January 19, 2020
Lyrics by: Neil Peart; Music by: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson
Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon
How we talked and drank into the misty dawn
I hear the voices 5
We ran by the water on the wet summer lawn
I see the footprints
I feel the way you would
I feel the way you would 10
Tried to believe but you know it’s no good
This is something that just can’t be understood
The shouts of joy, skiing fast through the woods
I hear the echoes 15
I learned your love for life
I feel the way that you would
I feel your presence
I feel the way you would 20
This just can’t be understood
The wound from Neil’s death is still raw. It doesn’t help that people keep posting remembrances and tributes on the Rush subreddit. While listening to their music was helpful at first, now it’s more difficult.
Still, “Afterimage” speaks both of Neil’s death and the Buddhist ideas I’ve been contemplating for a few days: emptiness, impermanence, and interconnectedness.
Emptiness is not nothingness: we are vessels that are filled by the causes and conditions that flow around us, even those we are not aware of. Like the narrator here, there are some that leave marks—obvious impressions on our lives.
“Suddenly” shows how quickly our lives can change, illustrating not only speed but significance. While not all change seems significant, there’s much that changes our lives and the direction we were heading. Our connections are strongest with those things that most obviously influence us, like our relationships to loved ones. “I feel the way you would” suggests this interconnectedness, but also the causes and conditions to fill us—that we call the “self.” The afterimage is another aspect of interconnectedness: even after death, our life’s ripples still flow across the surface of the pond.
Lines 11–12 are enigmatic, perhaps suggesting beliefs that the “you” who is gone had that the narrator can’t share. There’s a suggestion of religious belief that is unresolvable for the narrator. There might be a mysticism in the narrator’s perception of the afterimage, but it’s something real that affects him, not something beyond his perception.
There’s a sadness to the song, but also a celebration. Kind of like everyone’s missing the Professor. “This just can’t be understood . . .”