My first concert was a Rush concert, year 1994. It was called Counterparts.
I can remember the first time I saw the drum kit of Neil Peart while sneaking a peak behind the curtains. I can recall my intense anticipation of seeing it and then the visual of an ocean of symbols, glistening in the general light of the pre-show arena.
I couldn’t believe that I was going to see Neil Peart in person. I couldn’t believe I was going to see Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee. I couldn’t believe I was about to see a Rush concert.
The first time I had ever heard Rush, I was 12. My sister was playing Tom Sawyer and I was, literally, in another dimension. I had never, in my life, heard anything like it. I asked her, “Who is this chick singing?” an early question that, I am sure, will have any Rush fan chuckling. I was a huge fan of Disney cartoons growing up, and so my friend Wayne would tease that the only reason I liked Rush was because Geddy Lee sounded like Mickey Mouse.
But it was the drums. That was what I remembered. A cacophony of drums so outstanding, so technical, so consuming, and so intelligent. It was the drums that lit a fire in me that burns to this day.
My second question to my sister was: “Who the HECK is that playing the drums!?” She casually said “Neil P-EE-ert”, a mis-pronunciation that was typical of most early listeners. Whoever this P-EE-ert guy was, I had to find out. I had to know everything about him and this band called Rush.
Blockbuster Video was my friend in those days. In my early teens, I was able to walk from my parents house over to the store a couple of blocks over. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Rush had a video catalog. I rented everything they had and I studied them. I studied Neil. I wanted to be a drummer, and damnit, I was going to be a drummer.
In the beginning, I would arm myself with whatever resembled two drumsticks and place before me Tupperware bowls with rubber lids. I had a boom box and a radio cassette tape of “Rush Chronicles” to play along with and I would play the living daylights out of the Tupperware. Eventually, my parents bought me a drum set: a Ludwig Rocker.
I can still remember what it felt like to play real drums. The sound was, to me, magical. It was sound. It was motion. It was a combination of both coupled with emotion. Drums, to me, had impact and resonance; the power was residual and, to borrow a certain phrase, “echoed through the halls”.
To learn how to play Tom Sawyer became a goal that eventually evolved into a desire to learn how to play their entire catalog.
The second concert I ever went to was, naturally, the “Test for Echo” tour by Rush in 1996. It was also called “An Evening With Rush” for the fact that the concert would showcase songs from a large selection of their studio albums. It was brilliant. I can recall the man sitting next to me showing me a printout of the setlist while proudly proclaiming he downloaded it off the internet.
The “Test for Echo” concert was memorable, but not for the most pleasant of reasons. Shortly after the last show in 1997, Neil Peart lost his daughter, Selena, to a tragic car accident. His last memory of her was how beautiful she looked in a dress at the last show; his little girl was becoming a beautiful woman.
This pain was felt by Rush fans all over the world, because there is no such thing as a casual Rush fan. You not only love their music, you love Geddy, Alex, and Neil. You also know intimately that there is no Rush without Geddy, Alex, and Neil.
Sadly, Rush fans once faced a reality where the band that inspired the best in us was at an end. The devastating loss of Jackie Peart, Neil’s wife, one year after the death of their daughter, was a dark fate that no one could have ever anticipated for our cherished Neil. Rush was in hiatus. All of us were, in fact, in hiatus.
In the 5 years that transpired until their triumphant return to the studio to record Vapor Trails, Neil traveled and wrote. He got on his motorcycle and he just rode. This was how he healed, and his published works were how he connected with all of us.
Not only did Neil Peart inspire me to be a drummer, but also a writer. In fact, if ever you were to suggest to me that I have a particular style, I would suggest to you that it is more than probably derived from the writing of the personable Neil. His style was luring; involving. Known to be an avid consumer of books of high quality with a strong favoring of philosophy, Neil was incredibly well studied and could write like the best of them.
From 2003 to 2014, we got the best of Rush. Neil came back. He came back better than ever. He came back a new man, with a new life. Eventually, he remarried and had another daughter. This was his personal triumph. For me personally, 2013 marked the beginning of a huge transformation in my personal life as I married the woman of my dreams. I was fortunate that we were able to attend two Rush concerts together in those final years.
Shorty after their last tour ended in 2015, Rush announced that they were semi-retired, and then fully retired. The reason was that the band was experiencing the wear and tear associated with aging. It was said that Neil was suffering from arthritis and that it was too difficult for him to perform at 100%, which to a perfectionist like himself was unforgiving. To us fans, we would have never noticed. The bar he set for himself is something far out of reach for many of us.
Rush had given us everything. They had performed for us in ways than many bands never have. They have always been devoted to a fan base that has loved and sustained them for 40 years; fans spanning multiple generations: grandfathers, fathers, and sons; grandmothers, mothers, and daughters.
It was for the reasons that on January 9th, 2020, while cooking dinner, I played Rush and argued out loud as to the reasons why they haven’t had a little reunion show, even if on the Internet.
My thinking was that, if bands like The Rolling Stones can still do it, certainly so could Rush. We were all feeling the moment, inspired by the music, and a genuine love and respect for Rush, — another show would be fun. It is certainly something that could potentially happen, we all thought. There were a lot of smiles.
The evening of January 10th, 2020 was another day of disbelief, much like the day I could hardly believe that I was going to see Neil Peart live in concert, back in 1996. Almost 25 years from that impactful day, it was announced that Neil Peart had died, on January 7th, of brain cancer (Glioblastoma). Almost 30 years had transpired since Wayne had made his claim of a subconscious association with Mickey Mouse, and it was he who was calling me that night.
He asked “Did you hear?” and I replied, “Yes.”
I was shocked, but not shocked. I was sad, but not sad. I was regretful, but not regretful.
Neil lived quite a spectacular life, filled with wonder and beauty, tragedy and triumph. Though never comfortable with fame, he lived the full spectrum of the human experience.
His impact in the world of drumming is the stuff of legends and he was a legend both behind the kit as a musician and in the realm of life as a human. His books were incredibly addicting to read, so honest and personable, full of soul and excitement. His life, self documented, was like his music: a beautiful combination of technicality and the relentless pursuit of perfection, a description that can be equally applied to his writing.
That was Neil Peart: a beautiful combination of technicality and the relentless pursuit of perfection. A tale of such diametric extremes where those he loved were lost, and now those who loved him have lost. A tale of a dedicated father who lost a daughter and a wife, and of a daughter and a wife who lost a dedicated father. And he was the greatest drummer the world has ever seen.
Such was the complexity of his personal journey.
Neil Peart was a man who not only inspired me well into adulthood, but inspired millions and millions of people all over the world, and though I never knew him personally, I feel as though I did. I know that I am not the only one when I say that I miss the guy terribly; however, I am forever grateful to have been so inspired by such an incredible and dynamic man.