The Deen Castronovo Chronicles: Part 1, in which we learn that “Neil Peart is a God”

Deen Castronovo is the drummer for Journey. You don’t have to take my word for it; go ahead and google him. I’ll still be here when you get back.

The first time I saw Deen Castronovo was on his very first day of high school in Salem, Oregon, second period Jazz Band to be precise. And the very first thing I ever heard come out of his mouth was an enthusiastic and wholly unsolicited proclamation: “Neil Peart is a god!” Just one problem with that: Who the hell was Neil Peart?

“Neil Peart?” I repeated, turning to Craig, lead tenor sax player on my right.

“Neil Peart,” Craig agreed, somewhat less than helpfully.

So I turned to Glenn, lead alto sax player on my left. “Neil Peart?” I asked.

“Rush,” he said without elaboration.

Back to Craig: “Rush?”

“Neil Peart is the drummer for Rush, Kristy.” Now we were getting somewhere.

“Rush the band,” I said to Glenn on my left. “Right…”

“Well, I guess you could call them that,” Glenn sniffed.

Craig and Glenn

Craig and Glenn in California. I sat this trip out. Otherwise, I would have been right between them. Same jammies and everything.

Back to Craig. “Rush? No?” Craig shrugged.

“Glenn, no?”

“No,” said Glenn, who then pronounced two distinct words that seemed to pain him, “Heavy. Metal.”

Back to Craig. “Heavy metal,” I nodded, shaking my head.

“Well, I wouldn’t call them metal,” said Craig.

“No?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “Really, they’re more of a progressive band than a metal band. Like Yes.”

“Yes?” I asked.

“Yes,” Craig confirmed.

Back to Glenn: “Yes?”

“No,” Glenn replied, and repeated “Metal,” with a look that suggested he could taste the uncomfortable substance itself on his tongue instead of just the word.

Back to Craig: “Glenn says metal, Craig. Metal.”

“No. Any group with that many tie-dyed, Birkenstock-wearing peaceniks in its fan base cannot be classified as metal.” Craig repeated his original diagnosis: “Progressive.”

“Progressive,” I informed Glenn, nodding.

“No, metal,” he stubbornly maintained.

Turning to the right: “Craig, Glenn still says metal,” I advised.

“Well, it is entirely possible,” Craig conceded as he leaned past me to apologize in Glenn’s direction, “—that your friend Glenn is full of shit and doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.”

From there, Rush’s autopsy was in full in swing between Glenn and Craig. Nothing more for me to do but to push my chair back six inches to avoid the static charge that I knew would build up as their differing opinions clashed up against each other.

The conversation then leap-frogged to the left over John to Andre (anchoring the far end of the sax section) who, having heard the words “progressive” and “Yes” in a single sentence knew that he could leverage the discussion into a lecture about Brian Eno, maybe even King Crimson, if he put even a little effort into it.

Nothing more for John to do but to push his chair back six inches to avoid the crossfire down on his end of the row.

I waved across Glenn’s back to John. John waved back across Glenn at me. Jazz Band was going to be fun!

And just when John and I thought it was safe to pull our chairs back up and rejoin the row, it happened again: “Neil Peart is a god!” from somewhere back behind us in the realm of the rhythm section.

“Who is that kid?” I asked no one in particular.

“Deen Castronovo,” Glenn and Craig answered in the perfect unison for which they considered themselves famous.

“Castro no-no?” I asked.

“No,” said Craig, “—vo. Novo.”

“No. Vo,” I repeated. “Castro. Novo. Got it.”

I turned ninety degrees to my right to finally get a good look at the source of all this Rush-fueled adulation coming from behind the drums. Although Deen the youngest kid in the room, he was a big kid—maybe even bigger than Glenn—with wild, black, corkscrewing hair all the way down to here, a portion of which hung partway down his face, giving him the appearance of an adolescent sheepdog—or maybe something created by the Jim Henson Studios for the Muppet Show. In other words, he was as cute as he possibly could be. It was the sort of cute, however, that you wouldn’t want to find yourself getting too attached to—it was instead the sort of doomed cuteness you’d find on a sheepdog on death row in a dog pound. Deen hadn’t realized yet that he had entered a church when he entered the band room, one dedicated to the sanctity of Jazz by Glenn, Craig, and the rest of the hardcore jazzbos scattered across the room. Neil Peart most assuredly was not their god, and if Deen continued to commit the casual sacrilege of declaring him so, he would probably be killed and eaten before the end of the school year.

The next day? Same thing.

And the next…

And the next…

“Neil Peart is a god!” Lather, rinse, repeat.

I sat directly in the path of the telepathic vibes that traveled between Craig and Glenn every time it happened. I think that’s why I started having The Vision. In it, I could see both Glenn and Craig, along with a couple of the other Jazzbos, seated languidly around a campfire. Having already eaten Deen, they were talking about making s’mores as they picked their teeth with the splintered remains of his drumsticks, the delicious aroma of oven-roasted drummer still scenting the air. The belching contest would commence shortly.

Deen Castronovo

That’s Deen on the right. Look at that sweet little face!

Deen, Deen, Deen, I would say to myself as he continued to crow about Neil Peart. What exactly are you thinking?

Of course, there were only two possible answers to that question. One was that he was doing it on purpose, toying with my boys, trying to get under their skin. And, if that were the case, I would completely endorse his goal and maybe even partner with him in its pursuit. I was uniquely qualified and situated, I felt, to continue to poke Glenn between the eyes with a sharp stick if that’s what we were trying to do. And why not? You only live once.

But, as the school year progressed, I could see that Deen was completely without any guile or hidden agenda whatsoever. That meant he was tempting fate only because he had no idea he was doing it. He was just being innocently enthusiastic about his heroes in an entirely appealing if ultimately fatal way. He didn’t need a partner; he needed a protector.

And for that, I was not qualified. I knew right from that first day that it was going to be interesting to see how Deen survived that school year.

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