Tuesday 14 January 2020

Neil Peart

Another one of my musical heroes has gone and this is one of the saddest of them all. Neil Peart died on January 7th 2020 at the age of 67 from brain cancer.

Neil was the drummer of my favourite rock band, Rush, who retired a few years ago after a wonderful career spanning 40 years. While a lot of people may have heard of the band, their songs rarely received the airplay they deserved. Yet this magnificent trio of legends, Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee had a huge cult following and regularly embarked on stadium tours all over the world to huge audiences of fans just like me.

I was lucky enough to witness their legendary stage performances four times, from the first time in 1983 in Birmingham at the National Exhibition Centre to their final British tour supporting their last album, Clockwork Angels, in 2013 at the Manchester Arena.

The band have been part of my life since the late 1970’s with their unique and influential style of progressive rock and for almost all significant life events, there is a Rush song or Rush album that can take me back to those moments in time.

Neil Peart was the drummer of the band and also the lyricist, producing poignant and profound words for songs with subjects that people wouldn’t necessarily write about normally. From the age of around 18 I would always get really excited whenever Rush announced a new album. Their discography includes 19 albums and they all raced into the album charts in many countries.

According to Wikipedia, they are an impressive third behind only the Beatles and the Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold or platinum records by a rock band. Yet, sadly, many people have never been exposed to their music. They were almost the most famous band that people didn’t really know.

Rolling Stone magazine placed Neil Peart as the 4th greatest drummer of all time behind only Ginger Baker, Keith Moon and John Bonham and as well as being a virtuoso with one of the biggest drum kits I have ever seen he was also a part time writer, producing three books later on in his life about his travels.

All of this gives me an opportunity to show off just how brilliant Rush were. I present to you below a song from each of the last five decades showing how the band evolved and what they meant to me at that time.

1970’s – Closer To The Heart from A Farewell To Kings (1977)

This was the very first song by Rush that I heard. At the time I was just getting into heavy metal and rock music, as were a lot of my old pals from school, and the albums A Farewell To Kings and the magnificent 2112 used to do the rounds as people bought the albums and lent them to their mates to record onto tape. I borrowed A Farewell To Kings and recorded it onto a battered old tape but eventually I actually bought the album because I enjoyed it so much. The song itself was a fan favourite and also actually made it into the UK singles charts.

1980’s – Mystic Rhythms from Power Windows (1985)

Rush became my favourite band in the early 1980’s when I saw them live for the first time. They were prolific releasing seven albums in the decade. I could have chosen any one of the songs from the albums of that decade because I love them all – no exceptions. I chose Mystic Rhythms for two reasons. First of all, it showcases what a great drummer Neil Peart was. Second, I was commuting down to London from Manchester every other week, because of a long distance relationship with my ex-wife and the album Power Windows was my constant companion on my old Sony Walkman, keeping me sane on the journey there and back and across the mayhem that was the London Underground. I hated that commute but the music kept me sane and allowed me drift of into my own little world as I endured the tedious two and a half hour journey there and back and the chaos of London on a Friday evening.

1990’s – Nobody’s Hero from Counterparts (1993)

Counterparts is the album that coincides with the first of my two lads being born. I used to play the album at a low volume in the middle of the night as I took my turn trying to get my baby to sleep and Nobody’s Hero was particularly good for relaxing and rocking him to sleep. There are a couple of more heavy songs on the album and my main goal was to get him to drift off to this particular song. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t but I didn’t mind too much because it meant that I could listen to the entire album. It sounded as good at 3am as it did at any other time of the day. Coincidentally, the follow up to Counterparts was called Test for Echo and that was released in1996, the year that my second lad was born. That, too sounded pretty good at 3am.

2000’s – Secret Touch from Vapor Trails (2002)

Neil Peart had a double tragedy in the late 1990’s, losing his daughter in 1997 in a car crash and his wife 10 months later from cancer. The way he dealt with the pain was to take a huge sabbatical and travel 55,000 miles on a motorcycle, writing about his experience and the healing process in his book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. At the time, I thought that the band was finished and I would never see another Rush album again. However, after a period of about four years, Neil announced to Geddy and Alex that he would return to the band and the result was the 2002 album Vapor Trails.

I have chosen the song Secret Touch because it is possibly the only song by Rush that Mrs PM has admitted to liking. I was listening to it a few years ago, and she came up behind me and said “Who’s this? I quite like this one.” I almost fell off my chair because Mrs PM has been very vocal in expressing her displeasure for the music I listen to. Of course, it has given me an excuse to play the song more often when she is around.

2010’s – Headlong Flight from Clockwork Angels (2012)

Clockwork Angels is the final album by Rush and is also one of my favourite albums by the band. It also coincides with the last time I saw them live. Headlong Flight is a monster of a song and when I look at my iTunes application on my laptop, this song is my second most played song since I first installed it. I think the album is magnificent and for me, it is like stepping back in time to the late 1970’s and 1980’s when I played their music all the time. I’m glad that I can play it on my laptop because I would have worn the CD out by now. I have to admit to trying to persuade Mrs PM that this song is worth a listen to but she is not impressed.

I am glad that Rush finished on a high but I am sad they retired soon after, due to Neil Peart suffering from arthritis after decades of pounding the drums.

A Drum Solo and a Speech

I’ll leave you with a drum solo from the master himself just to show how utterly brilliant he was. Also, the Rush acceptance speech, including Neil,, when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Rest in peace Neil and thank you for the music.


River said...

Some of the music isn't too bad, but the length is what mostly gets to me. I prefer things shorter. Mystic Rhythms is nice and I liked the drum solo a lot for about three minutes. So sad that he died so young.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

I prefer things longer but Rush did Write some shorter songs too. You are right. He was taken away too soon.