An Ode to Neil Peart, a Real Musician in a World of Many Frauds

Neal performing. In the latter part of his career, he was literally surrounded by drums on all sides of a rotating platform. See the video that goes with this article to get a taste of all the sounds at his command.

 

Above video, a great Neil Peart drum solo captured recently that shows the variety and maturity of his playing.

By M. Samuel Anderson
AWN Editor

While the Jan. 10 announced passing of famed Canadian rock drummer Neil Peart of Rush, who on Jan. 7 succumbed to brain cancer, is making ink spill and video footage roll for many a newspaper and Internet memorial, this Awakening News editor had the honor of meeting Neil in 1986 at Frank’s Drum Shop in Fort Wayne, Indiana—which in those days was one of Neal’s favorite drum stores.

Neil was there that year to give a drum clinic—a group drum lesson—at Frank’s and my Michigan friends Todd Tysman, Kevin Wilson and myself were elated to be able to attend. We were a bit starstruck, admittedly.

It was a great experience. Us three guys (we’d all been drumming for several years) marveled at Neil’s thunderous yet fluid drumming technique. And because it was a clinic, we learned something new about drumming that day.

For me, it was the opening drum pattern in Rush’s progressive rock song “Subdivisions”—the one with the soaring keyboard patterns and pulsating drum riffs at the very beginning.

And you can hardly forget that song’s introductory words that speak of a future dystopian age:

Growing up, it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass-production zone

Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone

That’s a great example of Neil’s lyrical skills, which he applied to Rush with equal vigor as his drumming.

When I asked Neil about that song at the clinic, he explained precisely how to play the opening drum part. And after a bit of work, I pretty much got it. It felt great. I’m glad to say, I still remember how to play it, though a little practice is in order.

But beyond the clinics, on countless big stages across the world, Neil and the rest of Rush—guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist/singer/keyboardist Geddy Lee—inspired successive generations either to be the best musicians they could be, or to truly appreciate good music that requires real talent to play.

With Rush as a group, as with Neil as a drummer, corners were never cut. Integrity was never cast aside. Everyone that liked Rush liked them for the same basic reason: They were genuine. You were going to hear real music played by real musicians who, like the great athletes of yore, did it for the love of the game.

The band’s listeners often were aging rockers with kids, grandkids and sometimes even great grandkids, as well nephews and nieces, who all got together at a Rush concert to hear nearly three hours of superbly executed music that spoke to people on many different levels. The technically minded loved the trio’s musical skills, others fixated on the imaginative lyrics and the visuals.

They say music can make all men brothers, within and among nations. A good friend of mine, Mark Wilson from Missouri, firmly believes that. He took several family members to see Rush’s last tour in 2015. They immersed themselves in it.

This was Neil’s legacy individually inasmuch as it was Rush’s legacy as a group. I say let’s mark Neil’s passing by casting aside today’s over-produced, tinty-sounding, fake-ish trash music that has pushed out what used to be great rock and roll that required real talent to perform.

You see evidence of this hijacking all of the time. Check the comments on You Tube for, say, songs by Triumph (another Canadian trio) or for bands such as REO Speedwagon, Jethro Tull, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin (especially the earlier stuff), Emerson Lake and Palmer, Uriah Heep, UFO, Queen, Bachmann Turner Overdrive, along with Mountain, The James Gang with Joe Walsh, Montrose, Styx and many other outstanding bands of that “golden” era (early 1970s through the mid-80s or so).

Many of those You Tube comments are something like, “What’s happened to music nowadays? I wish I’d been born longer ago, when rock had real players playing real music.” Or “everything today sounds air-brushed and fake. I want something genuine, from the heart.”

Which apparently is what Neil Peart meant in his lyrics for the song “Closer to the Heart” on the 1977 Rush album, “A Farewell to Kings.” To wit:

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart
Closer to the heart

The blacksmith and the artist
Reflect it in their art
They forge their creativity
Closer to the heart
Yes closer to the heart

Philosophers and plowmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the heart

All of the foregoing says to me, and perhaps should say to many of us, that Neil’s passing calls us to remember what real music is in terms of the talent and dedication it takes to perform it with such consistency over so many years, and in terms of the lyrical tapestry that Neil so carefully wove over the more than 40 years that Rush gave audiences a such a rush.

I’ll close with Neil’s closing lyrics to Side 1 of the thematic early-1980s Rush album, “Hemispheres.”

We can walk our road together. If our goals are all the same. We can run alone and free. If we pursue a different aim. Let the truth of love be lighted, Let the love of truth shine clear. Sensibility, armed with sense and liberty, With the Heart and Mind united in a single perfect Sphere.

And may “all the world be a stage” where Neil Peart now occupies the hereafter.