Saturday, January 11, 2020

Goodbye and thank you, Neil Peart

If you’re here for the latest review, scroll down to see my thoughts on Ex Hex. However, before we get into that I must pause and reflect on the passing of Neil Peart, dead at 67 after a lengthy battle with brain cancer.

I have every one of Rush’ studio albums, and I have loved them for decades, but even so I’m a long way from being Rush’ biggest fan. The band inspires a loyalty among their fan base that puts any passion I could claim to shame.

For all that, Neil’s death feels like a punch to my stomach. He is the person who first taught me that a song could be accessed first through the drumming. His drumming was so brilliant it just stood out and demanded attention, even though he played alongside two other great musicians.

As for the lyrics, few lyricists have inspired me over my life like Neil Peart. A week rarely goes by that I do not find some element of wisdom or solace in his words. It was Neil who taught me that “Free Will” could be more than just a philosophy, it could be an anthem; a clarion call for the world I want to live in. In the same breath, Neil reminded me that “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

It was Neil who best captured the simultaneous familiarity and disconnect that exists between performer and audience. Confessing “I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend” was the most honest thing a rock star ever said to his audience. Neil was uncomfortable with the love of strangers, but on “Limelight” he proved he understood there was an alchemy to it that allowed him to accept that love on his terms. He told us we:

“Must put aside the alienation
Get on with the fascination
The real relation
The underlying theme.”

On a more personal level, Neil reminded me to respect people who might differ with you on how they see the world. On “Entre Nous” he writes:

“Just between us
I think it's time for us to recognize
The differences we sometimes feared to show
Just between us
I think it's time for us to realize
The spaces in between
Leave room
For you and I to grow”

It’s a great reminder that we’re not all the same, and that’s a good thing. And moreover, those differences don’t have to hold us apart, they’re opportunities to learn and grow.

Over the years, Neil Peart imparted a lot more wisdom to me. How to take time and appreciate the moment (“Time Stand Still”), how ordinary people can still be heroic (“Nobody’s Hero”), and how to unapologetically love American muscle in the age of the electric car (“Red Barchetta”).

Neil’s wise words and inspiring drum licks made the world a better place or, failing that, at least a little more relatable and understandable. There are millions of Rush fans all over the world, and today while for the most part we don’t know each other, we are united in an underlying theme of grief.

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