New World Man: A Farewell To Neil Peart


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I can’t believe he’s gone.

As of this writing, it has been several days since the news of Rush drummer Neil Peart’s untimely passing broke, and over a week since his actual death. I don’t think I have ever admired anyone quite so much as him. Not only was he the greatest drummer who ever picked up a pair of sticks, but he was truly a man of integrity. Words fail to express how highly I thought of him. Even though I never met him, I cared for and sympathized with him more than any other public figure. He was my hero. I want to be like him—as a musician, a writer, and a human being.

Neil Ellwood Peart was born in the suburbs of Toronto, and even at that time his intelligence was apparent. He was the eldest of four and that may be a part of how much older he always seemed to me. The song “Subdivisions” has always spoken to me, as it encapsulates the frustration of living in a world much less interesting than the world of the books: “Growing up, it all seemed so one-sided/Opinions all provided/The future pre-decided/Detached and subdivided in the mass production zone.” Neil grew up in a similar world to mine, and similarly, he craved an escape. He found it in drums.

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Peart hard at work on a new song

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Young Neil’s first job

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The fateful day soon came when he heard that up-and-coming rock band Rush was looking for a drummer. He decided to audition. Geddy Lee remembered that he looked extremely dorky and skinny—the epitome of what Rush would eventually be famous for. From the first moment he picked up the sticks, he blew their minds.

Peart’s lyrics were so often the voice of reason in my life. When I struggled to understand a friend’s words or actions, it was he who reminded me that “the things that we’re concealing will never let us grow.” His anti-suicide anthem, “The Pass,” told me there was “No hero in your tragedy/No daring in your escape/No salute to your surrender/Nothing noble in your fate.” Songs such as “Mission,” “Bravado” and, of course, the monumental “2112” were unashamedly optimistic encouragements to be creative, to work towards goals, and to live life in a different way. Rush is the band of the eccentric iconoclast and the goal-driven artist.

Those songs that didn’t share tidbits of wisdom from the Professor expressed emotions that I truly identified with. In “The Analog Kid,” he discusses the enjoyment of random aspects of life. Songs such as “Subdivisions,” “Face Up,” “The Anarchist,” and “Middletown Dreams” deal with the frustrations of feeling trapped in one’s surroundings and unsuited to one’s present situation, while songs such as “Second Nature,” “Witch Hunt,” “Kid Gloves,” and “A Farewell To Kings” are pull-no-punches examinations of the state of the world and its problems. So many of his lyrics put into words things I had felt or thought for my whole life without ever finding the right words to express them. Discovering Rush was a freeing experience for me: as an eccentric, autistic homeschool kid from the suburbs of Denver, like minds were hard to come by. In Neil, I found something of a kindred soul, more like a patron saint than a beloved celebrity. I don’t think I have ever admired any public figure so much, before or since.

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The tubeteika (a traditional Uzbek headdress) was introduced to Neil’s wardrobe in the nineties.

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1980s Neil. I like how happy he looks in this one.

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Though I admire Peart immensely, I do not envy him at all. In the 1990s, after the recording of Test For Echo, he lost his wife to cancer and his nineteen-year-old daughter to a traffic accident in under a year’s time. Never comfortable in the public eye—and especially not after such a nightmare—he embarked on a solo motorcycle journey, communicating with the rest of the world only in the form of occasional postcards to his bandmates. Eventually, he did return to the band. He remarried and fathered a second daughter, but this time, it was the women of the Peart household who were robbed of a loved one too soon. In 2016, Neil Peart was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer of the nervous system.

Learning his cause of death and time of diagnosis hit me harder than even the news of his death itself. When he had retired, I had an idyllic mental image of the ex-drummer’s life in sunny Southern California: spending quality time with his wife and young daughter, reading and writing, going on long bike rides, and eating good food. Naturally, I was sad that I would never see my favorite band in concert, but I was happy for Neil and wished him a wonderful retirement. It broke my heart to learn that this was far from the reality of the situation. He did not spend his twilight years in restaurants, libraries, or his trusty motorcycle, but in hospitals. It comes as no surprise that Geddy and Alex would always become serious and adamantly opposed when asked if Neil might play with them again. They have been living with this horrific situation for years. Can you imagine playing music with the same person for forty years? That’s the question I asked my father, a much older human and more experienced musician, when I heard the news. He wasn’t even alive when Neil joined Rush. By all indications, the three guys shared an incredible bond. I can’t imagine what they must be experiencing now.

One of the last phrases Neil would ever write is this line from Clockwork Angels: “The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect.” By those standards, Neil Ellwood Peart lived a heck of a life. His love and respect for others is quite apparent in his life story, his lyrics, and his art. Prog fans—and everyone else—ought to live as he did.

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Peart, ensconced in percussion.

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Neil on Letterman.  A more recent snapshot.

 

2 responses to “New World Man: A Farewell To Neil Peart

  1. Fantastic tribute. Thank you for the post from a longtime reader. When I heard that he was gone I felt a shadow cross my heart…

    Like

  2. The first Rush concert I ever saw was at Nassau coliseum in Long Island NY (hold your Fire). January 2nd 2020 I bought tickets to Disney on Ice, at Nassau Coliseum for my kids. I picked the seats I sat in during my first Rush concert. The day I sat in those seats, the same exact seats I sat in for my first Rush concert was the same day Neil Passes.

    Like

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