On the train from work today I saw a post on talkbass.com saying “R.I.P Neil Peart.” I thought, “Sick joke,” ( I hope) but then I googled his name to find out. I saw the Rolling Stone article that said he had indeed died from a glioblastoma and felt punched in the stomach… HARD.

I’m still reeling.

We only found out about his passing two and a half days later, and it blows my mind that we’ve been living in a world without Neil that long.

He was the greatest drummer who ever lived. He pushed the envelope of drumming and was really at the forefront of drum composition more than anyone before him. Without Neil there would be no Mike Portnoy, or Danny Carey. HIs drum solos with the iconic cowbell “duh (ta) duh-ta-duh-duh-duh” ring in my mind and I think about his speed, his absolute perfection in drumming and the way that his drumming MADE songs. Imagine “Tom Sawyer” as played originally by any other drummer and you know what I mean.

Neil was not just about sticks pounding skins and metal in a perfect way, he was a great lyricist. I loved his lyrics and they influenced me in countless ways. Philosophically lyrics like “Different Strings” moved me towards atheism. His lyrics in “Limelight” “I can’t pretend a stranger is a long awaited friend” influenced me about the imperative to be sincere. “Xanadu” introduced me to Coleridge and the English romantic poets. 2112 got me (momentarily) interested in Ayn Rand. And in the shower this morning I was thinking “Lakeside Park,” a song that lyrically Peart declared he didn’t like. I read his “Ghost Rider” book, I know his lyrics like I know his drum fills – note by note.

This really hurts.

When we lost Keith Emerson I almost cried at work. When we lost Greg Lake and John Wetton, I felt alone and miserable. When we lost Chris Squire, on a night that I had a gig, I was blown away. But I knew Chris was sick, and I know John Wetton battled colon cancer, and that Greg Lake wasn’t doing so well, and news of their passing, while horrible and deeply saddening, was not unexpected.

I remember when Elvis died, when John Lennon was murdered, and when Freddie died. When Elvis died, it was a beautiful August day. When John was killed, it was a rainy, ugly afternoon. When Freddie died, I got into a 2 hour fight with a DJ on KDF in Nashville because a woman called in asking the DJ to play something from Queen the day after Freddie died, but the DJ, Ian Case, refused to play any requests for Queen, saying that Freddie had AIDS and deserved everything he got. I laid into that DJ for 2 hours, and my assault on him was played back on air the next day.

This is different. I had no idea that that Neil was sick. I feel angry in a way that I didn’t know, which is odd, but he meant so much to me and others that I can’t help but feel like we should’ve known. Neil was an intensely private person, but still I feel a bit selfish that I didn’t know he had brain cancer. It’s like he was ripped away quickly and I had no idea of the that he had been sick so long.

But that was his choice, and although I don’t like it personally, I respect it.

This hits like a ton of bricks. I’ve spent a lot of time just walking in circles, as Neil called it in “Ghost Rider,” I’ve been homing, trying to get a handle on it. He was such an immense figure in my life that his absence has caused a crisis, and part of that is the seeming suddenness of his passing from this terrible disease.

I am gutted. I miss him already although sadly, I had never met him.

He wasn’t just a great drummer, or lyricist, he was a great person.

He respected his fans and while their devotion at times bordered the surreal, he was never derisive or curt. Always thoughtful always poised, always Neil.

Neil Peart is missed, in ways he could never know.