R.I.P. Neil Peart

Jan. 10, 2020

Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, I heard a lot of rock music on the radio. I was inspired by hearing the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the pop artists of the day.

When I heard Rush as an early teenager, I had already been playing drums for a few years (The Who had been my first musical love). I remember hearing things my 13-ish-year-old self had not previously thought possible emanating from Neil Peart’s drums. For my ears, Rush elevated the game, and Neil Peart elevated not only the role of the drums, but the role of the person playing drums (as lyricist and author). He completely changed the way I thought about the possibilities and the potential of the drummer’s role in music.

I don’t know that I or my generation has been more inspired by a drummer other than Neil. Nor have we been more motivated to work our asses off trying to figure out what he’s doing on a particular song—which turned out to be pretty much every song we heard. I might be going out on a limb here, but I’d be willing to bet Neil Peart is personally responsible for more sweat-filled basement drum rooms between the late ‘70s and early ‘90s, replete with drumstick-shaped dents on the walls facing where the kits were (I can definitely speak with lots of experience here), than just about anyone. I can definitively say that while many drummers lit a spark in me at different times in my life, at the time of my formative learning years, Neil started an inferno.

I know I speak not only for myself, but for countless others (and not just drummers by any stretch), but if it weren’t for the influence of Neil Peart and Rush, I simply would not be a professional musician today.

Those who read his books such as “Ghost Rider” and “Roadshow” know Peart was at best uncomfortable living in the limelight. He always longed to live freely and preferred only the simplest showings of appreciation from others for his contribution to the music world. The great irony is that most of us feel such an enormous debt to his influence that most of us, after hearing the sad news of his passing, have only taken to sharing the simplest of text messages with each other: a few emojis of teary eyes and heavy hearts.

So, if that’s the way it must be, then so be it. Thank you, sir, for everything. 😔❤️

And now you’re trembling on a rocky ledge
Staring out into a heartless sea
Can’t face life on a razor’s edge
Nothing’s what you thought it would be

All of us get lost in the darkness; dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter; dreamers turn to look at the cars
Turn around and walk the razor’s edge
Don’t turn your back and slam the door on me

* * * * *

Jan. 16, 2020

Addendum

A large part of why we mourn the loss of a musician like Neil Peart is that it feels in many ways like the passing of an era of music; a golden age that we look back on that, to our perceptions, doesn’t seem to exist today in quite the same way as it once did. Rush always appeared to be outliers in the industry. They never quite followed the rules set out for them. When told to deliver “hits” or risk being dropped by their label, they decided instead to dive head-first in the opposite direction, producing the magnum opus 2112, a bold statement about creative freedom and artistic expression. In an ironic twist, the band earned their own creative freedom after the success of 2112, and have always been known as ever-evolving risk takers.

That’s why it feels like the passing of Neil Peart feels larger than drumming, larger than progressive rock, larger than whatever narrow part of the music world Rush always inhabited. Neil and Rush represent the very ideals to which we aspire as young musicians: the pure art of music, the craft of musicianship and the spirit of exploration. They consistently embodied all of these ideals, often going against the grain of what was popular or trendy. Not a single Rush album in their 40-year career could ever be thought of as an attempt to recreate a past success. They were artists, first and foremost.

Over the past week, many of the tributes I saw from, for example, jazz or classical musicians, non-musicians, and many of those who may seem farther away from his aesthetic than one might think, heaping praise and love on the man, tended to be the ones I found the most illuminating. It just shows how far the reach of his influence was. Having been a fan since my early teens, I’d always known that Neil Peart was not to everyone’s taste. That same “everyone”, however, seems to have come to understand his ethos. He did what he did without apology, yet with great humility. He always strove to improve and learn something new. He never seemed to compromise his standards in order to be expedient. Those kinds of artistic principles are refreshing in an age when, however inaccurate, it at least feels as if too many have abandoned them in favor of clicks and likes.

By his example, we all learned that while styles may differ, the artistic pursuit is universal, and is a worthwhile endeavor. May we long follow his lead.

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