Reflections on Life and Loss as FUEL Turns 19

Two significant things happened in the past week.

First, Neil Peart, the iconic drummer and lyricist from the band Rush passed away.

RIP Neil. My sincerest condolences to your family, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson and of course, your fans.

Admittedly, I’d never been a Rush super fan, but I had listened to the band’s music over the years. I didn’t know much about Rush other than that they were a Canadian band that never really went away.

I dove in to learn more about Neil Peart, whose loss was mourned by so many, and his band. As I rediscovered and considered the tremendous body of work they completed over 40 plus years, I began to ponder how it was possible for a band to continue to remain relevant over such a long span of time.

Rush has always been a power trio – three musicians working together to fill out the cohesive whole that is their music. Most bands do it with five, seven, or even ten members playing together, or at least an array of studio musicians performing on their studio tracks or even occasionally overlays created by themselves. Then, they either dub in or just skip those extra pieces, leaving holes in the fabric of their live performances.

Rush created a rich auditory tapestry and a fulfilling experience with only three musicians. And they could recreate everything in a live performance with just three musicians.

Neil and his bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson didn’t just keep reinventing themselves when a new generation came along. Instead they actually evolved with time, constantly producing forward-looking music that allowed their fans to take a step forward with each successive album release without leaving anything behind. A seemingly impossible feat, especially when you consider personal challenges Neil Peart faced in his personal life. Very few bands have been able to stay relevant for so long, and bring all of their fans along for the ride.

As for the second significant thing that happened last week, FUEL crossed into our 19th year of existence. While we’ve not been around even half as long as Rush, we’ve been slowly and steadily growing our fan base too. We’ve evolved and continue to do so as we move forward in time. No massive overhauls or reinventions. No changing direction, as if trying to find ourselves. We already know who we are and why we’re here.

Armed with the knowledge gained from my sudden contemplation of Rush – not just the band, but their Brand – I began to look inward.

From our beginnings, FUEL has been a small group of people accomplishing larger-than-life feats that usually require a far larger ensemble. We’ve always followed our guiding principle of leading with design as a discipline for solving real communication problems, not just placing the pretty decoration on top of a cake.

For 19 years we’ve been creating a rich tapestry of work that contains no holes, no dead spots. Only a multi-sensory experience that takes our clients’ customers on a journey, one that pleases them, engages them, and leaves them wanting more. Other than creating, what else is there in life for the creators?

Not unlike the power trio that Rush became in the music world, the rare few talented individuals who make up the FUEL team demand that we are always firmly grounded in the present and looking forward – evolving. We go out every day and give it our level best. Then we push it yet a little farther.

I know that if asked, most if not all of us, especially those who have been here since the beginning, would say they couldn’t imagine doing anything other than what they do here at FUEL, and with those they do it with and for. There really is no other choice because we are all driven to do it.

Just as Neil’s passing has reminded me of how precious and painfully short our lives are, our 19th year is going to fly by, as they all seem to. With each new day we’re going to wake up, face the blank canvas that a new day brings and start painting it in.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone in our lives for the opportunity to continue to do our craft every day, creating for them.

We’re forever grateful.

Here’s to the past 19 years, and to next 19 too.

– John M

Bill Bollman
Creative Director

Bill Bollman is FUEL’s Creative Director. Before co-founding FUEL in 2001, he worked for Horizon Communications, JW Morton and Basler Design Group. Bill studied Illustration at Hawkeye Tech in Waterloo, Iowa. An expert in the “old ways” of hands-on print production, these skills influence his work in the digital world to this day. His work throughout his career has been featured in international publications including Graphis, How International Design, Communication Arts, and The One Book as well as numerous design annuals and reference books.

Hometown: West Union, Iowa
Involved in Design and Marketing since 1988
Interests: Fitness, Travel, Movies