“Why does it happen? Because it happens…”
Neil Peart passed this week on January 7, 2020. I’ve been a fan of Rush for the vast majority of my life, specifically, since I was around 8 or 9 years old, I’m nearly 32 now. Like all of us, I found out about his passing on Friday the 10th, but I didn’t find out through any traditional media outlets, or via some notification on my phone. No, I found out through my life-long friend Joe, via text, which was only fitting considering the role Rush played during our formative years. When Joe and I were kids, I think the only band that truly rivaled our love for KISS was Rush, and so, when I found out that Neil Peart had passed, for me, it felt like a very old friend had died. A lot of old memories with my friend, ones that I hadn’t recalled for years, decades even, suddenly came back. Over dinner that evening I recounted them internally, and it soon became apparent then that I couldn’t write about anything or anyone else for this week, but Neil Peart.
“All the world’s indeed a stage, and we are merely players…”
I spoke earlier about the very real loss I felt when I came to learn that Neil Peart had passed away earlier this week. Neil Peart was not just a titan of the drums, but he was by all accounts a fantastic human being, and when he departed this world, at least for a little while, things got a little dimmer. Have you ever wondered why, or how we can possibly mourn someone we’ve never actually met? As a part-time wordsmith and an even more part-time drummer, from a very young age, I’ve always felt a connection to Neil Peart. I mentioned earlier the huge role that Rush played for me in my early years. While I personally wasn’t there for their 70s hey-day, the 80s synth-party, or their mid-90s near demise, I was there for the early 2000s resurgence, an era that I find to be the best period in the band’s long and storied history. Listening to Rush as a young kid, transitioning to a teenager was nothing short of a true education. At the time I had a drum set, one which I would play every day, for as much as I would try, the ability to play as Neil did was never going to be attainable for me. However, for me, his lyrics were every bit as memorable as his drum fills, and I knew that perhaps writing as he did was possible.
I’ve always been a thinker, dare I say an over-thinker, and the lyrical content of Rush’s music truly appealed to me then, and it still does now. Neil Peart’s lyrics run the gamut in terms of subject matter, ranging from fantasy and mythology, all the way to ethical and philosophical themes. Maybe it’s because I was alive and cognizant for it, but his latter-day writings always appealed to me more. Today as an adult, I find them all too relevant. You see, Neil Peart was ahead of the curve, and his words speak to issues that are extremely meaningful today, and in that way, his words and influence will live on forever, and if we allow them to, they will teach us forever, or at the very least…remind us forever. Just listen to the track “Nobody’s Hero” from 1993, and tell me that it isn’t relevant in today’s social climate.
“Time stands still…”
When I think of Neil Peart, and Rush in general, I think of a specific moment in time, or more specifically, a period of my personal history, and I guess personal development. In the late 90s, I was a real studious kid. I spent hours studying…and then one day I found my dad’s old cassette of Love Gun by KISS, and everything changed. My mental focus shifted from school to music from that point on. My dad caught wind of my passion for music, and he immediately decided that I needed to be introduced to Rush, and the general magic of Neil Peart. You see my dad was there for the 70s hey-day, and I think he ignored the aforementioned 80s synth-party, so he knew just what to do, and so, to the store we went. I remember it was a Sunday, and the local record shop Looney Tunes had closed, so full access to the Rush catalog was not available to us, so we crossed the street and to the local K-Mart we went. What we ended up with was one of these Time Life-type Classic Rock compilations, which featured all kinds of late 60s and 70s mainstays, most importantly “Tom Sawyer” by Rush. I asked my Dad to put the cassette in the car stereo, but he declined, making it clear to me this needed to be heard properly on the home stereo system. So, with my anticipation peaking, we rode on home and did just that.
I still recall sitting in my bedroom, and fast-forwarding the tape for the first time, and hearing the atmospheric opening synths of “Tom Sawyer” and from that point on, I was hooked. I did not know who Tom Sawyer was, or specifically who Neil’s version of Tom Sawyer was, but I heard the lyrics, and I identified with it. I would walk around the halls of my school, with my Rush shirt on, mumbling those lyrics in my head, “A modern-day warrior mean, mean stride, today’s Tom Sawyer mean, mean pride…” and I became Tom Sawyer….Neil’s Tom Sawyer. I was never “cool” but I always felt that Rush was cool; more importantly they were my kind of cool, and that was good enough for me. For me, Rush and Neil Peart will always represent a certain time in my life. While I still do, and will always love the band, I will never be able to listen to their music without thinking back.
Neil Peart was a man who experienced fantastic success, as well as great personal tragedy. From that rubble, and ash, the man chose to reinvent himself, his band, and his style, and in end, he came out stronger, and dare I say it– better than ever before. He was a real-life example of the good in the world. He taught us that success does not always go hand in hand with greed, and corruption. That tolerance, patience, and humility will get you further than arrogance, and prejudice. People always marveled at his precision and stamina in-regards to his immense body of work as a drummer. While I can’t disagree, I do wonder if the same cannot be applied to the way the man lived his life. Neil Peart left us with a tremendous legacy through his words and the example that he set as a human being, and that in and of itself required tremendous precision and stamina, as well as patience. Neil understood patience. The music of Rush requires patience. Life takes patience.
The legacy of Neil Peart does not just reside in his drum fills, or his solos, but it is the track by track, album by album message he left behind for us over the course of a 40-year body of work. For many of us, when we lost Neil, we lost more than just a cool Rock Star to be idolized. We lost more than just a fantastic singular talent on the drums. No, when we lost Neil….we lost an everyman. We lost one of our own. So, when you think about Neil Peart, enjoy and respect his drum technique. Feel free to marvel at his solos, his speed, and his precision. But when you think on Neil Peart, also remember to appreciate the words, and the man.
RIP IN PEACE NEIL PEART
SEPTEMBER 12, 1952 – JANUARY 7, 2020
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