Neil Peart, 1952-2020

“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”
-N. Peart

“All of us get lost in the darkness
Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter
Dreamers turn to look at the cars”
-N. Peart

I’ve been hit hard by the unexpected (by the public) death of Neil Peart. Not since the suicide of Freddie Prinze in 1977 (when I was 12) and less so with the suicide of Robin Williams in 2014 (since I understood more) have I been so personally impacted by the death of a “celebrity”, someone not a personal friend or family member, someone that I only know from their life living in the limelight. I write this as a small tribute and a small bit of therapy.

Neil Peart: There is no need for me to try to write a biography of Neil Peart. Just search. He was the drummer and lyricist for the band RUSH from the Toronto area. They were actively touring for over 40 years from 1974 to 2015 (my teen years to mid life). I saw them in concert for the first time in Buffalo on July 12,1984 (thanks to my future girlfriend, and then wife, scamming a ticket for me) and for the last time on June 15, 2015 (also in Buffalo) with countless shows in between (several of which were in Rochester, Toronto, or Darien). He was also the author of several outstanding books and an inspiration to me in several ways.

Why An Inspiration:  There are three main reasons for that inspiration: (1) the lyrics (2) the drumming (3) the writing.

His lyrics are thought provoking, sometimes deep, sometimes ironically simple, inspired by art, science, technology, and literature, and most importantly to me, they have hit a personal note throughout my life. And it seems our lives followed parallel journeys such that as his stories evolved, so did my interests in consuming them and my inspiration from them. It was never blind fandom, but always an appreciation that returned time and time again over the decades. From “I will choose free will”, to “his mind is not for rent”, to “blacksmiths and artists”, to “all that you can do is wish them well”, and many others in between. The lyrics always “fit” my life.

His virtuoso drumming is part of the public record. Simply put, he is universally considered amongst the greatest drummers of all time. What inspired me about it was not just the musicality of his performances, but his relentless “passion and precision”. As a kid, I was a drummer for a time, not a good one, but there was a connection there. I still beat on things around the house with a set of Neil Peart autograph sticks.

The writing extends well beyond the lyrics to the books and other pieces. In particular Ghost Rider and Clockwork Angels, which inspired me on some of my own journeys and brought me back home again. His personal story is tangentially familiar and deeply touching. We shared a journey and sadly, my spiritual traveling partner is gone … at least the traveling music lives on.

Notes: Rush was first strongly ingrained in me in high school as our soccer team played Moving Pictures (released on my birthday in 1981) on a boombox on every bus trip. My red BMW R1200gs, was inspired by Ghost RIder. Sadly illness precluded any long adventures on two wheels, but my big personal journey was completed in a red M3 on four wheels. I was in Santa Monica when Snakes & Arrows was released. I bought it there, read the lyrics, and put that CD on repeat for the long journey home … with joy. Losing It came too early for me, but has been an inspiration. The Pass came at the right time. Enough said.

“Because he was human
Because he had goodness
Because he was moral
They called him insane
Delusions of grandeur
Visions of splendor
A manic-depressive
He walks in the rain”
-G. Lee

Master Work: Of all the work that touched me, Clockwork Angels was the culmination. Not just because it was the final chapter, but because it showed Neil’s talents in multiple forms. The lyrics, the drumming, the books, the graphic novels, and the amazing performances. It was also released at just the time I needed a message that “all you can do is wish them well”. That message saved my career in many respects and helped my family in ways that can never be explained. Neil, like me, did not like to “pretend a stranger was a long awaited friend”. That led me to speculate on what I would say to him if we ever met (we didn’t) and my decision was that I would simply say “Peace. And thank you.” and move along my way. I like to think he would have understood all depth of meaning and respect in those four words. I did send them once and, as expected, received no reply. So …

Peace. And thank you.

“And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart ”
-N. Peart, P. Talbot

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