So, here I am, on the other side of the spinning mass of dirt and water, seemingly a million miles away from my family and friends. Jet lag has me already awake before the sun rises, but I’m reminded by the alarm on my iPhone that it’s time for my morning ritual to begin. I lazily reach for my phone, and there before me is a list of communiqués from every person around the world who is trying to contact me today via text, email, LinkedIn, Facebook and so on and so forth. This morning the vast majority of the messages start with the acronym RIP.
Okay, I brace for what is surely going to be a tough morning. This year in particular, RIP has become my least favorite acronym. I’ve seen it and used it more than I would ever care to for the rest of my days. I have a lot to do today, public speaking and presentations and I know that while performing the duties of the day, every few minutes the phone in my pocket is going to vibrate indicating that another message with my least favorite acronym is now at my disposal and waiting to be read, digested and replied to.
But oddly, I also take a moment to pause and be thankful for the power and sheer magnitude of this crazy thing called the Internet and in particular Facebook. I, for one, am very thankful for both of them. The internet, and in particular Facebook, has become this kind of connective tissue for all of us that fill a large percentage of our lives in hotels and airports and tour buses. For those of us that have toured together, i.e. spent countless, mind-numbing hours traveling on a tour bus to some ridiculous location, worked under intense stress to the point of exhaustion only to repeat the process seemingly ad nauseam, it takes very little insight to realize that bonds are being created between people during that process that are unlike any bond they will ever have in their lives – even measured against family members.
It is not overstated to say it is a brotherhood and it is not terribly unlike that of soldiers who go into battle together. Now, I’m not naive or shallow enough to actually put the touring experience on par with a soldier or first responder’s experience. Frankly it would trivialize the bond created when a soldier or first responder puts their life in someone else’s hands or vice versa. Touring bonds are not that caliber simply because there is rarely an opportunity to be in harms way. But hear me now friends, the bond that is created within touring personnel IS a distant cousin of that soldier experience at some basic, primal level.
The first time I ever met Skip Gildersleeve I was probably about 14 years old. I met Skip Gildersleeve, Howard Ungerleider and the rest of the Rush crew while reading the credits on the back of a Rush album cover. Of course at that point, they didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them. But one thing I knew for sure, they must have been something special for a band of this caliber to feel the need to credit them on their recorded works. Consequently, I put them all up on a pretty high pedestal. Even at that age, I knew someday, I wanted do what they did, and I wanted my work to be held in that regard and my name to have such a placeholder. I often reflect and wonder where I would be right now and what life I would see in my rear view mirror without THAT aspirational moment in my journey.
Fast forward about 15 years and the surreal moment begins as I find myself seated at a table with Skip, Howard and others sharing a catered meal while in Rush tour rehearsals. Underneath my cool demeanor I am of course pinching myself to make sure this is real. But at the same time, I’m calmed by a real and genuine thought that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and they all made me feel so, Skip in particular. And so would begin about a 10-year journey working side-by-side with these “acquaintances” from my teen years.
Now, as is always the human narrative, be it Greek tragedy or real life, the realization that all of your heroes are flawed, and most definitely human, is a central theme in the play of life. It’s THE hard lesson that is learned by all of us who work under “the big top”. i.e. rarely does anyone in that world come as advertised. ALL artist and crew that I have worked with — self included to be sure — fall under the heading of “flawed human being” in one way or another. Skip, the rest of the crew and the band are certainly no different in that regard. But frankly, I found relief in the flaws of my friends in Rush the band and it’s crewmembers. In the end it made them human, accessible and real, as opposed to mythical and unapproachable.
One of the characteristics that I came to love and appreciate most about Skip was his absolute and unwavering passion for all types of music, musicians, music history and apparently just as important to him, his music collection. I don’t know it for a fact, but my bet is, if it was music, and it was ever recorded, Skip had a copy of it, or at least knew where to get it. His knowledge and retention of recorded music was mind-blowing and legendary. I fully believe that if there was a band of alien beings who attempted an early recording of "Twist and Shout," Skip would know the date and location it was recorded, the producer, the engineer and likely had a bootleg copy of the outtakes from the recording session. Skip was just that guy that seemed to have his fingers in it all and was always willing to share and discuss it for hours on end. Frankly, if there was ever a road crew guy that deserved his own XMRadio show it was probably Skip Gildersleeve. It would have been an infinitely informative and entertaining show, that's for sure.
Skip was also a very caring and giving guy and his way of showing it was often times seen through his sense of humor and his willingness to play practical jokes and “punk” his tour mates, friends and family. He was Ashton Kutcher way before it was fashionable to be such. I’ve bore witness to many samples of his work and they will remain hidden away with me as cherished possessions, available to be pulled out to make me giggle and smile upon reflection, until my time comes to exit this planet. Skip had a devious but infectious laugh that was perfectly coupled with his diminutive stature, always framed with a witty cool tee shirt and transported around by feet that displayed the largest and most varied collection of Converse tennis shoes one could ever imagine.
Skip Gildersleeve, my touring brother, the man with the huge name and the small frame passed away quietly on September 17th 2013. Frankly, I am stinging pretty bad right now so I please ask that you afford me some grace so that I might overstate what may be obvious. But it is also what may not be readily apparent and in the front of our daily thoughts. It’s not my intent to be bellicose or trite in a public forum, but I want to say this to myself, as much as I want to say it to my touring brothers and sisters out there.
Look inward, then look outward, and then take a moment to reach out to those you have worked and toured and lived so closely with in your touring life. Respect the brotherhood and what has happened between you and them during your time in the trenches. Share with these people that your time together was meaningful. Maybe it’ll be a handshake, a hug, a high five, a “knuckles”, a “tater”, a tip of the hat, or the tip of a beer — whatever it takes to acknowledge that you each “get it”.
Whether you believe in a higher power, a God, a creator or just simple, abstract fate, there is no avoiding this one irrefutable fact; that as of the writing of this blog, the mortality rate is 100% with no signs of decreasing any time soon. Take a moment for a sobering look around and realize that every single person you know or have known in your life, without exception, will at some point meet this fate, with no meaningful indication of when or where their time will end. For this tour, there is no well-planned itinerary or end of tour party. There is no day sheet showing departure times. The production clock on the wall is ticking but there is no indication of when the house lights will go out for the final time.
Make sure these people know what they mean, and have meant to you in not only your career, but in your life. Skip Gildersleeve played a special role in my life story. I hope he knew that, and if he didn’t, I hope I get a second chance to tell him someday.