Unlike so many writing about him in the wake of his passing, Neil Peart didn’t change my life. By the time I first seriously listened to Rush in college, when I reviewed Permanent Waves for the student newspaper, my tastes were pretty set, and they didn’t lean toward heavy rock. (Truth to tell, I looked down on “that stuff” back then.) So while Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures and Exit Stage Left got me into a band my best buddies from high school still raved about — they were using keyboards now! — I basically thought, “hmm … noted and logged. Buy their stuff from now on”, and kept moving.
So I bought and enjoyed Rush’s albums through A Show of Hands; picked them up again with Roll the Bones (probably my favorite, which I know makes me a schismatic or a heretic); lost track again following Peart’s family tragedies, retirement and comeback. All the while I dug deeper and wider musically — into classical, jazz, country, folk — and finally embraced the heavy stuff. (This happens when your stepson digs Led Zeppelin.)
But for me and Rush, 2007’s Snakes and Arrows finally sealed the deal. An album this good after this many years of active service didn’t just catch my ears; it commanded my respect. I knew I had to see them live, and my high school buddy Keith obliged with tickets to their 2008 Joe Louis Arena show. And I saw something like this:
And I was gone. And I saw Rush four more times before they retired from live performance (usually with those high school buddies); bought Clockwork Angels, all the concert videos and everything else Rush-related I could get my hands on; exulted at their elevation to the heights of Noughties celebrity by the movers and shakers of geek culture; cheered when they made the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (and took over the induction ceremony), then finally made the cover of Rolling Stone; even grew to appreciate the over-the-top virtues of “By-Tor and the Snow Dog,” 2112 and A Farewell to Kings.
So yes, Neil Peart’s loss moves me. But what ultimately drew me to him as a musician, a man, an artist, an exemplar? Some attempts to unpack the mystery follow.