The world of music lost an icon last week, as Neil Peart, the Hall of Fame drummer and lyricist for Rush, passed away. He was 67.
Peart, who at worst is on the Mount Rushmore of drumming and at best is the undisputed, unchallenged and unrivaled greatest drummer in rock ‘n’ roll history, died on Jan. 7 following a three-year battle with brain cancer.
Since his death became public on Friday evening, fans, both famous, and there are plenty, and ordinary, showered social media with thoughts, thanks, memories, stories and favorite songs. His loss impacted people around the world.
Rush fans aren’t a community or a group, we’re family. Black, white, liberal, conservative, Rush fans see nothing in one another except our common love for a three-man Canadian band that simply went about their business for 40 years, blessing those of us who were lucky enough to share their world with a historic library spanning generations.
This one hurts.
We all feel it.
Rush can be an acquired taste. If people judged music on ability alone, Rush easily would stand as the best rock ‘n’ roll band of all time. Their talent is unmatched. For whatever reason, Rush fans seem to exist in small, loyal pockets: A total stranger complimenting a “Power Windows” or “Signals” shirt, friends telling each other to read “Ready Player One” or watch “I Love You, Man.”
The community grew in popularity over the years, but never got crowded enough to cheapen the experience. We didn’t need a Rush song to come on the radio every hour. We knew — our closest friends knew, and that was enough.
Peart played a huge part in that. He read a lot, he rode a motorcycle on tour, he wrote about stuff like “Lord of the Rings,” he inspired a journalist to give Ayn Rand a try and he played drums with a passion and skill that challenged the imagination: One guy can’t be making all that noise. What drummer has a set up that spins around, changing between acoustic and electronic? Who uses wind chimes, bell trees, a rack of cow bells and a xylophone? And who doesn’t just have all that stuff to make a drum set look cool, but actually plays them? Check out the “Exit Stage Left” version of “Xanadu” on YouTube if you need proof.
Peart never would be considered an extrovert. Fanfare made him uncomfortable, he rarely did press interviews and the entire notion that people looked up to him never really resonated. That didn’t stop the Rush family from mourning with him when he lost his daughter and wife in 1997 or feeling genuinely happy for him years later when he found love again and welcomed daughter Olivia into the world. Or lifting their band on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 when Rush finally got in.
He was much more than a musician. He inspired people. His lyrics inspired people to be better, to treat other people better, to live your life to the fullest, to love this beautiful blue planet we all call home, to appreciate this great gift called life. He left the world a better place than he found it, as his music, and his message, will live on.
Lifeson and Lee often referred to Peart as “The Professor.” Talk about an understatement. Peart was a Jedi Master. For 40 years, Peart pushed the boundaries of how rock musicians played the drums, constantly challenging himself to add to an already other-worldly repertoire. Rush’s last album, 2012’s “Clockwork Angels,” is one their finest and easily one of Peart’s best, musically and lyrically. When the band retired from touring in 2015, they left on top of their game. This wasn’t three guys going out there playing a few chords in 4/4 timing for an hour and half and calling it a night. They jammed for nearly three hours, playing six-minute songs their younger selves wrote in the 1970s.
It would be easy to rattle off great lyrical songs like “Red Barchetta” or “The Garden,” or list a bunch of awesome drum jams like “La Villa Strangiato” or “One Little Victory,” or plug incredible albums like “Farewell to Kings” or “Permanent Waves.”
That’s all out there for anyone willing to expand their musical mind.
Peart wouldn’t want or really get all the attention his death received. Spotlight wasn’t his style. He’s leaving that to his fans. Hopefully, as with most deaths of famous musicians, his loss sparks a new wave of interest among an entirely new generation. Hopefully, even more people can uncover Rush and Peart’s remarkable talent, whether it’s through his playing or his words. He inspired so many of us and can do the same for many more.
“A spirit with a vision is a dream with a mission.”
Rest in peace, Professor. Thank you. For everything.
Eliot Duke is a staff writer at The Daily Record. Reach him at email@example.com or 910-230-9038.