#fuckcancer

#808: Remembering Neil – Ten of his Best

Forever I’ll be grateful for Neil Peart.  If there was ever one shining example of a rock star you’d want to emulate, it was Neil Peart.  He was a giant.  Musically he was untouchable.  Considering Rush have 19 studio albums and other odds and ends in their discography, it’s a daunting task to make a list of the best.

Probably half the list fell together immediately.  The other half was agonizing.  Focusing on songs, not necessarily solos, made it a simpler task.  Any one of Neil’s big live solos are essential listening anyway.  “The Rhythm Method” on Different Stages comes highly recommended.

At one point I had nine tracks and needed one more.  I asked Facebook for help.  Facebook responded with so many great runners-up that I have to list them.

  • “War Paint” (T-Rev)
  • “The Pass” (Leo)
  • “Afterimage” (Leo)
  • “The Body Electric” (Jamie)
  • “Xanadu” (Jamie)
  • “Mystic Rhythms” (Jamie)
  • “Animate” (Jamie)
  • “Between the Wheels” (HMO)
  • All of Hemispheres (Uncle Meat)
  • “Natural Science” (Scotty G)

A good showing for Presto tunes there, notably.  T-Rev always loved that album.  Ultimately I used none of these suggestions and completed the list below.  A list that I believe are the 10 best songs to represent Neil Peart.

All of these songs (above and below) will enrich your lives.  Enjoy.  And rest in peace, Neil Peart OC (Order of Canada), one of our proudest native sons.


Novelty #11: 

The Hockey Theme

I use the term “novelty” with a caveat: really, only because the song is 70 seconds long.  Neil’s arrangement of the classic Hockey Night in Canada theme written by Dolores Claman deserves note as one of very few tracks credited to him as a solo artist.  This track shows off his roots and his ability to make anything sound heavy!  Yet dig in and listen to his meticulously arranged drum part.  He put just as much creativity into this as he did any of Rush’s originals.


#10:

“One Little Victory”

A victory indeed!  Neil suffered immeasurable tragedy in the late 1990s when he lost both his wife and daughter.  He disappeared on a motorcycle, remaining out of sight for five years, the wind on his back as he sought healing.  His return was “One Little Victory” from Vapor Trails with a crescendo of power drumming.  It’s Rush saying, “He’s back, baby.  The Professor is back!”


#9:

“Bravado”

This track from Roll the Bones is a personal favourite.  Well, they all are, but this one is for just one moment in time. At 3:50 of the song, Peart performs a drum roll that I can only describe as pure ecstasy.

And if the music stops, there’s only the sound of the rain.


#8:

“Red Sector A”

80s Rush rules! Neil was using more and more electronic percussion, but to no less lethal effect. Give this number from Grace Under Pressure a spin.  The programmed pulse of synth topped by the crashing clank of Neil’s electronic drums give this track a digital, otherworldly feeling.  By this time, Peart’s cymbal work was just as interesting as what he was doing elsewhere on the kit.  Listen to him ride that beat and accent it with the perfect touch.


#7:

“The Spirit of Radio”

This enduring track from Permanent Waves is a lyrical and rhythmic triumph.  It’s easy for cynics to mock descriptive phrases like “Invisible airwaves crackle with life, bright antennae bristle with the energy.”  But there is no denying the truth that is “Emotional feedback on a timeless wavelength, bearing a gift beyond price, almost free.”  Music.


#6:

“Cygnus X-1”

A Farewell to Kings was Rush during their progressive peak, a stream of albums with side-long concepts.  “Cygnus X-1” utilises such Peart favourites as bells.  And it’s 11 minutes about a black hole.


#5:

“Cotton Tail”

In 1994, Neil Peart organized the Buddy Rich tribute album Burning For Buddy, uniting the Buddy Rich Big Band with drummers such as Dave Weckl, Steve Smith, Matt Sorum, Simon Phillips, and of course Neil with his debut in the jazz section.  His groove on “Cotton Tail” is unlike anything he’s done in Rush. It’s unreal that he could master both rock and jazz like this.


#4:

“Vital Signs”

80s Rush rules!  Introducing reggae vibes seems natural in hindsight given Neil’s willingness to explore new rhythms.  Peart’s creativity knew no bounds.  His delicate touch on the Police-like “Vital Signs” (from Moving Pictures) is so good that it should probably be higher on this list.  But there are some key tracks still to come.


#3:

“YYZ”

Rush’s most famous instrumental.  This number showcases all three of Rush’s members.  Of course Neil Peart’s drums are in integral part of it all.  And there’s a reason they call him “The Professor”.  According to minds more musical than mine, “The piece’s introduction, played in a time signature of 10/8, repeatedly renders “Y-Y-Z” in Morse Code using various musical arrangements.”


#2:

“Subdivisions”

This track from Signals exemplifies Neil’s philosophy of drums as an active part of the composition of a song.  Every beat matters; everything the stick hits is a hook.  Never before have the drums been so integral a part of what makes a song truly great.


#1:

“Tom Sawyer”

The quintessential Neil Peart song.  Iconic, untouchable.  Barenaked Ladies even quoted his famous drum part in their song “Grade Nine”. When people think of Rush 100 years from now, it’ll be the image of them jamming “Tom Sawyer” at Le Studio, with Neil framed by that big window and snowy landscape behind.

 

 


Epilogue:  Meanwhile, in England…

Sarge from the piercing shop Metal Fatigue in Bournemouth tells us “I have been listening to Rush…ALL DAY.  Really loud.  He added, “I did 40-odd piercings today with that soundtrack!!”  Absolutely brilliant.

The Ghost Rider is Gone – Rest in Peace Neil Peart (1952-2020)

“Endlessly rocking…”

 

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…

Is gone.

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.

Fuck cancer.

 


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

 

R.I.P. Greg Haymes, aka Sergeant Blotto

Sad news this morning.  I’d heard through the grapevine recently that one of the members of Blotto was sick.  I had a bad feeling about it and this morning I read that Greg Haymes, aka Sergeant Blotto, has passed away from cancer.

This is particularly bitter for me.  I only got into Blotto last year.  I was so into them that Blotto became my favourite band of 2018.  As we drove to and from Toronto to take care of my sick mother in law, we had Blotto blaring in the car almost every time.  “Mum” was dying of cancer, and Blotto helped us forget and just laugh while rocking out.

Now Greg Haymes is gone from the very same, dreadful disease, and I’m pissed off.

Haymes was a writer, a musician, and an artist.  I’m sorry I only got to know his music in the last year.

Hopefully Blotto can bring you some of the joy that they brought to me when I needed it.  Here’s “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard” featuring Greg “Sarge” Haymes on lead vocals.

 

Sunday Chuckle: Cockspital

Hospitals are so much fun!  Check out this cock-shaped graffiti from the Sunnybrook elevators!

 

Graffiti aside, Sunnybrook was a good hospital.  Canadian singer/songwriter Dan Hill had his prostate cancer treated there.  How do I know that?  There were big posters of Dan Hill advertising this fact! Dan got better, which is good.

Here’s Dan Hill’s hit ballad “Sometimes When We Touch”. Listen to it while gazing at the cock graffiti for maximum giggles.

 

#700: How Are You Doing?

GETTING MORE TALE #700: How Are You Doing?

It’s been a week since we lost Mum…and we are doing OK.  Jen’s been focused like an electron microscope on getting things done for the funeral.  My job is scanning photos and preparing music…and catching up on laundry.  Attempting to put a dent into the pile of clothes I call “Sock Mountain”.  I’m assuming reality will hit us later.

For music, Mum would have liked if we used something by my sister Dr. Kathryn.  I hope I can find something appropriate, perhaps from her Stealth CD.  At least one track.  For the reception after, I’m using Mike Slayen’s awesome acoustic guitar album DUDE.  Don’t let the title fool you!  If Mum was well enough, I know she would have been enjoying this album with us.  Probably in the car on the way to the cottage.  She would have loved it.  Me, I would have loved just having Mum with us.

This has been a very hard year for us, and I know the power of music is such that you always associate certain tracks or albums with periods in your life.  Music also has the power to raise the spirits, and it did that for me quite a few times this summer.  On every shitty drive to Toronto on the 401, to every dismal hospital parking lot, my stereo was on.  A lot of albums were repeat listens, and I worry:  “Will I always associate the Bosstones or Blotto with this shitty summer?”

I might.  And that might make the Bosstones or Blotto hard to listen to, down the road.  I think we have to try and make more memories of those bands later on.  Maybe when we finally do return to the cottage.

That aside, we sure did devour a lot of music on the road.  Just last week, between Toronto and the work commute, I polished off Marillion’s The Singles ’82-’88 (12 discs), its followup Singles Box Vol 2 ’89 – ’95 (12 more discs), and a third “box set” of eight more singles. A whopping 1.5 gig of music.  Basically all their singles and B-sides in one massive weeklong stretch.  Meanwhile, back at the office, I had my Kiss flash drive.  Basically, everything I own by Kiss in one place.  I’ve been focused on the studio albums, and each one has been spun more than once.  I realised this:  I never seem to get tired of Kiss!

Whether it was Lick it Up, Hotter Than Hell, Dressed to Kill, Love Gun, Rock and Roll OverDynasty, Unmasked, Creatures…even Asylum got multiple plays in the last couple weeks.  When a band has been your favourite for over 30 years and you can’t explain why, I guess you can just keep playing those albums in rotation.  The later albums…admittedly less so.  The emotional attachment isn’t quite there.

Get this!  While I was bopping to Kiss Unmasked one afternoon, the guy in the office next to me put on “Summerland” by King’s X!  How cool is that?  When was the last time you heard King’s X in the office?  The guy even knew the names of the members.  Said a friend recently turned him onto King’s X, but all he had was the Best Of.  Gotta start somewhere!

Thanks for checking in.  We’ll be OK.  I think we’ll manage to make it through this, but not without the support of friends and loved ones.

#699: Brief Encounter

On the dark days, you just need to find things to cheer you up.

This past weekend, caring for Jen’s mom in the hospital, I had a chance encounter that lasted just a few moments, but gave me something else to focus on.  “Mum” was staying in a very nice wing of a veteran’s hospital.  It was filled with retired war heroes, but also regular people who were fighting their final battles with cancer.  You can always sense the grief in the air.  It weighs down like a heavy, thick antiseptic mist.

Sunday morning we were making our way to see Mum, with other families to see our loved ones.  Walking in front of us was a tall guy carrying a guitar.  It was in a road case, which jumped out at me.  Most guitar hobbyists don’t need one, but professionals do.  He looked like a dressed-down star.  He held the elevator door open for us.  We got in and I had a closer look at his road case.  There was a laminated tag with his name on it, which I recognised immediately.  For his privacy, I won’t say who he was, but I Googled him to verify.  Sure enough, the guitarist in front of us was the guy who came up in my Google images search.

Seven solo albums stretching back 22 years.  12 more album releases as a sideman, for some pretty big names.  If I said them, you’d recognise them.  He has played on Leno, the Oscars, and the Grammies, and he also opened for two of my favourite bands (one of which, Deep Purple, is in my Top Five).

I didn’t bother him.  He was there for the same reason we were.  It would have been disrespectful for me to invade his privacy.

I did, however, stream some of his music on my phone.  Later on, I heard him down the hall, playing blues licks for his loved one.  It was an awesome, awesome sound.

My only real wish was, it would have been nice if Mum was well enough to come out into the hallway to listen.  Mum loved all kinds of music, including the blues.  But she was too sick.  We played some George Harrison in her room, instead.

I talked about this brief encounter all day.  I guess I was a little starstruck.

In the end, the bluesman did more than play some licks for his loved one.  He didn’t know it, but he helped me out too.  Thank you, bluesman.

 

Rest in Peace, Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom — “Mum”

Some people knew her as “Debbie”.  Some called her “sis”.  Jen called her “mommy”.  Readers here remember her as “Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom”.

As for me, she liked it when I called her “Mum”, so that’s what I did.

She’s been sick for a little while.  She was diagnosed with cancer at the same time as my wife, late last year.  Because Mum only cared about other people, she tried to protect us.  She did not tell us about it.  She lived with her secret, so we could focus on Jen.  We knew she was sicker than she claimed, but at the end of the day we had to trust her.  I don’t begrudge this.  She was right — I needed to focus on Jen, beating her own cancer.  When she did, Mum told us the news.

She’s so important to me.  We became much closer when Jen’s dad passed away in 2009.  When that happened, our little unit circled the wagons and held on to each other tight.  We invited her to come and stay with us on the weekends, and she did, probably two out of every three times.  She came and celebrated Christmas (and all the holidays) with my family.  She bought us dinners and treats and spoiled us.  She took good care of Jen.  We talked and laughed.

I already miss our talks.  I just wanna call her.

She even contributed to my website.  She co-reviewed Machete Kills with me.  She helped with two of my videos, always as comedy relief.  She was a great sport.

I miss her so much.

I could count on her for wisdom, for support, and she was always there when Jen needed her.  If Jen called, Mum would be on a train.  She just liked being here.  She wanted to retire in Kitchener.  Over the years she made a lot of friends. Lots of people here will miss her.  Her generosity won’t be easily forgotten.  She was good to everyone.

I have always tried to put on an optimistic face when it comes to health.  Until you’re done, you’re still fighting to win.  But as summer progressed, it was clear Mum wasn’t getting better.  She bravely tried a new experimental treatment.  The upside was that some tumors were shrinking, but the treatment made her incredibly ill.  She couldn’t continue.  Eventually the doctors just ran out of things to try.

The last thing she said clearly to me, many many times, was “I only trust Michael.  I only trust Michael.”

I will never forget that for the rest of my life.  “I only trust Michael.”

I guess she means to take care of Jen.  Hearing her say this, repeating it, was the heaviest moment of my life.

But it felt good at the same time.  I couldn’t have asked for the trust of a more important person.  She was a second mom to me.  I am a very lucky person to have even known her.

She fought that cancer, and fought, and fought.  She fought longer than any of the doctors said she would.

She was the toughest woman I ever knew.  I miss her like crazy.

Rest in peace, Mum.

Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom had a cameo in this video. She was a good sport and played the role well.

Update 2

On the last few Toronto drives, one band keeps getting played over and over again.  When I return from my hiatus I’m going to be writing a lot about Blotto.  Their upbeat, comedic rock and roll has been everything we needed.  There have been dark days these past weeks, but Blotto helps make us laugh again.  Blotto formed in the late 70s, never signed to a major label, released one album and several singles, and became a cult band.

One day before hitting the highway, I checked out a Blotto concert from 1982 on Youtube called Tonight At Toad’s.  It had Jen’s favourite song (“It’s Not You”) and two of mine (“Metal Head” and “Goodbye, Mr. Bond”).  I flipped the concert to mp3 and put it on the car stereo.  Together we found a new favourite, “I Wanna be a Lifeguard”, their first hit from 1979.

Music helps.  Every little thing helps.

Selected Road Tunes:

  • Blotto – Tonight at Toad’s
  • Deep Purple – The Book of Taliesyn
  • Deep Purple – With Orchestra: Live at Montreaux
  • Deep Purple – The House of Blue Light
  • Budgie – Deliver Us From Evil
  • Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson & Steve Vai – G3 Live in Concert
  • The Darkness – Live at Hammersmith
  • The Sword – Used Future

 

 

Hiatus Update

“Well, the cops have been lookin’ for the son-of-a-gun,
That’s been rippin’ the tar off the four-O-one.”

I’ve learned a lot in the last week and a half.  I think I have mastered this “driving the 401 to Toronto” thing.  It really boils down to three easy steps:

  1. Watch the signs and you won’t get lost.
  2. Stoppy-starty traffic is perfectly normal.
  3. Motorcycles can and will drive between lanes of stopped traffic.

See?  Easy.

Timing is also fun.  What takes 80 minutes on a good day takes 120+ minutes on another day.  It’s like a guessing game you can enjoy with your friends.

OH!  And last Saturday in Toronto, I dropped my brand new glasses into a pissy hotel toilet.  Thankfully, it was my own piss.

When we have something to update you on, we’ll update you!  Until then, keep watching the roads….

 

 

A sampling of Road Tunes:

  • Deep Purple – Burn
  • Deep Purple – Stormbringer
  • Deep Purple – Come Taste the Band
  • Blotto – Combo Akimbo
  • Thin Lizzy – Renegade
  • Thin Lizzy – Dedication
  • Stompin’ Tom Connors – Bud the Spud

 

Well it’s Bud the Spud from the bright red mud
Rollin’ down the highway smilin’
The spuds are big on the back of Bud’s rig
They’re from Prince Edward Island
They’re from Prince Edward Island

Now from Charlottetown or from Summerside
They load them down for the big long ride;
He jumps in the cab and he’s off with the Pride Sebagoes
He’s gotta catch a boat to make Tormentine
Then he hits up that old New Brunswick line
Through Montreal he comes just a flyin’
With another big load of potatoes

The Ontario Provincial Police don’t think much of Bud

Well, the cops have been lookin’ for the son-of-a-gun
That’s been rippin’ the tar off the four-O-one;
They know the name on the truck shines up in the sun – “Green Gables”
But he hits Toronto and at seven o’clock
He backs her up again at the terminal dock
And the boys gather ’round just to hear him talk
About another big load of potatoes

Temporary Hiatus

Mikeladano.com will return after a brief hiatus.