Losing your musical heroes is never easy. In the past year, we’ve lost a number of them. At least two of them, Chris Squire of Yes and Glenn Frey of the Eagles, were the subject of Progarchy posts upon their passing. Today we mourn the passing of possibly the best guitarist of the current prog scene, Riverside’s Piotr Grudziński.
The passing of Squire and later of Frey were one thing. Both of them were 67 when they died, and while they were taken from us too soon, losing them was easier to process emotionally. Both had decades long, successful careers. Both of them had peaked and were able to let their full abilities play out. On the other hand, Grudziński was a mere 40 years old and had many creative and productive years still to come. Losing him now, coming off Riverside’s most recent (and stunningly good) album, is the equivalent of what would have been had Squire or Frey been lost in 1975. I’m just shaking my head in disbelief that this has happened …
So much potential has been lost. Don’t take this the wrong way – it’s not that he hadn’t lived up to it. No, he was living up to his potential, spectacularly so. He was in his prime, continually evolving as a guitarist, and we are now denied seeing where that evolution would have taken him.
Due to his incredible versatility, describing Piotr’s guitar playing would consume a large number of adjectives. Piotr could shred and slash with the best of his heavy metal heroes in bands such as Iron Maiden. He could bleed notes from his guitar with the skill of a Steve Hackett or a David Gilmour. He could burst forth with beautiful melodies. He could provide atmosphere. At times, such as on The Curtain Falls from Riverside’s debut album, he could even drop hints of jazz.
But what was best about Piotr’s playing wasn’t his technical ability – it was his unparalleled ability to convey emotion with his instrument. You didn’t just hear his notes with your ears, you felt them with an emotional intensity that drew you into and connected you to Riverside’s music in a way that few bands can ever hope to match. The synergistic effect of Mariusz Duda’s lyrics with Piotr’s guitar was unmistakable in Riverside’s music.
I haven’t spent any significant time comparing the relative talents of musicians in the current prog scene. Still, if you asked me to name a guitarist more talented than Piotr, I would draw a blank.
On a personal level, Piotr’s guitar work was (pardon the pun) instrumental in drawing me back into prog. I was a bit slow to catch on to the current wave of progressive rock. For a while I had assumed that the proggers of the 70’s and neo-proggers of the 80’s were as good as it was going to get. But bouncing around the internet in about 2007 or so, I began to read of a band from Poland that was making a lot of noise in the new prog scene. While they had just released their third album, Rapid Eye Movement, it was their second album, Second Life Syndrome, that I first picked up. Anyone who’s heard Second Life Syndrome knows that Piotr’s guitar work is nothing short of incredible on that album. It certainly hooked me, and by the time I got around to their third album, I was truly hooked.
This brings me to draw on another emotion right now – gratitude. While the sadness and confusion of losing Piotr so young and so suddenly are unfathomable, it is important for us to remember why that is. It’s because we were lucky enough to live at the same time as Piotr. We were fortunate enough to be graced by his incredible talent that he shared with the world. We were blessed enough to hear the music from a guitar player that could stand with the best of any era. Men like Piotr Grudziński are rare, rare because they have incredible gifts that can be enjoyed by anyone who chooses to listen. Although we are understandably devastated by losing him so prematurely, we should be thankful that he existed in the first place, for men like Piotr Grudziński make the world a better place.
Musically, I think the preceding paragraph can be summed by the song Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened by a Hat). The song has a strong melancholy overtone, expressed well in both the guitar and keyboards. But toward the end, Piotr gives us an incredible guitar solo, one that, far beyond its technical excellence, reveals a nuanced emotional mix of overwhelming sadness laced with intense joy. This one has always been poignant for me, but is now even more so as we mourn Piotr’s loss while celebrating his life.
RIP, Piotr. You will be dearly missed.