By: Adriana, Matt, Dave C, Martyn, Zachary & Dave G
This tribute is a little late but for good reason. It wasn’t an easy one to put together, even though we wholeheartedly wanted to. Some of our writers, including myself, wanted to express in our own words what Neil Peart meant to us. Here are a few stories:
January 10th was a bit of a blur for me. It was a crazy busy day both at work and at home so I didn’t go onto my computer until late that evening. At around 11 pm I opened my computer to read my messages etc. That’s when I found out about Neil Peart. The line read “Neil Peart passed away at the age of 67 on January 7 after a private, three-and-a-half-year struggle with brain cancer”. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and I was immediately stricken with profound grief and anger. I was angry because cancer had reared its ugly head again and had taken yet another wonderful human being. It wasn’t and isn’t fair. I was sad for his family, his bandmates, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson and all the RUSH fans. I couldn’t imagine such a personal loss and that’s when I broke down crying. I continued crying for several days and made quite a spectacle of myself during my radio show that weekend. I dedicated the show to Peart and I thought I could hold it together, but I didn’t. I didn’t know Neil Peart personally but from what I knew of him, he seemed like the real deal. An immensely talented and kindhearted human being. He was our modern-day Shakespeare and the world’s best, most incredible living drummer. He also loved riding which made him even cooler to me since I ride a motorcycle too. I could relate to his stories about riding very much.
In the days that followed, there were many conversations about him and how he inspired so many people. I mean, there are probably over a gazillion people who have been touched by his lyrics, his drumming, his stories etc etc etc. He’s probably helped launch a gazillion drumming careers. I know the drummer in my band credits Peart for getting him started on his path to drumming. It’s quite a legacy really and we had the privilege of witnessing it all. He was a true scholar. Drumming was a passion and he never stopped studying the art of drumming.
As a kid, I too was inspired by Peart and RUSH as a whole. When I heard Tom Sawyer for the first time I was first taken by the lyrics and then the instrumentation. What is this if not genius:
“Today’s Tom Sawyer
He gets high on you
And the space he invades
He gets by on you
No, his mind is not for rent
To any god or government.
Always hopeful, yet discontent
He knows changes aren’t permanent –
But change is”
These lyrics represented the present times, the past and the future. Let’s take Freewill, another masterpiece in rock history and beyond:
“You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will”
I mean, I could go on and on about the lyrics alone! The instrumentation? Incredible! Modern-day composers really. Their albums are like listening to a story being told with music.
It wasn’t until my 20s that I had the huge opportunity to see RUSH live. They were holding an auction via Ticketmaster and one of the items up for auction was two front-row seats to their upcoming Ottawa show! I bid how much I could afford at the time and to my amazement, I won the bid! To see the band live was something else. I remember being amazed by Peart’s set up. I never saw anything like it and his solo was something else. I felt it was a privilege to have witnessed that live. He did make drumming look easy when in fact it was anything but easy.
Two weeks have passed since the news hit and I still feel gutted each time I think about him or listen to Rush’s music. I think that feeling will last forever. Thank-you Neil Peart for your contribution to music and humanity. You will never be forgotten.
When I heard of Neil Peart’s passing I felt oddly like someone I knew had passed away, rather than a celebrity, I felt shocked and really sad.
I discovered Rush in the early 90’s when most kids were into PWEI and Nirvana (I did love ‘Bleach’). I was really into Celtic Frost and Voivod, I think it was via Voivod talking about Rush in an interview that I purchased Hemispheres from Wellingborough HMV on tape. I loved it, the chemistry of the band and obviously Peart’s insanely good drumming was a massive deal. I went on to get into all the 70’s stuff up ‘til Moving Pictures. Every record they were brave and trying new stuff.
In the last 10 years I fell in love with the 80’s Rush, they were a truly progressive band, adding synths, African rhythms and a seemingly limitless supply of ideas. Each record was new and brave. I was lucky enough to see them live on their last UK tour, it was hugely impressive and emotionally engaging. They kept their integrity and had an amazing relationship with their audience. I’m so glad I got to see them, what a brilliant band and Neil Peart was a wonderful drummer and lyricist “Subdivisions, In the high school halls, In the shopping malls, Conform or be cast out”.
Neil Peart’s outstanding achievements as a drummer and as a lyricist are legion. As a drummer, he displayed a genuine passion for a deep investment in his craft that is arguably unsurpassed in the field; even after over two decades of virtuoso playing, he continued to challenge himself to refine and improve his playing, even sitting down for lessons with jazz legend Freddie Gruber to re-learn his craft from the ground up during the 90s. His drumming with Rush is a rock touchstone, inspiring numerous drumming luminaries. Rush’s musical canon provided many examples of his evident virtuosity, but for every ‘La Villa Strangiato’ or ‘Natural Science’, there was a song like ‘Subdivisions’ or ‘Vital Signs’, where Peart’s unerring timing and fine ear for detail illuminated sparser, leaner parts with a quiet, unassuming poetry that was the essence of the man himself.
It was much the same with Peart’s lyrics: his words combined his real-world concerns and preoccupations with a keen sense of the poetic, and his skill with a telling phrase lit up material which might have felt prosaic in lesser hands. His writing combined a sense of wonder at the world around him, and at the achievements of mankind, with a quiet horror at our mistreatment of each other and the world we live in. “There’s still a lot I’m angry about, a lot of human behaviour that’s appalling and despicable […] I always thought if I could just put something in words perfectly enough, people would get the idea and it would change things,” he explained. In a world where many artists are still struggling with articulating their feelings about climate change, Rush wrote ‘Red Tide’ about the issue – thirty-one years ago. From the concentration camps of the Second World War to social inequality; from the space race to the nuclear arms race; from the pressures of fame to the benefits and hazards of capitalism, Peart’s words addressed every topic with wisdom and a fine turn of phrase. Thanks largely to Peart’s lyrical input, they were political, yet not partisan; spiritual, yet determinedly secular. Peart’s words found a way to speak to all their listeners, whatever their outlook.
Peart once remarked that “Too much attention and hoopla doesn’t agree with my temperament”, and found the intensity of the attention from fans and devotees very difficult to deal with – something that is occasionally illustrated in his books, which primarily take the form of travelogues. A modest, unassuming soul to the last, refreshingly untouched by the trappings of ego, Peart simply didn’t feel comfortable being put on a pedestal. He would have unquestionably found the outpouring of affection and great respect since his passing difficult to deal with. A gentle soul, possessed of great fire and determination, he ended his life with the same quiet dignity and fatalistic humour with which he’d lived it.
I first encountered the band Rush when, as a precocious teenager, I surreptitiously listened to my brother’s copy of Axe Attack, which was a compilation of some of the biggest “heavy metal” acts at that time. Amongst the obvious acts such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, was this band who didn’t sound much like any of the other artists. Whilst all the other bands were rollicking on about running free and breaking the law, here was a band whose high pitched singer was screaming about being a priest of the temples of Syrinx. I mean man, that kind of shit was hard-wired into my being at that age, and spoke directly to the Fighting Fantasy nerd inside of me.
Although the Ayn Rand lyrics pretty much passed over my head at the time, I was suitably inclined to find out who the hell this band were. My next meeting with them was ultimately through another compilation, this time for Africa, as heavy metal stars got together as Hear n’ Aid. This time the song was ‘Distant Early Warning’, which on reflection couldn’t be further away from the aforementioned ‘Temples of Syrinx’. What the blazes was going on, and why did this band now have synths? I had to find out more…
My first Rush album was Grace Under Pressure. The local record store did a good trade in second-hand albums and as a teenager with limited pocket money, this was manna from heaven, Carefully choosing my album from the rather large Rush collection, I went with the one that featured ‘Distant Early Warning’. I can’t really remember what I thought of it at the time, although the inner thrash monster was already rebelling against the overload of synths. What did strike me were the lyrics. Here were words that were not just to the point, but seemed to speak about who I was…a teenage nerd, who didn’t fit in with the cool kids. It was only later when I heard ‘Subdivisions’ that this feeling was nailed home.
Not being a musician, I can only tell you how the music makes me feel so for me to say Neil Peart was the best drummer ever would be slightly marred by the fact that “how do I really know this?”. Well, to be fair, he pretty much was, but for me, it was as a lyricist that I grew such an appreciation for the man, and through that a love of Rush music. I’ve never been an uber-fan, and there have been times over the last 30 or so years where I have not listened to Rush for a long time. They are a band that grows with you though, and I have found myself in recent years drawn ever more closely to their music, and once more, in particular, the lyrics. I could read a Rush lyric sheet without any music and still gain such enjoyment out of it. The words were poetry, made by a man who seemed to be such a humble soul. He may be with us no more, but that legacy of songs remains undiminished. I’ve even read Ayn Rand now, probably thanks to him. We’ll keep our own thoughts about that though. RIP Neil, and much love to Geddy, Alex, and the Rush family.
Where to start? Where do I begin? It all started on a regular cool afternoon on January 10th. I was just waking up and checking on my e-mail and on Facebook and Twitter accounts. And then unexpectedly, came this news, Neil Peart had died. This was unexpected for me. For me, Rush along with Pink Floyd, were and will always be, my Beatles. After I heard the news, I halted working on my reviews throughout that entire weekend and went back and listened to some of my favorite Rush albums including, A Farewell to Kings.
Rush was on my radar since hearing ‘Tom Sawyer’ on Classic Rock’s 93.7 The Arrow on KKRW Houston back in 1998 when I was just 13 years old. It was totally unexpected for me to hear this futuristic hard rock adventure that had these odd time changes, synthesizers, duelling battles between Alex’s guitar lines that are like a crunching kick in the gut, Geddy’s intensive bass lines, and Neil’s drumming.
His drumming on that was very much like a machine gun that was ready to go off at any second. And my jaw just dropped. This guy just went throughout his drum kit, one by one like no other! After listening to that song on the radio, I was thinking to myself, “How did he do that?! This is incredible!” Then by the late ‘90s/early 2000s, I had completely forgotten about them.
It wasn’t until the fall of 2005 when I bought the MOJO Special Edition issue of Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock. And that was where my re-introduction of Rush’s music came opening up once more. It made me realize and understand to see and hear what I was missing from their music during that time period when I was a student at Houston Community College.
For me, as I’ve mentioned earlier in my introduction, A Farewell to Kings is one of my favorite Rush albums. Neil was not just an incredible drummer, but a great storyteller throughout his lyrics. He read books from people like; J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, Samuel R. Delany, and Ayn Rand to name a few. When you listen to the 10 and 11-minute epics of ‘Xanadu’ and ‘Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage’ he took the aspects of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Arthur C. Clarke with a cliffhanger twist.
He was bringing these stories to life. The lyrical structures on ‘Red Barchetta’, ‘New World Man’, ‘Nobody’s Hero’, ‘Between the Wheels’, ‘The Fountain of Lamenth’ and the epic battles between ‘By-Tor and the Snow Dog’, and the 20-minute suite of all suites, ‘2112’, with his lyrics, Neil was conjuring movies inside the listener’s head. And he knew exactly how to structure them from beginning, middle, and end.
I had the great opportunity to have seen Rush twice. One for their Snakes & Arrows tour in 2007 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion and in 2012 for their Clockwork Angels tour at Toyota Center. And they brought the house down when they came to my hometown and making sure that the “meek shall inherit the Earth”.
While they were never the critic’s darlings in the 1970s, they were the people’s band. Not only will Rush’s music inspire many generations to come, but Neil Peart’s lyrical arrangements and his drum playing will keep their legacies growing in the future. In the words of Babe Ruth from the 1993 movie The Sandlot, “There’s heroes and there’s legends; heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”
Dave Allan Guzda
Neil Peart. Rest in Peace.
Musician. Artist. Poet. Introvert. Drummer. Rock star. Traveller. Writer. Father. Husband. Bandmate. Canadian.
I was shocked to hear of Neil Peart’s passing. I didn’t even know he was sick, let alone that he had cancer. My heart was crushed when I heard the sudden tragic news. He was my favourite artist by a long, long margin. I don’t glamourize many celebrities or musicians. Most don’t deserve it. But Neil was unique and always carved his own path in an industry that is notorious for its excess and brevity. In his own words: “Cast in this unlikely role/ Well equipped to act/ With insufficient tact/ One must put up barriers/ To keep oneself intact…” -From ‘Limelight’ by Rush
I have always loved music. It is in my blood you might say. I’ve always tried to help (via media) local artists in some small way through reviews and press. I’ve always been a fan of Rush as far back as I can remember. My classmates and I saw them many times in YYZ. When my buddies performed in our school’s Battle of Bands, they performed a Rush song. On jam nights together it was often Rush covers. The band was the heartbeat of my youth and the heart of Rush was Neil Peart. He wrote most of their inspiring, provocative lyrics and provided the percussion for most of the band’s long, Rock and Rock Hall of Fame career. Many consider Neil to be one of the best Rock drummers of all time. Possibly even the best. He is the reason I took up drums and why it is one of my favourite instruments.
I grew up in the same town as Neil; St.Catharines, Ontario. When he wrote about Lakeside Park and pondered on “Days of barefoot freedom racing with the waves/ Nights of starlit secrets, crackling driftwood flames /Drinking by the lighthouse, /smoking on the pier” -From ‘Lakeside Park’ by Rush I’ve walked on that pier and have many of my own memories with friends from the area. His words always spoke to me. I’m also very introverted. High school was difficult at times for me. Music became an outlet. Rush always provided me with some solace and comfort. I often felt like the nerdy kid from the ‘Subdivisions” video. I could empathize with the lyrics. I get these words: “Growing up it all seems so one-sided/ Opinions all provided/ The future pre-decided/ Detached and subdivided In the mass production zone/ Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone” -From ‘Subdivisions’ by Rush. That last line always stung deep. Neil shared himself with the World through his lyrics. I’m glad he did, they have been thought-provoking, inspirational and touching in a way lyrics seldom ever are.
The band released 19 albums of incredible, often virtuosic music. Neil was the reluctant Rock Star. His talent and intelligence made him the envy of musicians around the World. He has enriched my life like a friend that I never met. (Even though that might have made him cringe…) The outpouring of love on social media for Peart has confirmed that many fans and fellow musicians felt the same way about him. Many people all over the World are crushed by his passing – something extraordinaire has happened – a rare and unique artist has been lost forever.
As I wipe away a tear (okay several), the final words will be Neil Peart’s. Thank you for the words and music, …exit the warrior.
“So many things I think about/ When I look far away/ Things I know, things I wonder/ Things I’d like to say/ The more we think we know about/ The greater the unknown/ We suspend our disbelief/ And we are not alone………………..”
-From ‘Mystic Rhythms’ by Rush