This afternoon I was in the mood for some Rush music. It had been a while. Maybe a month since I last played Rush. Signals, I chose. A personal favourite. Still craving more, I picked the followup album Grace Under Pressure. That complete, I finally, and strangely, went for Vapor Trails. I say “strangely” because Vapor Trails was a special album for Neil Peart. After suffering the terrible twin tragedies of losing his daughter and his wife, Neil Peart took a step back from music to take care of himself. There was a time in the late 90s and early 2000s when the reality was that there wasn’t a Rush. And we weren’t sure if there ever would be one again. But then Neil made a pretty epic comeback on Vapor Trails and I like to think of it as “his” album in my mind.
The fortitude of the man, to come back after such loss, was inspiring. What strength.
Halfway through Vapor Trails, during the track “Secret Touch”, this happened.
The greatest rock drummer of all time…
Like a vapor trail.
I say “greatest of all time” because I can, confidently. There will be those who disagree, and there will be others to put them back in their places. He might also be the greatest lyricist in rock history, though that’s a far more wide open field. Some of his lyrics hit home in emotional ways.
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.
Neil Peart was a star I always identified with: an introvert with his nose in a book. Yet on stage he was a dynamo. He did things with two sticks that most drummers cannot. He paved the way for the Portnoys and all the greats that followed. His lyrics of alienation resonated within the subdivisions. And he was reportedly also one of the nicest, most down to earth human beings to those whom would he would let in.
Personally speaking, it was “Subdivisions” that hooked me. The singer kind of weirded me out, with the glasses, nose and high-pitch. It took me a while to accept Rush into my life. I was 21 years old when it finally happened. It had so much to do with the drums, and the percussive mini-compositions within every song. Seeing Neil Peart interview Jean Chrétien on MuchMusic solidified my belief that this was an intelligent rocker, far different from all the others. By this time, he was also writing articles in Macleans magazine. His travel book The Masked Rider became an immediate favourite, as Neil painted verbal pictures of African savannas from the seat of a bicycle.
Brain cancer is an evil bitch. It’s the same monster that took down our beloved Gordon Downey, and now it has taken from us someone deeply dear. Neil accompanied me on many of my most impactful life moments. My first relationship & accompanying breakup, my job at the Record Store, finishing school, all of it. Neil was there with beats and words to raise the spirits higher. I tended to take the words my own way. Which is how Neil would have wanted it.
Rush are one of the few bands, unlike Kiss or Motley Crue, that went out with class. They simply played their final shows and retired without making a big fuss. We all knew it was a big deal, and they did too — but they didn’t act like it. Neil Peart went back home to spend time with his new family, something everybody was happy for him to do. After all that tragedy, it was a delight to see that Neil has picked up the pieces and made a new clan. And now that family is shattered, in incomprehensible pain.
The song that got me into Rush was “Subdivisions”, but instead of posting that track here, I have chosen “Dreamline” from Roll the Bones. Rest in peace Neil, and thank you for albums that will always be close to my heart.
Uncle Meat has a few words to add.
One likes to believe in the freedom of music,
but glittering prizes and endless compromises
shatter the illusion of integrity.
His lyrics were as good as his drumming. And that is saying alot. Neil Peart was the opposite of a rock star. He wanted nothing to do with any of that bullshit. When Neil Peart joined Rush after their first album he turned Rush from just another rock band, into the greatest rock band of all time. Many life long friendships have been founded and cemented within the musical and lyrical gifts he gave us. A big long hug to all of you (and you know who you are)…
What a fucking beast he was.
RIP Mr. Neil Peart