: be like Neil. Be humble. Be a student and learn from those around you. Ask questions. Listen more than you speak. If you’re not doing any of these things, you are the imposter.