Neil Peart: Sadness and a profound Thank You

Some of you know that I am a long-time fan of the band Rush. Found them in college (thanks Jim!) and bought all their albums in several formats. They have been a large part of the soundtrack to my entire adult life; various times, various songs, various reasons. The drummer, Neil Peart, recently passed away from brain cancer. This very sad thing happened to a man who brought me enjoyment, understanding, and awareness of the wider world. I would like to tell you a bit about his impact on me.

My wife asked me yesterday which Rush album was my favorite. I answered that I didn’t have one, that it depends on my mood and what is going on in my life. Happy, struggling, failing, succeeding, wondering — all pointed to places and times in their music. Rush, and Neil, was at the heart of that.

At its simplest, Neil Peart was the drummer and lyricist for the band Rush. But that is a massive understatement. 

Neil was a ridiculously great drummer. Many times I fast forward to the drum solo part of the concert videos and watch in amazement. He is widely recognized in the rock musician world as being at the top of the game and he influenced thousands of drummers. Talk to any long time drummer and they will know who Neil Peart is. Most likely, they are also sad about his passing. 

But like many others,  it was his lyrics that had the bigger impact. Neil’s lyrics were not your normal “sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”. Nineteen studio albums and there are, at most, a half dozen “love” songs; and the quotes are there because they are not your traditional love song. He wrote songs about the Manhattan Project, concentration camps, loyalty to a country vs to all mankind, racism and power, and losing friends. He wrote one ‘drug’ song: ‘A Passage To Bangkok’; but even those lyrics are more about where the world’s weed crop came than celebrating getting high.

His lyrics changed over the years, much like the band’s music. Like all of us, his interests and beliefs changed over time. His lyrics gave us a glimpse of who he was at that particular time. The tip of the iceberg of a very thoughtful man.  

During these past few days, I have been thinking about significant songs and what they have meant to me over the years. Reading the tributes and re-watching the concerts has reminded me what parts moved me over the years. 

My About page has two Neil Peart lyrics quoted. There are several more that have special meaning for me. I talk about them below. After that are more general thoughts. 

Too many hands on my time
Too many feelings
Too many things on my mind
When I leave, I don’t know what I’m hoping to find
When I leave, I don’t know what I’m leaving behind

The Analog Kid

The Analog Kid is about a teenage boy, looking out at the world and being drawn to it. The quote above, however, has resonated throughout my adult life. Changing jobs, changing cities, kids, divorce, all sorts of changes. The more overwhelmed I felt, the more this hit home. Not knowing what is behind me or in front of me. All I know is that I will keep moving forward and things will change. 

If the future’s looking dark, we’re the ones who have to shine
If there’s no one in control, we’re the ones who draw the line
Though we live in trying times, we’re the ones who have to try
Though we know that time has wings, we’re the ones who have to fly

Everyday Glory

Everyday Glory helped me during many dark times. The section above always reminds me of my responsibility to try to make things better. There have been several times when things were tough and this quote kept me going.

I didn’t know the girl, but I knew her family
All their lives were shattered 
In a nightmare of brutality
They try to carry on, try to bear the agony
Try to hold some faith
In the goodness of humanity

As the years went by, we drifted apart
When I heard that she was gone
I felt a shadow cross my heart
But she’s nobody’s

Hero – the voice of reason
Against the howling mob
Hero – the pride of purpose
In the unrewarding job

Nobodys Hero

Nobodys Hero is a reminder what real courage is. People show it every day when they get back up from getting knocked down. If we look to our heroes for inspiration, there is much to see in our electronic world. But there is even more in the people you run into every day. They don’t get the press, the posts, the inspiring memes. They are just getting on with the courage of the living. This song reminds me to look a little harder, a little deeper, and see the courage all around me. 

The earth beneath us starts to tremble
With the spreading of a low black cloud
A thunderous roar shakes the air
Like the whole world exploding

Scorching blast of golden fire
As it slowly leaves the ground
Tears away with a mighty force
The air is shattered by the awesome sound

Countdown

Rush attended a Space Shuttle launch, and the result was an adrenaline rush (sorry) of a song. The actual countdown in the background and the voice recordings at the end always give me goosebumps. 

You can surrender
Without a prayer
But never really pray
Pray without surrender

You can fight
Without ever winning
But never ever win
Without a fight

Resist

A play on words to tell four fundamental truths. They did an acoustic version of this song in concert, making the above section even more powerful. 

19 studio albums. 11 live albums. I was current on their CDs when I transitioned over to digital. My collection now includes all studio albums and some of the live albums. And several concert videos. When I think about the thousands of hours I have enjoyed their music, buying a few copies of each album over the years seems insufficient. 

When his only daughter, 19, was killed in a car accident and his wife died of cancer the following year, we all understood why he dropped off the radar. Rush was uncertain. But he got his feet back under him (everyday glory), got back together with his bandmates, and, more importantly, found happiness, got married, and even had another child — a daughter. Reading his blog — reading about his emotions of heading down the fatherhood path again, about the risk, about knowing the happiness and the heartache — was a powerful insight into someone I admired. Especially for those of us that are fathers. And I, like many others, rooted for him. This article is about watching hummingbirds hatch in his backyard and the birth of his daughter (long, hard to read text – highlight the text to make it easier to read.

There have been lots of news reports and tributes to Neil over these last few days. I have found myself attracted to other musicians’ words. He was an inspiration for so many and you can hear the heartfelt appreciation of what this man did with his life. I am probably not too far off in saying that many of us were rooting for him. He gave so much to us with his music, it well earned a retirement with his wife and daughter.

His lyrics were interesting. His drumming was precise and raucous. I didn’t grieve when Rush played the last concert together and made it clear that there would be no more new Rush music. I shed tears when the man who wrote so elegantly and poured his heart into his music and into life, passed before he got to watch his young daughter grow up. 

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