It’s been nearly two months since Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart left us (he passed away on January 7th, 2020) and I still haven’t come to terms with it. He was the master; anyone who’s ever picked up a drumstick will admit this. Neil defied the limitations of what the drummer could do within rock music. He took things to another level to the point where he had no competition, only followers. And he was so humble about it! Not your typical rock star at all; rather than brag about it or dwell on it too much, he very much kept to himself and let his art speak for itself.
At almost every opportunity, after a Rush show Neil would leave his drumkit, bolt through the backstage area, hop on his motorcycle and take to the highways solo towards the next gig. He wasn’t much for engaging with the fans or media, not because he hated it, I think he just saw the banality of it all and was always searching for a greater meaning somewhere on a higher plane. Reading some of Rush’s lyrics will give you some insight on that, he was much more than a drummer. He was a lyricist, a poet, a storyteller, and a man of the world. He spent a lot of time learning the art of drumming while bicycling through Africa, he would spend a lot of his down time between tours driving across America with a stack of hand chosen CDs (he even wrote a book on this very thing Travelling Music).
But, at the core of it was drumming. I remember my initial experiences with Rush occurred not surprisingly the same year I bought my first drumkit back in 2003. Ah, to have the confidence of young adulthood again; I thought covering some Rush songs would be the fastest way to becoming a great drummer. I popped on “Tom Sawyer,” (an mp3 from Limewire, so sorry Neil). It is not the most difficult Rush songs by any means, but I was instantly blown away at the nuance and intricacy of Peart’s playing. It was as if every note was struck with purpose, every hi-hat accent or snare rim shot belonged where it needed to be. Peart didn’t come up with drum parts the way I did, he composed them. Give a listen to the way he opens “One Little Victory,” it will send chills through your body. Get lost in the grooves he carves out in “Subdivisions” or “YYZ.” Go on the rhythmic rollercoaster that is “2112;” you may never get off. Were only scratching the surface here… Okay, one more, listen to “La Villa Strangiato” but particularly the five minute mark coming out of Alec Lifeson’s guitar solo (a masterpiece in its own regard undoubtedly but that’s not why we’re here); Peart has one of his finest moments here and it literally feels like the drums are singing. There are no lyrics in this song… the drums are the lyrics.
Neil Peart left this world the same way he traversed this world: quiet and introspective. He did all of his talking through his art, drumming, and writing. Can ya’ dig how much of an inspiration he was to me? Maybe I need to learn to shut my mouth a bit more and go to fewer parties? Naw, I’ve learnt a long time ago that it makes little sense to try and emulate Neil Peart. You are better served to merely watch the master at work and if you can retain even one percent of what Peart is putting out there, you’ll be a better person for it.
Now, stop what you are doing and go watch “The Anatomy of a Drum Solo,” rest easy Neil Peart.
Written by Lee Ferguson
*edited by Danielle Kenedy