It was one of those things you just don’t want to read.
I had gotten up on Saturday morning and was getting ready to go to work. I opened Facebook and the first thing I saw was, “Rush Drummer, Neil Peart, Dead at 67 from Brain Cancer”.
It was one of those things you just don’t want to believe.
I quickly went to Safari and did a quick search for “Neil Peart”. It was true. Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for Rush had left us.
I felt the shocking news in several ways. Rush, one of the most well-known power trios, the three-way combo of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart, three music icons, and Rush an institution. Those three guys. Three! And now one of them was gone. Then there was Neil’s wife Carrie and his daughter Olivia. In the late nineties, Neil lost his first daughter to a car accident, and ten months later his wife died. After a few years of healing and coming to terms with the course of his life, he remarried and had another daughter. Now it was his turn to leave.
Then of course, there were the music fans. Rush being one of the seminal bands of seventies progressive rock and Neil a top class drummer, the shock struck across my Facebook feed all day as musicians and music fans alike all responded in grief and heartbreak. By night, YouTube videos were already appearing – tributes, memories, and personal responses.
I think one of the things that made Neil so endearing to so many people was that he was an honest, delightful, and warm-hearted human being. Yes, he was timid and a little uncomfortable about meeting new people, especially gushing fans who were a bit too over the top with their idolization and admiration. But all the people I read or heard about who got to know him closely make the same claim: Neil was warm, caring, and welcoming. As for the rest of us, we knew him through his lyrics, his books, and his interviews. I always felt he could speak about anything in a way that seemed intimate and intellectual, honest and with a sense of humour. Neil was never the comedian that Alex is, but he always recounted his tales with a smile.
There is much to say about the kind of persona that came across, the character, the man. But in the end I think that there is a vast number of people who are all shocked by this news because not only an extremely hardworking and talented artist has left us, but also a very wonderful human being. It made me really want to listen to Rush again and listen to the lyrics as well as the music.
By chance, a week earlier, I had added the entire Rush studio catalogue back into my phone and I had added a couple of dozen songs or more to a playlist of favourite bands. So that morning, I put on my 2112 T-shirt and went off to work listening to Rush for the first time in a while. It sure was pleasing to hear those familiar songs again. When I first fell totally in love with the band’s music back in late 2010, I went and ordered all the albums I didn’t have yet (I had only five) and listened to nearly nothing but Rush for six months. I made a stack of mixed CDs putting almost every song they had on at least one disc. I bought the “Beyond the Lighted Stage” documentary and watched it over and over. So it was really a welcome feeling to hear those songs once more.
I realized though that I still had my favourites, the songs that my music appreciation lobe just revels in hearing. And on that mark, I will pick the track I like best from each album and write a little about why I love those songs so much.
Rush – 1974
The debut album and the only album to include founding member, John Rutsy on drums. The band’s turn of fortune was unfortunate for John who had been the drummer ever since he and Alex first formed the band in the late sixties. Geddy joined soon after but was for a short time not a member of the band. They at last cut a record, but with a large-scale tour in North America in place, John’s health became an issue (he was diabetic). He was nudged out of the band while new recruit, Neil Peart, was brought in just ahead of the tour.
The song I keep coming back to here is “What You’re Doing”. It has such a heavy and groovy riff. The echo effect on the vocals is a little annoying, but the music hooks me with that riff. There’s also an instrumental bit that sounds like Rush are already thinking about writing songs that showcase musicianship.
Fly By Night – 1975
With a new drummer who was not only obviously very talented even at that point but also a knowledgeable person who could write good lyrics, Rush began work on their second album. They used a couple of tracks left over from before Neil’s entrance, but it was Neil who penned the majority.
I always like “Beneath, Between & Behind”. It has a Zeppelin-like feel to the guitar riff but it’s the intensity in the drumming that complements the vocal melody that I like. I should also put in word for the title track because of Alex’s incredible guitar solo. “Anthem” and “By-Tor and the Snowdog” are also great!
Caress of Steel – 1975
This was an odd album. It seemed to bear the last vestiges of the Rush that existed prior to Neil Peart joining and as well still held on to newer song writing. But then there was the whole second side which was supposed to be a side-long track but was executed like six individual tracks that could have just as easily been separate tracks that were part of a side-long theme.
While “Bastille Day” is an easy favourite, I actually prefer the mini-epic, “The Necromancer”. In three parts, we see three sides to Rush’s music. The first part, “Into the Darkness”, is introduced with a narration telling us of three travelers who are entering the Necromancer’s domain and losing all cheer and sunshine and only able to press on because of their desire to free themselves of the Necromancer’s power. The second part, “Under the Shadow”, is heavy and dark at first and then breaks into a speedy guitar solo and instrumental section. At last, “Return of the Price” tells us of how Prince By-Tor from the previous album comes to save the day. The music is melodic and the guitar riff has me wanting to sing April Wine’s “Tonite Is A Wonderful Time To Fall In Love”.
2112 – 1976
“Caress of Steel” was not only disparaged by the record label but the tour was unsupported. At the time, the cry for writing more singles and more radio-friendly material was loud in their ears, but the boys in Rush went ahead with the album. It was nearly the end of the band. Once more pressure was put on them for radio-playable singles. But Neil had had enough, and together with Geddy and Alex, they created a side-long epic track of a future society where entertainment is strictly controlled by a closed circle of religious leaders. A young man discovers a guitar and brings it to the priests in hopes of promoting free musical expression. Instead he is told not to bother them.
Side two is a regular Rush album with some very good songs, but the music of the story parts on side one is truly remarkable. This is where the band’s ability to combine musical talent with a story is underscored. Though it is actually a collection of different tracks, they segue together because they are part of a continuous tale. Rush proved here that a hard rock band with progressive rock aspirations could successfully pull of at least a half album of a conceptual narrative story that grabbed fans’ attention and riveted them to the band.
More favourites to come in the next post!