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Jeremy Ruck: The Alan Parsons Project's 'Don't Answer Me'


It's a COVID marker in the U.S. that we never wanted to see - a million lives lost since the start of the pandemic, a million people gone, millions more with broken hearts. NPR is telling a few of their stories in our series Songs of Remembrance.

Jeremy Ruck was a broadcast engineer and the guy in charge of the enormous white antennas piercing the sky above Chicago's most iconic building.

HOLLY RUCK: So you would go up in the Willis Tower, and there's the part of the tower where the tourists can go, and you can look out over the city. But then above that, you can keep going up if you're part of the building and go into the top of the tower.

RASCOE: That's Holly Ruck, Jeremy's sister and once his guest at 1,300 feet above the city.

RUCK: He loved it. He loved understanding how everything worked and putting it all together. He loved being high above the city of Chicago in the middle of the night and seeing the lights. It was - he just - everything about it was magic to him.

RASCOE: Just two years apart and having bonded after their parents' divorce, Holly and Jeremy Ruck were close. Their mom was a music teacher. She taught them how to love it, too.

RUCK: Our whole lives, we would pass song lyrics back and forth to each other and see if the other one could guess the name of the song. We talked about the engineering of albums and the producers. We talked about the songwriting. Part of the way that he and I communicated as brother and sister was through music.


RASCOE: In 1984, the Alan Parsons Project, one of Jeremy's favorite bands, released a track that soon went into heavy rotation in the Ruck household, "Don't Answer Me."


ALAN PARSONS: (Singing) If you believe in the power magic, I can change your mind. And if you need to believe in someone, turn and look behind.

RASCOE: Some 30 years later, Holly and Jeremy started talking about the song again over text.

RUCK: It sprawled out over weeks, where we talked about, you know, the unique nature of the band because Alan Parsons was this incredible audio engineer, and he had worked on "Dark Side Of The Moon," which is one of my favorite albums, and how the band use session musicians. And it has stuck with me as sort of the greatest conversation we've ever had because it was so much fun for us to really dive into that together and just keep going and going and going.


PARSONS: (Singing) Can you change the things we've said and done?

RUCK: A few months into the pandemic, we started having some challenging conversations.

RASCOE: Those conversations lasted into the vaccine rollout. Jeremy refused to get the shot. Like many Americans, their disagreements about health and safety pulled them apart.

RUCK: At the time, I was living still in Brooklyn, and Jeremy was here in Illinois. So I think we were experiencing it in a very different way. And it led to a break in our communication.

RASCOE: Holly says, in the last year of Jeremy's life, the only thing they said to each other was "Happy Birthday." She had turned 48. He had turned 50. And the lyrics to "Don't Answer Me" began to sound different to Holly.

RUCK: For a long time, I listened to them as what the song is about, which is a love relationship. But in the last couple of years, they held some meaning for me in terms of the fact that we were in a disagreement about response to COVID, and kind of neither of us would back down on that, which is a strange thing to say that I'm OK with because we were both consistently true to who we are.


PARSONS: (Singing) Don't answer me. Don't break the silence. Don't let me win. Don't answer me. Stay on your island. Don't let me in.

RUCK: He died on December 11. So we've hit the million mark right at the five-month anniversary of his death. And one of the really challenging things about it and something I've thought a lot about is the importance of leaning into your own personal choice and doing what you feel you need to do for your life. But the other side of that that is so critical and so hard for so many of us is how that choice affects those of us who are left behind. And I am - I'm sad that we got to a million. And it is still unbelievable that my brother is part of that statistic.


PARSONS: (Singing) Don't answer me.

RASCOE: Holly Ruck remembering her brother Jeremy Ruck, one of more than a million Americans who have died from COVID-19.


PARSONS: (Singing) Don't answer me. Stay on your island. Don't let me in. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.