Neil Peart - A Tribute 14/1/20
12/9/1952 - 07/1/2020
“When I heard that he was gone
I felt a shadow cross my heart”
- ‘Nobody’s Hero’, (‘Counterparts’, 1993)
We’ve lost some heroes over the past few years, but this one is major for me. Rush have been myband since I first took a punt on the glorious triple gatefold sleeve of ‘All the World’s a Stage’ which began a lifelong dedication (if not obsession). I’m not exclusive; there are many other bands and artists I love, but if I was confined to just one band for the rest of my days, it would be Rush. And that has been the case for the last 40 years.
So, it was with a great deal of sadness I learnt of the passing of Neil Peart this week after a three-year battle with glioblastoma. Whilst he was adamant about retirement at the end of the (Europe-less!) R40 tour in 2014, before learning of his illness, I still held out hope of an occasional one off reunion that I would have done my damnedest to attend, wherever and whenever. After all, “We’re only immortal… For a limited time” (‘Dreamline’, from ‘Roll the Bones’).
Rightly (imo) acclaimed by many as the best Rock drummer of all time, whilst usually mentioned as the band’s lyricist, I think he’s often under-celebrated in this area. Whether in ‘traditional’ Prog fantasy/sci-fi territory (‘By-Tor and the Snow Dog’, ‘Rivendell’, the album-spreading ‘Cygnus X-1’ and of course, ‘2112’), story-telling mode (‘Red Barchetta’, ‘The Pass’) or using history as inspiration (‘Red Sector A’, ‘Manhattan Project’), he had an astounding breadth of subject matter ability to encapsulate his thoughts and stories into verse. You also don’t have to look too hard to find references or nods to Shakespeare, Coleridge, Ayn Rand (which caused some unwarranted controversy), and TS Eliot amongst others… he was exceptionally well-read and was…well, I don’t think it would be stretching it to say ‘a poet’.
He was, for many, (to quote Taylor Hawkins at the bands induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), “the most f•ckin’ rippin’ drummer in the world”. Yet he was never afraid to learn and adapt …whilst he cited his early influences as heavier Rock drummers like John Bonham and Keith Moon, as recently as 1994, at the top of his game, he was not afraid to take lessons from Jazz drummer Freddie Gruber and incorporate new styles into his repertoire: check out the grip change at around 4:25 in his solo alongside from the R30 tour to incorporate a Jazz section amongst a myriad of other styles.
Taylor Hawkins again: “(with his) composition, craft and technique, his drumming was… songwriting: just as musical, just as melodic as any other instrument in the band.”
The double-tragedy that led to his initial retirement after the ‘Test for Echo’ (1996) album is well documented. It is testament to Geddy and Alex that they gave their friend (and I use that term deliberately, rather than ‘colleague’ or ‘bandmate’) the space and time he required to come to terms with his losses. Deciding that motion was the one thing that could occupy his focus, he spent over a year riding his motorcycle 55,000 miles through Canada, USA, Mexico, Belize and back again. This journey (both literal and metaphorical) was subsequently documented and released as ‘Ghost Rider’. Whilst not his only full literary release, it is almost certainly the most poignant, and shows his writing skill as extending way beyond lyrics.
Despite being an absolute master of at least two crafts, he was a humble, modest man, normally trying to avoid the limelight whenever possible (as the song of that name attests). He was never comfortable with the intensity of adulation his skill attracted - “I never wanted to be famous... I wanted to be good”. Yet, he was self-effacing enough to join in with the bands goofy concert intro VT’s (the best of which, for me, is ‘Gershon’s Haus of Sausage’ alongside, from the “Time Machine“ tour (BTW, if you’re a lapsed or new Rush fan, this is a great concert DVD to come back with - great gig, great filming, and a great crowd).
Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives
You left your mark upon
- ‘Afterimage’ (‘Grace Under Pressure’, 1984)
I’ll leave the last thought to the man himself (from the R&R HoF Induction acceptance speech), recounting one of his favourite Bob Dylan quotes:
“The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?"
Rest assured Professor, your work as a musician, lyricist, and writer has inspired millions, and will continue to do so for many years to come. Thank you.