Monday, January 13, 2020

Godspeed Neil Peart

Neil Peart, the drummer and chief lyricist for Canadian rock band Rush, died on January 7 2020 at the age of 67. The cause was glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer.

Neil Peart was born on September 12 1952 in Hamilton, Ontario. He spent the first two years of his life on the family farm in Hagersville, Ontario. When he was two years old his family moved to St. Catharines, Ontario. He developed an interest in music while still very young. While he took piano lessons as a child, his parents bought him a drum kit for his fourteenth birthday and he began taking lessons in drumming. Mr. Peart played in local bands as a teenager and, at eighteen, he migrated to London in hopes of pursuing a music career there.

After eighteen months in London and having made little progress as a musician, Neil Peart returned to Canada. When Rush's original drummer John Rutsey left, Neil Peart auditioned for the band. He joined the band on July 24 1974, only two weeks before Rush's first tour of the United States. His first album with Rush was the band's second album, Fly by Night, released in 1975. Fly by Night was followed the same year by Caress of Steel. The album was not well received by critics. Worse yet, their tour sold below expectations, to the point that the band nicknamed it "the Down the Tubes Tour." Mercury Records considered dropping Rush, but were convinced by their manager Ray Daniels to let the band record one more album.

Mercury tried to convince Rush to make their next album more commercial, but the band ignored the label. Instead they recorded 2112, side one of which was occupied by a single, 20 minute track relating the story of a future dystopia. Released in 1976, 2112 proved to be a success, peaking at no. 5 on the Canadian album chart and no. 61 on the Billboard album chart. It also received positive notices from critics. Their following albums, A Farewell to Kings in 1977 and Hemispheres in 1978, performed even better on the charts than 2112 had. It would be their album Permanent Waves, released in 1980, that proved to be their big breakthrough. It peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard album chart and at no. 3 in the United Kingdom.

Rush would continue to top the charts after Permanent Waves, from their following album, Moving Pictures in 1981, to their final album, Clockwork Angels, in 2012. The band also went through stylistic changes. Starting with Signals in 1982 the band moved towards a more synthesizer dominated sound. With Presto in 1989 Rush moved back towards a more guitar oriented sound.

While the three members of Rush remained friends, Neil Peart retired in 2015 due to chronic tendinitis.

In addition to his work as a musician and lyricist, Neil Peart also wrote seven non-fiction books on this travels.

Although highly successful, Rush has been a band that many either love or hate, with little ground in between. This is also true of Neil Peart, whom Blender ranked as the second worst lyricist (after Sting) in their list of "the worst lyricists in rock." While Blender might not have liked Mr. Peart's lyrics, there were clearly many who do. His lyrics have described as "artful," and Neil Peart as "the thinking man's lyricist." For all that some might not appreciate Neil Peart's lyrics, it is clear that they speak to a good many people. Certainly, in his lyrics Neil Peart addressed things not often addressed in rock music. In his lyrics Mr. Peart drew upon science fiction, fantasy, mythology, personal issues, and humanitarian concerns. While other rock lyricists might only address subjects of love, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, Neil Peart addressed a wide variety of topics.

While Neil Peart was controversial as a lyricist, he was universally admired as a drummer. Even people who did not particularly like Rush often listed him among the greatest drummers alive. Neil Peart was known for the precision of his drumming, as well as the power of his drumming. He was well known for his massive drum kits, and used a diverse array of percussion instruments.  His drumming often defied genres, drawing upon rock, blues, jazz, funk, and everything in between.

As both a lyricist and a drummer Neil Peart would have a lasting influence. Rush has been cited as an influence by such diverse artists as Alice in Chains, Fishbone, Manic Street Preachers, Queensrÿche, and yet others. No less than Trent Reznor counts Rush as one of his favourite bands. Neil Peart certainly had an influence on his many fans. If Rush has been popular since the late Seventies, it is probably because Neil Peart's lyrics spoke to so many people. His lyrics were informed by his love of literature and history, and he often addressed the vagaries of life in his lyrics. He often addressed topics left unaddressed by rock lyricists, but topics with which the listener could identify. Neil Peart may have been a drummer, but he ultimately had the soul of a poet.

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