Sunday, January 12, 2020

Bearing a Gift Beyond Price: A Tribute to Neil Peart, Rush Drummer and Lyricist (1952-2020)

My fandom for the Canadian rock band Rush--whose legendary drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart, passed away last week--goes back roughly 40 years

So I can't cite exactly how or why or when or through whom I got into them.

I'm guessing that via some combination of rock radio and junior high word of mouth, I became aware of (long after its release) "Fly by Night"--a 1975 gem that the band eschewed live after 1978--and was intrigued enough to buy the 1980 album Permanent Waves sometime following its January release.

I can't say exactly when that might've been, but I know I had Permanent Waves before Moving Pictures came out in February 1981.

I instantly loved the first song on Permanent Waves, "The Spirit of Radio," still consider it my favorite Rush song and ranked it in the top 10 of my All-time Favorite Rock Songs when I last compiled a list in 2015.

Back then, loving a band meant knowing the names of the people in the band, which was easy for a Rush fan as there were only three members (and if you look really closely at the Permanent Waves front cover, their last names are included in the art).

Geddy Lee, a really skinny guy with long hair and a high-pitched voice, was the vocalist and bass player.

Alex Lifeson was the guitarist, and a key part of the trio's sonic inventiveness.

And Neil Peart not only had a crazy massive drum kit, he was almost always referenced as "one of the best drummers in the world."

And while Lifeson, Lee and Peart collaborated on the band's music, once he joined Rush in mid-1974--John Rutsey was the band's original drummer and played on their eponymous debut--Peart wrote virtually all of the lyrics.

Some have likely called his lyrics "dense" in both senses of the word, and he may well have had too much of an Ayn Rand fascination at one point. But Peart showed a real sensitivity and social consciousness that I always appreciated:
- "Begin the day with a friendly voice, a companion unobtrusive"

- "And the men who hold high places must be the ones to start, to mold a new reality closer to the heart"

- "No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government"

- "In the high school halls, in the shopping malls, conform or be cast out"

- "I can't pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend"

- "If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice"

- "Just between us, I think it's time for us to recognize the differences we sometimes fear to show"
- "Who can face the knowledge that the truth is not the truth?"
- "Freeze this moment a little bit longer, make each sensation a little bit stronger"

- "All of us get lost in the darkness, dreamers learn to steer by the stars"
- "And if the love remains, though everything is lost, we will pay the price but we will not count the cost"
Certainly, these lyrics were enhanced by accompanying what I thought were rather cool, mostly hard-rocking songs, played with the utmost technical proficiency.

After first getting into "Fly by Night" and then Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures, I soon came to know much of Rush's earlier output, including the 2112 album with its famed "Overture" and "The Temple of Syrinx."

A friend had the band's first live album, All the World's a Stage, and I would excitedly buy the next one, Exit...Stage Left.

My freshman year of high school, in the fall of 1982, began a few months before I really started attending rock concerts with friends, so I rued not seeing the Signals tour at the Rosemont Horizon (now known as Allstate Arena).

But I first saw Rush on June 30, 1984 at the Rosemont Horizon, on their Grace Under Pressure Tour.

When I next saw them, in January 1992 at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles--I was living out
there at the time--it felt like I was seeing an "old" favorite, though Geddy/Alex/Neil were still great.

But the last 7 of the 9 times I saw Rush live were shows in seven different years between 2002 and 2015, at the amphitheater in Tinley Park, IL, headlining at Milwaukee Summerfest or at Chicago's United Center.

So, somewhat astonishingly, despite never quite being deemed "cool" by the rock intelligentsia--Rush was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, many years after first being eligible--the trio never lost their staying power.

Though there were Rush concerts I robustly loved, like this one in 2010, there were also quite candidly times--including the last few--when their setlists were a bit esoteric for my tastes and the shows tended to drag in parts.

Including--gasp--sometimes during Peart's extended drum solos.

Though my reverence for his drumming talent is immense, there were times when I wondered why he needed quite so many drums.

And of those I've seen in person--such as Dave Grohl, with Nirvana in 1993--as well as just on video (John Bonham of Led Zeppelin), I tend to prefer sheer brutality on a smaller kit.

Still, I believe what I posted on Facebook the other day holds true:
With the deaths of Ginger Baker and Neil Peart, every drummer in the world has moved up two notches.
Anyway, I imagine that to the public at large, I'm a major Rush fanatic and to true Rush "geeks," I'm something of a poser.

But in these polarized times I think we can tend to forget that to love someone or something--whether a friend, family member of lover, leader or country, band or baseball team, etc.--doesn't mean constant, automatic or unquestioning approval and adulation.

It means your life wouldn't be nearly as good without them. And your appreciation is both immense and intense.

I love--and always will--a lot the music Neil Peart helped make with Rush.

I loved his drumming, his lyrics and even a sense of humor that probably wasn't always obvious.

I am sorry for his suffering, of late from the brain cancer that ended his life at just 67, and the loss of his daughter and wife during a brutal 10-month stretch in 1997-98. (He would remarry and have another daughter.)

Unaware of his illness, or whatever part it likely played in Rush's retirement, I was shocked and gutted by the news of his death, even given this grim article about how the coming decade will see an ongoing parade to the grave of rock heroes, beyond the legends already lost.

But with nearly any death, excepting those of someone particularly young or via unnatural means, I like to offer this condolence:

As you weep for what has been lost, smile for all that has been gained

The truth is, I gained a whole lot via my fandom of Neil Peart and Rush.
"Love and life are deep" he wrote in the song, "Tom Sawyer."
And then in "Dreamline" some years later:
"When we are young
Wandering the face of the Earth
Wondering what our dreams might be worth
Learning that we're only immortal
For a limited time"
Thanks for the magic, Neil Peart.

Your drumbeats will live on for quite some time.

And not just on indelible songs--such as these--and DVDs I can watch upon my wall.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great piece!