Patterico's Pontifications

1/11/2020

RIP Neil Peart

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:16 am



The most endangered species: the honest man
Will still survive annihilation.

— Neil Peart, 1952-2020

Growing up, one of the central things that my closest friends and I shared was a love of the band Rush. We went to several Rush concerts together and spent countless hours discussing the relative merits of the various albums, songs, and time periods of the band.

Most people who are aware of Rush are either huge Rush fans or disdainful of the band. If you’re a huge fan, you know why. There’s simply no other band that is as interesting to listen to. And arguably the main reason for that was Neil Peart.

Neil was the band’s drummer, and I firmly believe he is the best drummer rock music has ever seen and arguably the greatest drummer that has ever lived. He could take what might otherwise be a repetitive passage and completely transform it into something that was alive and new each time you listened to it. I spent a good chunk of yesterday evening listening to tracks that isolate the drums (or in some cases drums and bass) from a Rush song, and “Red Barchetta” is one of the standout examples:

Listening to that, you get a real sense of how integral the drums are to the exciting increase in the song’s intensity as it progresses, culminating in an orgy of rhythmic excitement. Here’s the original song if you don’t know it, for comparison:

But Neil wasn’t just an incredible drummer. He was also the band’s lyricist, and in that capacity wrote some of the most thoughtful and inspiring lyrics in rock history. Speaking as someone who doesn’t generally pay much attention to lyrics, Rush was the exception. I lost interest in Rush’s albums in their final years, when the songs started to sound the same to me — but at least up to a certain point in their work, I knew every word to every song. The words were moving, and powerful, and always suited the song. Again, an example will make the point clear:

The dancer slows her frantic pace
In pain and desperation
Her aching limbs and downcast face
Aglow with perspiration

Stiff as wire, her lungs on fire
With just the briefest pause
The flooding through her memory
The echoes of old applause

She limps across the floor
And closes her bedroom door

The writer stares with glassy eyes
Defies the empty page
His beard is white, his face is lined
And streaked with tears of rage

Thirty years ago, how the words would flow
With passion and precision
But now his mind is dark and dulled
By sickness and indecision

And he stares out the kitchen door
Where the sun will rise no more

I listened to this song again last night and it brought tears to my eyes. Neil died on Tuesday, January 7, at the age of 67, after fighting a private three-year battle with brain cancer. He was universally known as kind. He was private. He was a reader. He suffered great tragedy in his life, losing his daughter and wife within months of each other in the late 1990s. He reacted to these adversities by taking a long motorcycle trip through the United States and reading. He came back to the band about four years later, remarried, and had another daughter.

Some are born to move the world
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we’d like to be

Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you, the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee

For Neil Peart, the sun will rise no more. But he lived out his greatest fantasy: to be a principled artist who never gave in to commercial pressures, and always stood up to the powers that be. He was a very important influence in my life, and in the lives of countless others. His voice and his musicianship, and his influence on so many people, will live on. Cancer can’t take that away from him.

Godspeed, Neil.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

18 Responses to “RIP Neil Peart”

  1. When someone like this dies, a small part of you dies with them.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  2. When someone like this dies, a small part of you dies with them.

    When I read about Peart’s passing yesterday, I knew you would be listening to his music all over again. I want to say that I’m sorry for this loss. Yet what a gift to have been able to experience his artistry and have it impact you in such a profound way. While I personally was not drawn to Rush, I think this feeling that a small part of you died with them is an almost universal sentiment for music lovers, and one I identify with as well. My theory: The musicians we listened to in youth and then into adulthood somehow become embedded in our beings. The artistry, the words, the music, all of it spoke to us when we were vulnerable, impressionable and still on the edge of our lives. I think that we connect the artist and their work with certain events and seasons in our lives – whether during happy times or struggles through sorrow. Listening to specific songs always evokes the person we once were and the event in which the artist provided comfort or hope or something else. Without getting personal, there is an artist who passed on in which I felt a small part of me died too. And I know when two others pass, I’ll feel the exact same way. I can pinpoint when I started to listen to them, why their songs spoke to me, and clearly remember the huge feeling of comfort and release they brought in my life. And surprisingly, decades later, still do. Albeit with a more mature outlook. It’s an incredible gift to be able to produce music and words that reach down to the very bone of a listener’s being, and it’s a privilege to be the recipient of said gift and carry it with you for the rest of your life.

    Dana (643cd6)

  3. Thanks for this, P. I was hoping that you might send him off with the appropriate farewell.

    My Facebook wall was dominated yesterday by friends posting their memories of seeing Rush, or their favorite Rush songs, or their favorite Neil Peart drum lines. I suppose it’s true that not everyone liked the band, but I haven’t met too many people who don’t recognize what an incredible sound that only three dudes were able to make.

    And yes, 50-year old me has a much greater appreciation of Peart’s lyrics than 13-year-old me ever had.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  4. Neil was the greatest of all time. My friends, bro and I are sad at his passing but feel fortunate to have seen this legend many times. Many Rush concerts were epic times together. Last time was in London in 2011. I was pleasantly surprised at how he still had it.
    I’ll never forget the fun time I had with Cousin Patterico debating which albums were better than others.
    Most of my all time favorite lyrics were written by him. Some are timeless such as:
    Quick to judge
    Quick to anger
    Slow to understand
    Ignorance and prejudice
    and fear
    Walk hand in hand

    P Clark (1bdc39)

  5. And everyone keeps betting that ozzie osborn will be next!

    asset (503f8a)

  6. Kyle Smith remembers him here. Neil Peart told Rolling Stone in an interview he did with them seven years ago that he always wanted to write lyrics from the uncompromising values of a sixteen-year-old boy. To which Kyle Smith wryly adds, “[N]o one wants to hear rock lyrics about property taxes and the failings of the kitchen staff.”

    JVW (54fd0b)

  7. Was never a fan of his music but he sure seemed to be a good guy.

    “ I have a real love for this country, like I said, not a blinkered love, by any means, and I have no problems seeing the defects, of course. But I know that a lot of those are historical imperatives and the position that America occupies in the world today is not altogether by choice.

    I mean, it’s not people’s fault that it became the most successful country and the richest country and the most powerful country, it just happened, you know, because people worked and people were into it, and they did it. So, you can’t fault them for being the most powerful and having that incredible responsibility. I mean, it’s easy to point fingers at figures in government and so on and blame the government for a lot of things, and of course, there’s a tremendous amount of Reaganitis about, but really, it’s a bit facile to do that.

    Anyone who thinks about it a little more and learns a little more about the history of the country and why things are the way they are knows that America didn’t go out and buy a bunch of nuclear bombs just so they could be the big guys on the block, you know? It was strictly a historical imperative. . . . They had to, you know. There was no choice and there is no choice.”

    Neil Peart, when asked in 1984 if he was more nervous living next to a USA w Ronald Reagan as president.

    harkin (d6cfee)

  8. Was only a Moving Pictures/Tom Sawyer-Limelight sort of Rush listener until college when I met some big time fans. I was also made aware by them of how their positive attribution of Ayn Rand in the early 70s sort of became one of pop culture’s earliest cancel victims. Nonetheless I grew to appreciate several songs and arrangements from their earlier work.

    Saw some special about them on Netflix (originally re. 2014) and my impression of Peart was “consummate Canadian” not in the namby pamby Trudeau/Frum manner but in a more traditional reserved but strong manner – could have definitely been part of that unit from the old WW2 movie Steve57 used to paste vids from .

    urbanleftbehind (29864b)

  9. To borrow a line from P at Cronkite’s passing, “His death means little to me, but I know he was an important figure to some.”

    Took the time to sample some of his work [kudos for that, P] and it’s good stuff. Always a sour note when a skilled musician leaves us at any age. Fortunately, we have recordings so his talents will live on.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  10. In a really nice tribute, CBS is using Rush’s music as bumper music going into commercials during the Ravens-Titans game going on right now.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  11. “When someone like this dies, a small part of you dies with them.”

    So true, Pat. I am also a huge Rush fan. I’ve seen them live at least a dozen times over the years. Every concert was an amazing experience. My best friend got me hooked on them in the ‘80s.

    Being an amateur musician (bass and drums) made me appreciate them even more, because I know how hard it is to play what they do. I’ve tried, and failed miserably.

    I spent last evening replaying Rush songs that have meant something to me over the years. I’d list them, but that would take all evening. I’m listening some more today.

    Neil Peart was the greatest drummer I ever got to see play. Period.

    RIP Professor. We’ll always remember you.

    Jeff Lebowski (0b16c9)

  12. Neil Peart was a gifted drummer and lyricist. I won’t say he was the best or the greatest, because I don’t believe in hierarchies when it comes to music, poetry and art. Every musician has his sound, every poet has his voice, and every artist has his design, and all are equally beautiful. It’s just that some are extraordinary.

    Rush was formed in 1968, went through various lineups until 1974, when Neil Peart joined the band. That was when they became really good.

    I listened to Rush in high school. Their music was complex, and their lyrics inspirational. I only got to see them perform live once, on the Hemispheres tour in San Antonio. What a performance!

    Alex Lifeson played a double-neck guitar, with six strings on the bottom and twelve on the top. He kept switching up and down, even in the middle of a song. Geddy Lee played the bass and the synthesizer at the same time. Neil Peart’s drum solo was unbelievable.

    Every band has their period. It’s usually short, lasting about five years, when everything comes together and they write and perform their most inspired music. For Rush, that was in the late seventies. I saw them when they were at their best, and they were incredible.

    Gawain's Ghost (b25cd1)

  13. When adults describe rock musicians as formative influences in their lives, what they are usually telling you, inadvertently, is that they never grew up. But Peart and Rush would be among the extremely rare exceptions to that. Contrary to the pop music norm, they actually HELPED many of us grow up.

    Their songs (and also the lack of mainstream acceptance of their work) taught many young outsiders to resist the endless pressure to conform to the ugly social expectations of progressive soft despotism. And Peart’s lyrics, calibrated to appeal to young people craving a meaningful escape route from late modernity’s blandness, gave many kids the courage to think for themselves, rejection and ostracism be damned.

    I am very happy Patterico paid tribute this way. Peart was formative for me too. In fact, though my rock fan days are far behind me, my emotional and developmental debt to Peart, Lee, and Lifeson can never be repaid. They helped me immeasurably, as a teenage loner and outsider, to grow up without surrendering or becoming embittered. I honestly don’t know where or what I would be now if I hadn’t heard “Subdivisions” on the radio in my parents’ basement in 1982. They were speaking directly to my experience and my insecurities as no other band ever had. They helped to pull me through.

    Daren Jonescu (2f5857)

  14. Sad day for Rock & Roll. One of the greatest drummers, no doubt. Sirius Classic Rock had a great tribute this morning.

    mg (8cbc69)

  15. I only got to see them perform live once, on the Hemispheres tour in San Antonio. What a performance!

    Gawain’s Ghost,

    Wow, is all I can say. The first side of Hemispheres is, in my opinion, the greatest side (back when albums had sides) in all rock music.

    I saw them in Los Angeles a long time ago, probably the late 1990s, and paid a pretty penny to sit in the second row with Mrs. P. This was a tour when they played the beginning of Hemispheres. I was simulaneously in heaven and appalled — in heaven because this was the Rock Moment I had always dreamed of seeing, and appalled because some L.A. yutz, who was probably in the first couple of rows because he had connections to the music industry, chose that moment to get up to go get himself a Coke. And blocked my view when I should have been purely enjoying myself.

    I am not a fan of people punching people. I even opposed someone punching Richard Spencer. And I would oppose punching this fella for getting up when Rush was beginning to play the first side of Hemispheres. But — to quote Sam Kinison from a routine that would never pass muster in these more enlightened times — I’d understand it.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  16. I am very happy Patterico paid tribute this way. Peart was formative for me too. In fact, though my rock fan days are far behind me, my emotional and developmental debt to Peart, Lee, and Lifeson can never be repaid. They helped me immeasurably, as a teenage loner and outsider, to grow up without surrendering or becoming embittered. I honestly don’t know where or what I would be now if I hadn’t heard “Subdivisions” on the radio in my parents’ basement in 1982. They were speaking directly to my experience and my insecurities as no other band ever had. They helped to pull me through.

    Great comment, Daren, as always.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  17. . . . appalled because some L.A. yutz, who was probably in the first couple of rows because he had connections to the music industry, chose that moment to get up to go get himself a Coke.

    The other traditional version of that aggravation is when the yutz decides that he is going to talk to his companion in a loud voice throughout the entire set. And the modern spin on it is when he holds up his phone (in portrait mode, naturally) the entire concert in order to record it.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  18. Patterico, thank you so much for this. I found Rush as a high schooler in 1992, and they’ve been my one constant musical love ever since. I was pleased to see you cite Signals, to me the most optimistic, life-affirming album they ever made (albeit for “The Analog Kid,” “New World Man,” and “Countdown,” not “Losing It”). Moving Pictures and Signals are the way I want to remember him.

    I’ve long been glad Neil Peart came back, even though the last 3 albums were each progressively darker and more bitter than the one before. I will never criticize him for that; he came by his sadness honestly. It took a greatness most of us don’t have just for him to come back at all.

    Eliot (32bbca)


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