Thomas Neal Cartmell died yesterday, after a long battle with cancer, at age 72. If you're a fan of classic rock, you know him by his performing name-- Alto Reed-- and for his outstanding work with Bob Seger. As a member of the Silver Bullet Band, Alto was the sax player on one of my favorite mid-1970s songs, "Turn the Page." (You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GONmFCkCGCc)
I find myself thinking about that song a lot since Alto passed-- many of my friends are musicians, and it's an excellent depiction of what life was like on the road back then. If you were a relatively unknown band, like Rush was in those days, you spent long hours in your tour bus, driving from city to city, day after day. The famous bands had elegant and comfortable buses; the up-and-coming bands, not so much. It could be a lonely and challenging way to make a living: sometimes, the fans liked you, sometimes they didn't, yet you had to keep going. "And you don't feel much like driving, you just wish the trip was through..."
Much to their surprise, Rush found a home away from home in Cleveland, where fans loved their music and eagerly came to their concerts. But in other cities, the reception wasn't as warm. Still, the guys persisted, never giving up, never slowing down, determined to bring their music to as many fans as possible. (And since I was speaking about Bob Seger, it's interesting to note how at one point in March 1977, Rush found their path intersecting with his, as they were his opening act in New York City. I remember it well.)
In 1987, Rush had their own song called "Turn the Page," a different song, of course, but the lyrics seem to speak to this moment:
"Every day we're standing
In a time capsule
Racing down a river from the past
Every day we're standing
In a wind tunnel
Facing down the future coming fast..."
Tonight, all of us are facing down that future. Most of us will welcome it, because 2020 was such a brutal year and we're ready to say goodbye and good riddance to a year that took so many important people from us (including our beloved Neil Peart)-- thousands dead from COVID-19, so many celebrities and iconic figures gone; it's a world where it often seems anger and resentment are on the rise, and where kindness and compassion are in short supply. It's an insecure and uncertain world, with a future that holds no guarantees. And at times like these, what comforts many of us is music, friendship, and the faith that things will get better.
It would be easy to succumb to despair, given all that many of us have been through. But I look at us as survivors. We made it through a horrible year, and we're still here, despite the losses and despite the pain and despite the disappointments. In the end, it was the human connections that got us through 2020. I'm sure many of know know what I mean: even when we couldn't be there in person, we found ways to reach out through social media, or through Zoom or Skype, by sending a card, or by picking up the phone and calling. We encouraged each other, and we shared each other's lives as best we could. And we made it to the end of 2020.
And now, as 2021 arrives, I hope and pray that things will be better than they were in 2020. So much loss, so much sorrow, so much pain for so many people-- surely the year ahead will be better. If I could give all of you a hug, I would. If I could thank you all individually for being there for me, I would. And if I could give you a round of applause for coming on this journey and reaching the end of a difficult year, I absolutely would. We made it. The new year is here, and I'm ready to turn the page. I know you are too. Happy new year.