Ginty Blog: Neil Peart, Rest In Power

January 13, 2020
Neil Peart Legal
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Neil Peart 1952-2020.

 

“Neil Peart, that’s a whole other animal, another species of drummer,” Nirvana and Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl told Rolling Stone in 2018, responding to a question about whether he could ever sit behind the kit for Rush. It’s a sentiment pretty much unanimously agreed upon in the rock world. 

 

Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart of Rush died Tuesday January 7th following a lengthy and unpublicized battle with brain cancer. 

 

Neil wasn’t the original Rush drummer.  A guy named John Rutsey was first.  He performed on the band's 1974 debut album but left shortly after its release due to health problems which limited his ability to tour with the band.

 

“On the day that Neil auditioned, we had five guys in — three before Neil and one after,” Singer Geddy Lee recalled in 2016. “The last guy had come a long way, a two-hour drive, and it was a very uncomfortable situation having him audition after Neil, because Neil was so fucking good. There was no denying that Neil was the man.”

 

Peart was one of rock’s greatest drummers, with a flamboyant yet precise style that paid homage to his hero, the Who’s Keith Moon, while expanding the technical and imaginative possibilities of his instrument.

 

When he was 13 he got in trouble for pounding out beats on his desk during class. His teacher’s idea of punishment was to insist that he bang on his desk nonstop for an hour’s worth of detention, time he happily spent re-creating Keith Moon’s drum parts from Tommy.

 

 

Neil despised what he saw as over-commercialization of the music industry and dumbed-down artists he saw as “panderers”. He said  “It’s about being your own hero. I set out to never betray the values that 16-year-old had, to never sell out, to never bow to the man. A compromise is what I can never accept.” 

 

Always suspicious of showbiz, Peart spent much of his downtime on the road in Rush’s early days buried in a stack of books. In the final years, he avoided the usual touring routine by traveling from gig to gig via motorcycle, taking off shortly after each show’s conclusion.

 

He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1983, making him the youngest person ever so honored. His drumming was renowned for its technical proficiency, and his live performances for their exacting nature and stamina.

 

People don’t realize that Neil was always taking drum lessons.  He said “What is a master but a master student? And if that’s true, then there’s a responsibility on you to keep getting better and to explore avenues of your profession. I’ve been put in this position, and I certainly don’t underrate that. I get to be a professional drummer. Consequently, I feel a responsibility that I really do dedicate myself to that all the time, even though when we’re off tour I’m in my exercise routine. I have to keep my instrument fit at all times. So, it’s a full-time responsibility. It’s a joyous one and one I’m very grateful for.”

 

Rush Live shows were incredible. “We devoted ourselves to it, said Peart. We always played the very best show we had in us that day. And it didn’t matter if it was 2,000 people or if we were opening in front of five other bands in front of 20,000 people. Every show was like that for us. A point of honor, a point of pride and total dedication. That’s what builds a reputation, and the reliability that we do tend to show up on time.”

 

Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson used to tease Peart about his insistence on doing a month of solo preparation before group practices begin, telling him he’s the only man on Earth who “rehearses to rehearse” — They eventually adopted the same routine.

 

Neil Peart liked to ask himself a couple of key questions. One is “What is the most excellent thing I can do today?” The answers lead him to travel between Rush’s shows on a BMW motorcycle instead of a plane or bus (creating scheduling nightmares for the band’s management), and to embark upon extracurricular bicycle trips through West Africa and China and Europe. He aimed to fill every minute of his life with as much much-ness as possible.

 

On August 10th, 1997, Peart’s 19-year-old daughter, Selena, died in a single-car accident on the long drive to her university in Toronto. Five months later, Selena’s mother — Peart’s common-law wife of 23 years, Jackie Taylor – was diagnosed with terminal cancer, quickly succumbing. Shattered, Peart told his bandmates to consider him retired, and embarked on a solitary motorcycle trip across the United States. He remarried in 2000 and found his way back to Rush by 2001.

 

His book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, is about mourning and reflection, as he travelled extensively throughout North and Central America on his motorcycle, covering 55,000 miles. After his journey, Peart decided to return to the band. Peart wrote the book as a chronicle of his geographical and emotional journey.

 

Rush finished their final tour in August of 2015, after releasing their last album, Clockwork Angels, in 2012. Peart was done with the road. He questioned whether he could stay physically capable of playing his demanding parts

 

 

In 2013 Neil Peart and Rush were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 

“His power, precision, and composition was incomparable,” Dave Grohl said in a statement released Friday. “He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: We all learned from him.”

 

“Neil is the most air-drummed-to drummer of all time,” Police drummer Stewart Copeland told Rolling Stone in 2015. “Neil pushes that band, which has a lot of musicality, a lot of ideas crammed into every eight bars — but he keeps the throb, which is the important thing. And he can do that while doing all kinds of cool shit.”

 

“Thank you Neil,” Metallica’s Lars Ulrich wrote on Instagram. “Thank you for inspiring me and for all your help and advice along the way, especially in the early days when you took the time to talk to a young green Danish drummer about recording, gear and the possibilities that lay ahead…” Ulrich continued, “Thank you for what you did for drummers all over the world with your passion, your approach, your principles and your unwavering commitment to the instrument!”

 

Donna Halper, an associate professor of media studies at Lesley University said, “Neil just wanted to be Neil. He loved being a rock drummer, but he also loved literature. He loved poetry. He loved the outdoors. He didn't care what society thought a rock star was 'supposed to be' — he wasn't afraid to be himself, and he didn't really care about fame. He just wanted to be good at what he did — and he was! — and he just wanted to share his music with the fans."

 

Neil said,  “The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?"

 

In a statement released Friday January 10th, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson called Peart their “friend, soul brother and bandmate over 45 years,” and said he had been “incredibly brave” in his battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer. “We ask that friends, fans, and media alike understandably respect the family’s need for privacy and peace at this extremely painful and difficult time,” “Those wishing to express their condolences can choose a cancer research group or charity of their choice and make a donation in Neil Peart’s name. Rest in peace, brother.”

 

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