As the news of Neil Peart’s passing spread across the globe via social media, musicians quickly began professing their love and admiration. Members of Tool, Foo Fighters, and countless other bands took time to share how much this man influenced them. For those of us who were captivated by the virtuosity of Rush’s music and Neil Peart’s drumming, this loss was a tremendous blow. It knocked the wind out of our sails knowing we would never be able to experience the music of Rush played by Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, and Geddy Lee again.
So what did musicians do? In short order, they began organizing tribute shows around the world. In the weeks following the announcement of his passing, there were three tribute concerts for Rush in Los Angeles alone. But, there was one glaring problem—most musicians can only play a handful of Rush’s songs and parts. This was a band of musicians who spurned tradition for “popular” music by creating 20-minute compositions that incorporated complex time signature changes and technical passages that would take a mere mortal countless hours to master. In the end, to make these tribute shows possible, it took an unprecedented amount of passion and respect for Rush’s music. Even then, only the most dedicated and talented musicians could get it done.
The first time I heard Neil Peart was in middle school. I was on my own musical journey and loved complex progressive music. The first four Metallica albums led me to Dream Theater, which in turn led me back to Rush. A friend of mine warned me that Rush’s music wasn’t for the faint of heart and was demanding for the listener. The first side of the album 2112 is a 20-minute musical odyssey and represents the first concept album I experienced. For a neophyte navigating the realm of progressive music, the musicianship was unbelievable, especially considering the album predated anything I had listened to up to that point.
Rush is a band of three guys, which makes their music even more impressive. There are no tracks, no auxiliary instruments, and no musicians off-stage. Only three guys dedicated to their craft, pushing the boundaries of sonic possibility. Unto itself, Neil Peart’s drum kit was an orchestra. Iconic and identifiable, over the years he continued to add pieces to bring more color to his sound. Even today, when musicians joke about how big a drummer’s set is, they still refer to Neil Peart.
Beyond his percussion talents, Neil was the principal lyricist for the band. An avid reader, he consumed three to five books a week, and his literary prowess gave him a unique perspective when setting out to write. Progressive bands traditionally lack deep lyrics, but with Rush, there is a depth to their writing that gives their music a complexity few bands can match. Their songs cover a variety of topics from science fiction to fantasy to philosophy, helping to cement Neil Peart’s status as a mythical rock god. He wasn’t just a drummer. He was a thought leader.
More than music, Neil Peart serves as an inspiration away from the stage. In 1997, Neil Peart’s first daughter tragically died in a car accident. Tragedy struck again ten months later when his common-law wife succumbed to cancer. At the time, the band announced an indefinite hiatus as Neil got on his motorcycle and travelled the entire continent, covering 55,000 miles. He wrote a book, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, and after years of soul searching, Neil found love again and married. He had two children with his second wife, and in 2002, Rush reunited and carried on until physical limitations forced Neil to retire in 2018.
Neil’s story inspires me to see myself in the larger picture as a husband, a father, a son, and a friend. He was a warrior and a student, and he remains an inspiration far beyond his music. His transcendent talent, coupled with his personal resolve, lends itself as an example for any aspiring musician. We’ve lost a lot of rock stars over the past few years, but Neil Peart was greater than that. He was a different breed. You won’t find stories of vices or abuse; instead, he remained a consummate professional throughout his career and an example that students should model themselves after.
And as an educator and musician, Neil Peart will continue to serve as a lifelong inspiration.