Where are you now my friend?
I miss those days
I hope they take good care
Of you there
And you can still play the guitar
And sing your songs
Music. Music can connect people on opposite sides of the world, and I discovered that for myself almost a decade ago. I’m sure by now we’ve all heard about the tragic passing of Piotr Grudzinski, legendary guitarist for Riverside. For many, the world lost another artist. But for some of us, me included, it is a far deeper loss than this. Oh, sure, we all feel sad when someone like David Bowie or Glenn Frey dies. I liked both of them a lot, and I was definitely sad. But when my wife alerted me to the death of Piotr on Sunday morning, I had to go be by myself somewhere. I had to go shed some tears for the guitarist that is responsible for my love of progressive music, a genre that has honestly changed my life.
That might sound a little odd, I know. After all, I did not know Piotr personally, and I only met him once. But his death has devastated me in a way that could only be described as a familial loss. And family, at least in my heart, he is. Back in 2007-2008, I came across Riverside’s “Rapid Eye Movement” on Amazon.com. They seemed like a cross between the alternative music I was used to and the Dream Theater stuff I had also recently discovered. I was intrigued, however, most of all by the soulful, tear-triggering guitars that just blew my mind. At this point, I had never paid attention to Gilmour or Hackett, and had never really thought much about the guitars in music. But Piotr’s guitar was a gateway to a new world for me.
Piotr had a way of combining intensely emotional performance with intelligent composition. He always seemed to play the perfect note for the perfect moment, taking Duda’s lyrics to another level. He could jump from a monumental riff to a soaring solo in the blink of an eye, and he never really seemed to care if he was providing pure technicality. Yes, he much preferred to close his eyes and emote than to try to be the center of attention. I read a review recently where Piotr said that Dead Can Dance is one of his favorite bands, and this makes total sense to me now. I love DCD, and their impassioned, evocative compositions seem like the perfect influence for Piotr and his poignant guitar, in addition to masters like Gilmour.
For me, though, Piotr had a raw, organic tone to his playing that was entirely his own. It wasn’t always perfect technically, but it tore my heart time and time again. Riverside had four members, and all of them are vital. But with Piotr, his guitars are the gut punch that drives the lyrical content into your very soul. I have always been so impressed by his ability to choose perfect first notes for his solos. They are like vocal hooks in a way, and they feel so good, like they were meant to be. In many ways, his solos were like lyrics unto themselves, uttering feelings that only our hearts can understand. His playing was so very human.
And so here we are, in a world lacking Piotr Grudzinski. I can only imagine the pain of his family and friends, but I hope they know that Piotr has been influential to so many. Riverside has a way of speaking to me in whatever season of life I find myself, and his guitars have been there for me for almost a decade now, soothing my brain and offering solace to my spirit. His compositions have helped me find myself, have helped me know who I want to be as a person, and, most recently, have helped me chase my dreams. They’ve taken me from The Same River to a Dance with the Shadow, from my Panic Room and Hybrid Times to Feeling like I’m Falling. But I wasn’t left there. In the end, he had taken me Towards the Blue Horizon to find myself.
And he found his own way there much too soon.
In every single album, from “Out of Myself” to “Love, Fear and the Time Machine”, it feels as if Piotr was playing for the sake of my own heart. He was doing it for me. He was communicating in his own way what life is all about. And I know thousands of fans feel the same way. What kind of artist can speak to so many people in a way that feels so personal and individual? That’s the kind of raw talent and personality Piotr had.
What now? Can Riverside go on without one of its co-founders and most iconic sounds? I don’t know. I’m actually conflicted as to whether or not I want them to continue. Perhaps it’s time to end Riverside at what was probably their greatest album, an album that is so eerily appropriate for this situation that I can’t help but wonder (I won’t go into that).
Piotr, you changed my life. You opened up a world to me through your accessible and powerful sound. I will always be grateful, and I will always listen to your work. I will never, ever forget you or the way you played. I am so glad that I was able to share a few words with you last September. When I offered to you that your music has been a blessing to my life, you just smiled and nodded knowingly (maybe my fanboy face had already given it away), and your humility and genuine kindness were the two traits I immediately noticed. I will miss your guitars, yes; but your presence as a Prog great will be missed most of all. A part of me has gone with you.
Towards the blue horizon, my friend. I hope you have found peace and the great gig in the sky is treating you well.
I just miss those days
And miss you so
Wish I could be strong
When darkness comes