Love Letter to Neil Peart and Rush

Between the Buried and Me. Dillinger Escape Plan. Periphery. Death. Dream Theater. Opeth. Tool. Mastodon. Meshuggah. Protest the Hero. Cynic. Voivod. And so, so, so many others.

I could go on ad nauseum but suffice to say, hard rock and heavy metal as we know it would not exist without Rush. The bands above may not be direct progeny of 2112 but to say that there is not a through-line back to one of Canada’s finest exports from these acts and so many more is beyond disingenuous. It’s an outright lie. We would not have the music that exists now without this “holy triumvirate” and certainly not without the mesmerizing and astonishing drumming of Neil Peart. 

Further, for any drummer of a certain age, if they weren’t inspired by Neil Peart they likely simply hadn’t listened to him yet. I was never a drummer despite my best efforts but I can vividly recall sitting in the house of my first band’s drummer as he and our bass player sat in front of the stereo soaking in the strangest sounding “classic rock” I had ever heard. I had yet to discover early Yes, Genesis, or Pink Floyd so to me the strains of the first half of Rush’s Chronicles collection sounded beyond alien and yet somehow compelling.

The most enticing track in that first listen was the slight and subtle percussion intro to “A Passage to Bangkok”. As monstrous as the guitar riffs were and no matter how deftly the basslines wove between the lines of every song, it was that drumming, puzzling and groovy in equal measure that truly pulled me in. The impression that his playing left on me couldn’t be more capably explained than when I sought out their 1989 live album, A Show of Hands, purely based on hearing “The Rhythm Method” (the titular joke that I wouldn’t get until much later). It was with that live album in mind that I bought my first ticket to a big arena rock show. March 5, 1992 to be exact. The opening band? Primus. It’s still among my top 5 greatest live shows that I’ve ever seen and I have seen a lot of shows. Seeing that solo live is one of the most brilliant things I’ve witnessed on a stage.

Yet there was another facet to Peart’s contributions to the band. He was also the chief lyricist. So many of the topics that he discussed in those songs proved to be of a timeless nature. He never shied away from social issues. Less heralded songs like “The Big Money”, “Distant Early Warning”, and “Subdivisions”, among so many others, took on matters that still have an effect on us today. For 13 year-old me, they were another band that contributed to my larger understanding of the world.

There was one song more than any other, though, that has stayed with me through life’s ups and downs. I first heard “Closer to the Heart” in that listening session during the summer of 1991 with my then-bandmates. “Time Stand Still” is another that I hold dear but it was the former song that I’ve turned to in my high times and low. I first kept my love of Rush a semi-secret but as I grew older and cared less what people would say based upon my musical tastes I became, like many of their fans, a fierce defender of the band’s legacy. Of course, now I realize that the guys in the band would probably have advised me to simply pay no mind to the doubters. This music wasn’t for them anyway.

And that’s the thing about Rush. At their long overdue Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2013, Peart said, quoting Bob Dylan, “the highest purpose of art is to inspire.” Over the years of consuming such a variety of music and the press that goes with it, I was not surprised to hear the many tales of the various musicians that I also admired who admitted their love of the band and unequivocally stated the influence that they had on them. No doubt many of those same voices have spoken up over the weekend to express their admiration and condolences. Rush inspired. Their music continues to do so.

But as Alex Lifeson said, at that same induction ceremony, “Blah, blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah.” And perhaps that’s the most Rush way to treat the feteing that their art so richly deserved in inspiring so many to follow in their footsteps while remaining true to yourself. The band that, to this day, outcasts, geeks, nerds, dorks, and music lovers all equally identify with while somehow still seeming uncool? Rush proved that life isn’t about being cool. It’s about being unrepentantly true to who you are and what you love.

“Love and respect are the values in life that most contribute to “the pursuit of happiness”-and after, they are the greatest legacy we can leave behind. it’s an elegy you’d like to hear with your own ears: “you were loved and respected.”” – Neil Peart, Far and Away: A Prize Every Time

I think it is safe to say, Neil, that you were loved and respected. I hope that during your 3+ year battle with cancer that you heard it again and again.

To close, in 2017 Peart said “You have to challenge your own limitations and your own expectations of yourself.” I can think of no better way to pay homage to his inspiring legacy than to consider and, perhaps, follow those words in our own lives.

Per the band:
“Those wishing to express their condolences can choose a cancer research group or charity of their choice and make a donation in Neil’s name.” 

I’ve taken the liberty of including links to some here:
World Cancer Research Fund International
Prevent Cancer Foundation
National Pediatric Cancer Foundation
CURE Childhood Cancer
Brain Tumour Research

There are hundreds more out there. If you aren’t sure who to donate to you can use CharityNavigator.org to help you decide.

Please feel free to share your fondest Rush/Neil Peart moments in the comments.

Comments