No debating what 2020 has done to us all

No debating what 2020 has done to us all

Our lunch table in high school was often filled with spirited debate. Topics that ranged from the inane to the philosophical, it was the 15 minutes, by the time we made our way through the lunch line, that I most looked forward to because I knew, while holding moronic contests like who could steal the most ketchup packets or who could stretch a curly fry the longest without it breaking, subject discussions would always be entertaining.

Our table was filled with musicians, so more often than not, those discussions gravitated toward music, art and various pop culture type references. We were idiots, but we embraced and acknowledged our idiocy, accepting whatever judgement was placed on us by the peer social circles we would never be invited into. The beauty is that we just did not care what everyone else thought about us, unless they disagreed with our opinions on topics on which we were convinced we were experts. Like I said, we were idiots.

No topic garnered more hostility than when it came to “best” musicians, and more often than not, that “best” conversation revolved around guitarists and drummers. In regards to guitarists, there was the Eddie Van Halen camp or the Brian May camp. I do not doubt other guitarists made their way into our discussion, but my memory recalls these two being the pinnacle of the lead guitarist debate (and, please, do not get me started on how volatile the "Van Hagar" vs. "Van Roth" debate would get).

Regarding guitarists, for the most part, I remained mum, but I felt Queen was the better band, so I always leaned toward Brian with his original-sounding guitar and the solos he created with it.

Drumming, however, was a whole other boat. One of our table mates was a student of jazz percussionists, so his argument for Buddy Rich was calculated, researched and thorough. In any universe outside the walls of our 8-by-5 table, he would have won the debate, but our circle focused on the attributes of rock 'n' roll, not the elitism of jazz. Where things always got interesting, and heated, was when we would focus on the likes of Neil Peart of Rush vs John Bonham of Led Zeppelin.

To this day, I can not listen to Rush. I never liked their style, Geddy Lee’s vocals or one of their songs, but I sure did appreciate a good Neil Peart drum solo. His solos are filled with the kind of musicianship in which no human being should be capable: all four of his limbs somehow being in complete sync with one another but doing very different skills and following very different time signatures across cymbals, toms, bass drums and an arsenal of auxiliary percussion.

Peart sitting on the drum throne was art, reminding all drummers of their own inadequacies. While I favor Bonham when discussing the “best,” I can not deny Peart’s visual poetry sitting behind his Ludwig Drum Kit.

The loss of Eddie Van Halen and Neil Peart this year, both to the horror that is cancer, is heartbreaking, and I admit, in part, because of my own selfishness. With their passing, a piece of teenage adolescence leaves with them, similar, I am sure, to what many folks felt 40 years ago when John Lennon was suddenly taken from the musical world.

Of the many tragic losses the entertainment world has experienced this year, these two seem to resonate a bit more than the others, and I think it is because, upon hearing about them, I was reminded of the time that has passed between those innocent days of lunch table diatribes and what we find ourselves debating today.

I hope the harmlessness of topics like these still make their way into high school lunchrooms or even Thanksgiving Day family gatherings. In part, as an important reminder: for many, the oncoming holidays afford us all a moment or two to pause and reflect, give thanks and remember, and take stock of what 2020 has done to us all — mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

By all accounts, it has been a whopper of a year. But I am most reminded that losing rock idols does not compare to the loss of an uncle, who was the finest drummer I personally knew and my first drum instructor, or the absence/loss his immediate family will experience navigating their first holiday season without him. Or those who have experienced loss due to COVID-19 or the financial hardships plaguing many in our nation. It is a holiday season guaranteed to feel different, all with varying degrees as to why but all experiencing it nonetheless.

So of the many blessings for which I will express gratitude this year, one will certainly be for the blessing of music and its creators and teachers, old and new, and the joy, memories and escape music provides for so many. Add Little Richard and a host of others to the list, and the Good Lord has inherited himself quite a band this year. That, my lunch table friends, is not up for debate.

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