Fly by Night (1975) was Peart’s first album with Rush. The title track buoyantly celebrates the sense of adventure that should characterize life: “Start a new chapter / Find what I’m after / It’s changing every day.”
But on Caress of Steel (also 1975), with the track “I Think I’m Going Bald,” Peart grapples with mortality: “My life is slipping away / I’m aging every day / But even when I’m grey / I’ll still be grey my way.”
This independent ethos assumed mythical form on 2112 (Rush’s breakthrough hit album of 1976), which depicts a dystopian sci-fi future where a totalitarian priesthood bans guitar music and tries to bring the story’s hero under its total control.
On A Farewell to Kings (1977), the magnificent song “Xanadu” retells the story of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan.” Peart depicts the emptiness that results when one is devoted solely to a life of pleasure: “Waiting for the world to end / Weary of the night / Praying for the light.”
Hemispheres (1978) contains “The Trees,” a memorable parable from Peart about a war between oaks and maples. The terrifying twist ending shows the violent cost of egalitarian revolution: “Now there’s no more oak oppression / For they passed a noble law / And the trees are all kept equal / By hatchet, axe, and saw.”
Although aware of humanity’s evil tendencies, Peart’s humane optimism bursts through in “Jacob’s Ladder,” from Permanent Waves (1980): “Follow men’s eyes / As they look to the skies / The shifting shafts of shining / Weave the fabric of their dreams.”
On the jubilant “Limelight” from Moving Pictures (1981), Peart clings to hope for life lived to the fullest, despite the obstaces presented by social convention: “Those who wish to be / Must put aside the alienation / Get on with the fascination.”
The album Signals (1982) laments those who “sell their dreams for small desires,” in the song “Subdivisions,” which makes the mass-production building zones of suburbia into a metaphor for social conformity: “Subdivisions / In the basement bars / In the backs of cars / Be cool or be cast out.”
Grace Under Pressure (1984) contains the haunting song “Afterimage” about the death of a friend: “Suddenly, you were gone / From all the lives you left your mark upon.”
It’s a testimony to the impact of Neil Peart that so many people felt such a blow from his death.
Music gives shape to our lives as we reflect along with it in our private interior dialogues. Peart was a conversation partner for many in this inner world.
Although he was agnostic in public, yet always “looking for an open door” (as he put it), perhaps the hope and joy he did discover in life may have enabled him to find his way in the end.