Some would call it coincidence, some a premonition Right now, I’m not sure what to call it, but I had just watched again Time Stands Still, a great documentary on what would turn out to be the last tour for Rush. It’s a remarkable look at the career of, arguably, Canada’s greatest rock legends. Starting out as teenagers, playing high schools, bars and spending years on the road, sleeping in the back of station wagons, camper vans and finally motorhomes. They worked and followed their hearts, creating music that mattered to them and no one else, which in turn created a huge, loyal fan base. And to sustain that creativity and integrity for over 40 years is a story unto itself. The film also showed them coming to grips with the physical and mental challenges of continuing to be one of the most awesome bands on the planet, of how the heart and mind would do this forever, even though the body might not let you. During one interview sequence, Neil Peart talked about staying at the top of his game as he got older. “I can play Charlie Watts drum parts when I’m 71, but I can’t play like Neil Peart drum parts when I’m 71.” It became one of the central reasons, along with Alex Lifeson’s arthritis, that the R40 tour would be the last. I saw the Vancouver show on that tour, totally unaware that it would be the last time I would see this iconic trio perform..
And certainly not aware that this would be one of the last times anyone would see the brilliance of Neil Peart.
Until today, when we learned of his passing…at the far too young age of 67, never mind 71..
Rush was a big part of my life, as they were for so many. If you grew up in southern Ontario in the 70’s, Rush were heroes. Three guys from Willowdale who were making real music rather than playing air guitar in our rooms. Their first album, with original drummer john Rutsey, was basic, rudimentary rock n roll. As it turned out, Rutsey’s musical vision wasn’t as ambitious as his bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, not to mention health issues that made the rudimentary rock & roll lifestyle a danger to him. He would be replaced by a tall, lanky Neil Peart. Their second album, Fly By Night, showcased not only a new drummer, but a newer sound, style and dynamic that Neil helped create not only by his musicianship but his lyrics. During those days and hours on the road during the early days, you would see pictures of him reading, soaking all those influences in to produce memorable lines which every fan has memorized and sang over & over again. At the same time, he developed his precise, meticulous yet thundering style of drumming which no one can imitate. Surrounded by a multitude of drums, blocks, cymbals, bells…anything that would make a sound…he played all of them in a way that was extraordinary, yet never excessive or overly flamboyant. With every subsequent album, you would look forward to hearing something bigger and better.
The one song that solidified my passion for them was The Spirit of Radio, from the album Permanent Waves. It was very early in my radio career, so the subject of the song was compelling. I was at my first radio station, a very middle of the road and unadventurous AM station, longing for the day I could get a job at an FM rock station and play the music I actually loved & listened too. I would get my wish soon enough, however, as a few months later I went to Saskatoon to work at FM 103. a place I called one of the last great FM rock stations and one that did indeed embrace the spirit of radio. The program director, Jerry Lucky, was also a Rush fan. I remember working the evening shift when their album Moving Pictures was released. He said ” I hope you’re playing a track from that every night, right?” He didn’t have to tell me. Later on I would get the morning show on that same station, where I tried to embody the opening lyrics to The Spirit of Radio…..
“Begin the day with a friendly voice, a companion unobtrusive
Plays that song that’s so elusive, and the magic music makes your morning mood”
That’s what it was about for me….playing some great music which I liked and hopefully you did too..and getting your day started the right way. And whenever Rush came out with a new album, it was an event to be anticipated and celebrated. And on every album, you would listen for that signature drum fill or moment of magic from Neil Peart and once again be in awe of his talent.
Many years later, after many albums from them and a couple of career changes for me, I got to take my son to a Rush show during the Snakes & Arrows tour of 2007-08. He was a drummer himself, so to take him to see the best on the planet was one of my cherished moments. Needless to say, he became a fan too. We saw 2 other shows after that…each one as powerful and brilliant as the last, with Neil Peart continuing to be their heart and soul. Yet he never sought to be admired or adored. He wanted to be known as a great artist, not a rock star. Through all those years and tours, through his own personal tragedy of losing his first wife & daughter, his aversion for life on the road, playing through a severe foot infection on the last tour..to see Neil Peart give an amazing performance every night was something to be cherished.
Many fans like myself are now cherishing those moments more than ever. As someone said in an earlier tribute…the next time you hear thunder, it’ probably him,
Thank you Neil. I know you once wrote ‘ I can’t pretend a stranger is a long awaited friend’ , but you made friends and fans of many strangers, including this one,
Thank you for your creative gifts and your spirit. Thank you for helping me create great morning moods.
Be at peace…