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Rush drummer Neil Peart (1952-2020) remembered

Drummer Neil Peart from Canadian band Rush performs live on stage at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, Illinois during their All The World's a Stage tour on 20th May 1977. (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

“Suddenly, you were gone from all the lives you left your mark upon” and we’re thus “learning that we’re only immortal for a limited time”, as Peart put it in Rush’s “Afterimage” and “Dreamline”.

Neil Peart playing drums in concert with Canadian power trio Rush, as he did from 1974 until 2015. Having secretly battled Glioblastoma, Peart died on January 7th, 2020.

These are sad times for the world of  great drumming. Ginger Baker died in September of last year, a man whose career was also remembered in an article here at Stargazed. That article featured a quote from Neil Peart, saying that Baker’s playing was “revolutionary – extrovert, primal and inventive. He set the bar for what rock drumming could be.” This was also true for Peart who sadly passed away in Santa Monica, California on January 7th, having secretly fought brain cancer for three and a half years. Neil was living there with his second wife, photographer Carrie Nuttall, and their daughter Olivia Louise Peart, born in 2009.

Rush: Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart and Geddy Lee.

Following the passing of Peart, at the age of 67, his former bandmates in Rush posted the following message on social media: “It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terrible news that on Tuesday our friend, soul brother and band mate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three and a half year battle with brain cancer (Glioblastoma). We ask that friends, fans, and media alike understandably respect the family’s need for privacy and peace at this extremely painful and difficult time. Those wishing to express their condolences can choose a cancer research group or charity of their choice and make a donation in Neil Peart’s name. Rest in peace brother.”

Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters inducted Rush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Dressed in white kimonos, as Rush did in the ’70’s, they performed Rush’s “2112 Overture”, eventually joined by Peart, Lifeson and Lee.

Among the many musicans sending their condolances was Foo Fighters frontman (and former Nirvana drummer) Dave Grohl, saying: “Today the world lost a true giant in the history of rock & roll. An inspiration to millions with an unmistakable sound who spawned generations of musicians (like myself) to pick up two sticks and chase a dream. A kind, thoughtful, brilliant man who ruled our radios and turntables not only with his drumming, but also his beautiful words.” “His power, precision, and composition was incomparable. He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: We all learned from him.”  “Neil Peart had the hands of God. End of story”, added Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins.

“He was in many ways like an outsider — the guy who was often different from everyone else,” said Donna Halper, an associate professor of media studies at Lesley University. “But that was okay with him. He didn’t want to be like everyone else. He just wanted to be Neil. He loved being a rock drummer, but he also loved literature. He loved poetry. He loved the outdoors. He didn’t care what society thought a rock star was ‘supposed to be’ — he wasn’t afraid to be himself, and he didn’t really care about fame. He just wanted to be good at what he did — and he was!” “What made Neil such a good writer is how much he loved to read,” Halper said. “He really loved and respected books. He loved good literature — he and I sat around one night talking Shakespeare — he loved poetry, he loved philosophy. He valued good conversation. He was a thinker — in the truest sense of the word.”

Rush in 1970s: Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart and Geddy Lee.

Neil Peart first joined Rush in late July 1974 – replacing founding drummer John Rutsey – and first performed in concert with founding guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist Geddy Lee in Pittsburgh on August 14th, 1974, opening for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Uriah Heep in front of 11,000 people. That first tour together also saw Rush opening for Kiss, Blue Öyster Cult and Hawkwind.

Lifeson’s school mate Geddy Lee had joined the band in October 1968, replacing original frontman Jeff Jones a couple of weeks after Lifeson and Rutsey first formed Rush in Toronto. Once Peart joined, the power trio remained ever together and didn’t formally split up until 2018, though Peart had first stated that he was retiring in 1998 and then again in December 2015. Peart, Lee and Lifeson performed the final concert of Rush’s R40 tour in Inglewood, CA, on September 1st, 2015. Rush released 18 studio albums with Peart, with ten exceeding a million copies sold in the US. Industry sources estimate Rush’s total worldwide album sales at over 40 million units.

In 2018, Lifeson was quoted as saying that they “have no plans to tour or record anymore. We’re basically done. After 41 years, we felt it was enough.” Geddy Lee went on to clarify that they were still “very close and talk all the time, but we don’t talk about work. We’re friends, and we talk about life as friends. I can’t really tell you more than that, I’m afraid. I would say there’s no chance of seeing Rush on tour again as Alex, Geddy, Neil. But would you see one of us or two of us or three of us? That’s possible.” If so, it’s now obvious which two that could be.

Neil Peart in Second Grade, sitting second from left in the bottom row, first published in Peart’s “A Port Boy’s Story” in the St. Catharines Standard on June 24 and 25, 1994.

Neil with his brother and sisters: Danny, Nancy, and Judy, 1965.

Neil Ellwood Peart was born on September 12th, 1952, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and grew up as the oldest of four siblings in Port Dalhousie. His first exposure to musical training came in the form of piano lessons but for his thirteenth birthday his parents bought him a pair of drum sticks, a practice drum and some lessons. At 14, Peart made his stage debut at his school’s Christmas pageant in St. Johns Anglican Church Hall, next appearing at Lakeport High School with his first group, The Eternal Triangle, performing his first drum solo and an original number titled “LSD Forever”. Peart had entered Lakeport Secondary School one week before turning 13 and being two years younger than the other students instilled an outsider’s perspective in Peart that eventually found its way into his lyrics, such as in the 1982 Rush song “Subdivisions.”

“Even by 1967, in our whole school there were only about three guys who dared to have long hair”, recalled Peart in 1994, “and in the hallways we endured constant verbal abuse: “Is that a girl?” “Hey sweetheart!” “Let’s give it a haircut!” and other intelligent remarks. Outside it was worse – bullying threats and even beatings. All because we were “freaks.” “Of course, by then I was roaming around with a frizzy perm, long black cape, and purple shoes – but I wasn’t hurting anybody. I was just different, and they didn’t like it.” “Non-conformity seemed to be taken as some kind of personal reproach by those bitter conformists, and they would close ranks against you, and shun the ‘mutant.'”

Growing up it all seems so one-sided, opinions all provided, the future pre-decided. Detached and subdivided in the mass production zone. Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone. In the high school halls, in the shopping malls: Conform or be cast out. In the basement bars, in the backs of cars: Be cool or be cast out. Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth but the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth.
– Neil Peart in Rush’s “Subdivisions” off 1982’s “Signals”.

 

Neil Peart drumming in his bedroom as a child.

Peart’s early performance style would become deeply rooted in hard rock. He drew most of his inspiration from Keith Moon (The Who), Ginger Baker (Cream), Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) but he would eventually also begin to emulate jazz and big band musicians such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. At the height of Rush’s popularity as a progressive rock band in the 1970’s, there were also obvious influences from the British prog rock scene with drummers like Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson), Phil Collins (Genesis, Brand X), Stewart Copeland (Curved Air, The Police), Michael Giles (King Crimson) and Billy Cobham of The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis fame.

As Peart approached his sixteenth birthday, his record collection included the following albums:

Top row: My Generation, Happy Jack, The Who Sell Out, Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love
Bottom row: Disraeli Gears, Vincebus Erruptum, Reaping, the Grateful Dead, Moby Grape

 

Peart also got a summer job running the Bubble Game at Lakeside Park, inspiring him to later write a song with the same name for his second album with Rush, 1975’s “Caress of Steel”. “In those days, it was still a thriving and exciting whirl of rides, games, music, and lights”, remembered Peart.

 

Majority in 1968, with Peart to the right.

Neil Peart (bottom left) with J.R. Flood, 1969.

By his late teens, Peart had played in local bands such as Mumblin’ Sumpthin’, the Majority, and JR Flood. Peart joined “Wayne and the Younger Generation” in 1967, later renamed “The Majority”, with whom he plays for two years. The Majority was the band where Peart discovered the music that spoke directly to him, including The Who, the Hollies, the Small Faces, the Yardbirds, and others of that mid-’60s era, the ‘second wave’ of the British Invasion that reached him in a way the Beatles and Stones hadn’t.

 

 

Neil Peart with his parents in England, 1972.

At eighteen years old, having struggled to achieve success as a drummer in Canada, Peart travelled to London, England, hoping to further his career as a professional musician. His parents, Glenn and Betty, had realized that “all the music that Neil wanted to play was coming out of England” and that a move was on the cards. “We talked it over and he would be working with me for the summer”, Glenn said and added that “whatever he could save up, I would double”. Sadly, Neil ended up working in a jewelry shop in Carnaby Street and after eighteen months of dead-end musical gigs, Peart returned to Canada and worked for his father, selling tractor parts at the International Harvester farm machinery dealer Dalziel Equipment.

 

John Rutsey with Lee and Lifeson.

Peart also played drums for a St. Catharines band called Hush before joining Rush. Two of Peart’s former bandmates from J.R. Flood had formed a new band called Bullrush and at one point Peart saw posters around the area for a concert featuring Bullrush and two similarly-named bands, Mahogany Rush and… Rush. This would have been around the time of Rush’s debut single (“Not Fade Away” b/w “Can’t Fight It”, 1973) but Peart didn’t attend the show.

 

Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Donna Halper – a  radio personality who helped to land Rush a $200,000 US record deal with Mercury Records.

A year later, Rush parted ways with John Rutsey. Suddenly in need of a drummer for an upcoming American tour, Rush’s co-manager Vic Wilson visited Neil Peart at his day job. Neil actually had to think it over, recalled one his Hush bandmates. He was working full time at his Dad’s business, having recently returned disappointed after trying to “make it” as a drummer in England. At the time, Hush members saw Rush as merely a Led Zepplin clone band. Luckily, Peart eventually agreed to go for an audition.

In 2008, Lifeson and Lee reminisced about first meeting Peart: “The car pulls up, and there’s all kinds of drums tied down to it, and this real tall, skinny guy comes out with really short hair. And we were so cool in satin pants and platform shoes and long hair and all that stuff, so I was thinking, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to work out at all.’ “Suddenly, he’s playing all these triplets with his feet, and I looked at Alex, and Alex looked at me, and we’re like, ‘Uhhh.’ You know in 30 seconds this is not a normal drummer here.”

Peart soon settled into his new position, also becoming the band’s primary lyricist. With the other members of Rush largely uninterested in writing lyrics, Peart’s previously underutilized writing became as noticed as his musicianship.

An extensive reader, Peart came across the writings of Russian-American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-82) while in London. The young Peart found Rand’s writings on individualism inspiring and traces of her philosophy can be found in his early lyrics for “Anthem” (a title borrowed from a dystopian fiction novella first published by Ayn Rand in 1938) from 1975’s “Fly by Night” and the lengthy title track of 1976’s “2112”. While controversial, this made Rush popular among some conservatives. Peart later distanced himself from the strictly objectivist line of Rand and his lyrics for Rush would go on to address universal subjects such as science fiction, fantasy, mythology, history, religion, politics, psychology and philosophy, with secular, humanitarian and libertarian themes. In 2005, Peart described himself as a “left-leaning libertarian”, a position also taken by philosopher Noam Chomsky, the famous linguist, cognitive scientist and political activist.

 

 

Rush wives

Neil Peart and Jacqueline Taylor with other Rush couples in the ’70s.

1974 was a good year for Peart. Not ony did he join Rush, he also met Jacqueline Taylor. The happy couple married in 1975 and remained together until tragedy struck in the late 1990s. Peart became a father in 1978 but on August 10, 1997, soon after the conclusion of Rush’s Test for Echo Tour, Peart’s first daughter (and only child at the time) Selena Taylor, 19, was killed in a single-car accident on Highway 401 near the town of Brighton, Ontario. His wife of 23 years then succumbed to cancer 10 months later on June 20, 1998.
Following the death of his family, Peart told his bandmates in Rush to consider him retired. Peart took a long sabbatical to mourn and reflect, and travelled extensively throughout North and Central America on his motorcycle, covering 88,000 km, before eventually deciding to return to the band.

In addition to being a drumming lyricist, Neil Peart was also an author.

In addition to being a drumming lyricist, Neil Peart was also an author of seven non-fiction books.

As a chronicle of his geographical and emotional journey, Peart wrote the book “Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road”, published in 2002. Peart’s first non-fiction book, “The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa”, had been published in 1998 and further publications followed during the final decades of his life: “Traveling Music: Playing Back the Soundtrack to My Life and Times” (2004), “Roadshow: Landscape With Drums, A Concert Tour By Motorcycle” (2006), “Far and Away: A Prize Every Time” (2011), “Far and Near: On Days like These” (2014) and “Far and Wide: Bring That Horizon to Me!” from 2016. Peart also collaborated with science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson to develop a novelization of Rush’s 2012 album “Clockwork Angels” and a loose sequel, “Clockwork Lives”, published in 2015.

Peart rarely made musical appearances on albums by other acts than Rush but aside from his work as an author, he did release a couple of DVDs in his own name, primarily featuring instructions for drumming: “A Work in Progress” (1997), “Anatomy of A Drum Solo” (2005), “Taking Center Stage: A Lifetime of Live Performance” (2011) and “Fire on Ice: The Making of the Hockey Theme” (2011).

 

 

Peart is of course also featured in the brilliant 2010 documentary film “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage” and the DVD set “The Making Of Burning For Buddy: A Tribute To The Music Of Buddy Rich” (2006), chronicling how Neil Peart invited 18 of the world’s most respected drummers to record an album as the ultimate tribute to Bernard “Buddy” Rich (1917-1987), big band leader and drummer for Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie.

Shot during the sessions for the albums “Burning For Buddy – A Tribute To The Music Of Buddy Rich” (1994) and “Burning For Buddy – A Tribute To The Music Of Buddy Rich – Vol.II” (1997) by the Buddy Rich Big Band, both produced by Peart, the DVD set was tied together by Neil Peart’s commentary. The two DVD set features Kenny Aronoff, Gregg Bissonette, Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd, Simon Phillips, Steve Smith, Dave Weckl and many more. Peart himself also appeared on the two albums, performing on the tracks “Cotton Tail”, “Pick Up The Pieces” and “One O’Clock Jump”. Peart also appeared in the concert DVDs “Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concerts” (2006, also featuring Weckl, Gadd, Bissonette and Vinnie Colaiuta) and “Buddy Rich Memorial Concert” (2009), also featuring Terry Bozzio, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jeff Berlin.

 

Neil Peart hade previously made one of his rare album appearances outside of Rush on “Champion”, the 1985 solo debut by Jeff Berlin & Vox Humana. Berlin had come to prominence in the 1970s as bassist in Bruford, the band led by former Yes, King Crimson and Genesis drummer Bill Bruford. Peart appeared on the “Champion” tracks “Marabi” and “Champion (Of The World)”, playing alongside Steve Smith, the drummer of Journey (1978–1985, 1995–1998, 2015–present). While producing the first Buddy Rich tribute album, Peart was struck by the tremendous improvement in Steve Smith’s playing, asking him for his “secret.” Smith responded he had been studying with drum teacher Freddie Gruber. Peart went on to do the same, later also taking lessons under the tutelage of another pupil of Freddie Gruber, Peter Erskine, himself an instructor of Steve Smith.

 

But I digress. All of this happened much later. As mentioned, Neil Peart first joined Rush in 1974. Incredibly, for all his talents, the very first release to feature Peart was actually Rush’s second album “Fly By Night”. It was the band’s first album co-produced by Terry Brown who would maintain this role through to “Signals” (1982). Peart penned the lyrics to all songs except “Best I Can” and “In the End” which had been written before Peart joined the band. The lyrics to “Beneath, Between and Behind” were the first that Peart wrote for Rush. The title track  about Peart’s trip to London  in 1971 got released as a single in 1975, becoming a minor hit in their native Canada.

 

 

In late 1976, a live medley of “Fly By Night” and “In the Mood” became the band’s first single to reach the Billboard Hot 100. The medley was lifted off the double album “All the World’s a Stage”, the album title alluding to William Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It” (possibly written in 1599, first published in 1623), which would again be referenced by Rush in their 1981 song “Limelight”. The live album followed on their commercial breakthrough album “2112”, released earlier that same year, and featured a Neil Peart drum solo as part of another medley of songs ( “Working Man / Finding My Way”) which like “In the Mood” and “What You’re Doing” were  lifted off their self-titled 1974 debut album that had been recorded before Peart joined the band. Geddy Lee introduced Peart as “The Professor on the drum kit”. Peart wrote the lyrics for all tracks on “2112” except two (“Lessons” and “Tears”), including the cannabis tribute “”A Passage to Bangkok”.  Tellingly, 1975’s less successful album “Caress of Steel” was only represented by two songs, “Lakeside Park” and “Bastille Day”.

Worth noting about “Caress of Steel” is that the album cover was the first designed by Hugh Syme, who would go on to create their famous Starman logo and design the cover artwork for every Rush album to come. Syme would later contribute artwork for bands like Max Webster, Megadeth, Saga, Styx, Fates Warning, Whitesnake, Queensrÿche, Aerosmith, Tesla, Magnum, Arena and Dream Theater. A musician himself, Hugh Syme would also contribute keyboards to the Rush tracks “2112: Overture”, “Tears” (both 1976), “Different Strings” (1980) and “Witch Hunt” (1981). Much like their British counterparts (Genesis, Yes, ELP, Van Der Graaf Generator, Jethro Tull, etc.), Rush also made their first side-length song on “Caress of Steel”, “The Fountain of Lamneth”, soon to be followed by the more successful epics “2112” (1976) and “Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres” in 1978.

 

Before their next live double, 1981’s “Exit…Stage Left”, Rush would go on to record four of their very best albums. “A Farewell to Kings” (1977) and “Hemispheres” (1978) were both recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales. The first ended with “Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage” while the latter opened with “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres”, forming a song series of a combined 28 minutes in length. In addition to this two-part epic, the last albums Rush released in the 1970s also featured classics like “The Trees” and “Xanadu”. Peart wrote the lyrics for all tracks except “Cinderella Man”, including their first hit single in the UK, “Closer to the Heart”, with lyrics co-written by Peart and his friend Peter Talbot. The music was still all composed by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, except the magnificent instrumental “La Villa Strangiato” which also co-credited Peart.

 

Peart was a fan of author Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) and the title “A Farewell to Kings” alludes to his 1929 novel “A Farewell to Arms”. In the same year, Hemingway was asked exactly what he meant by “guts,” replying that he meant “grace under pressure.” With that he also inspired the title of Rush’s 10th studio album. Peart would also allude to Hemingway in the lyrics to 1982’s “Losing It”: “For you the blind who once could see, the bell tolls for thee”. Hemingway had published his novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in 1940, Metallica borrowing the title for their 1984 album “Ride the Lightning”. The phrase is originally from a 1624 work by metaphysical poet John Donne (1572-1631), in which he explored the interconnectedness of humanity. But that was all yet to affect Peart’s work when Rush set their feet at Rockfield Studios, founded by converting an existing farmhouse in 1963.

By 1965, the brothers Kingsley and Charles Ward had turned Rockfield into the world’s first residential studio, making it possible for bands to stay in peaceful rural surroundings while recording. The first hit recorded there was 1970’s “I Hear You Knocking” by Dave Edmunds, who would later come to own Rockfield Studios. The Coach House studio was constructed in 1968 and 1972 saw both Budgie and Hawkwind record there. “Doremi Fasol Latido” was the latter’s first album with Lemmy and Rockfield was in its infancy at the time. Lemmy recalled that they “recorded it at the barn, before they modernised it, with mattresses on the walls and things.” Still, Lemmy would return there in 1975 to make the first recordings with Motörhead, later released as “On Parole” in 1979. The Quadrangle studio was constructed in 1973 and is best known for the recording of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Among other previous visitors at Rockfield were Judas Priest (“Sad Wings of Destiny”) and Van Der Graaf Generator, a band beloved by Rush that had recorded their comeback albums (“Godbluff”, “Still Life” and “World Record”) there in 1975-76.

To achieve a broader, more progressive sound, Lifeson began to experiment with classical and twelve-string guitars and Lee added bass-pedal synthesizers and Minimoog. Likewise, Peart’s percussion became diversified in the form of triangles, glockenspiel, wood blocks, cowbells, timpani, gong, and chimes. The highly dynamic playing featuring complex time signature changes became a staple of Rush’s compositions even as synthesizers would come to feature more prominently than Lifeson’s guitars as Rush entered the 1980s.

 

Returning to Canada, the final album to be recorded in the ’70s was “Permanent Waves”, released in January of 1980. Elements of reggae and new wave were introduced along with more synthesizers in shorter and more radio-friendly songs such as “The Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill”, making it Rush’s first US Top 5 album. Meanwhile, Peart’s lyrics shifted to topics that explored humanistic, social, and emotional content. Peart again wrote all the lyrics, except for Lee’s “Different Strings”.

 

 

The first recording by Rush made in the 1980s was released on the fifth and last studio album by fellow Toronto-based rock band Max Webster. The band was formed in 1973 and had acted as opening act for Rush throughout the 1970s, including the three concerts at Massey Hall that resulted in “All the World’s a Stage”. Max Webster also made their debut album in 1976, assisted by Rush producer Terry Brown. The independent label Anthem Records was formed in 1977 by Rush manager Ray Danniels and Vic Wilson, with Neil Peart and his Rush bandmates becoming associate directors. The label’s predecessor was Moon Records, having served as an outlet for the band’s first single and self-titled debut album. One of the first bands to release an album on the Anthem label was Max Webster but by 1980 they had been reduced to a trio, with Kim Mitchell being the only original member. The song “Battle Scar” off their album “Universal Juveniles” was recorded live with all three members of Rush playing alongside Max Webster. “Battle Scar” was written by Kim Mitchell and lyricist Pye Dubois, often considered an unofficial non-performing member of the band.

 

Peart was also presented with a poem by Dubois, “Louis the Lawyer”, which Peart modified and expanded. Lee and Lifeson then helped set the poem to music, resulting in one of Rush’s best-known songs, “Tom Sawyer”. Alluding to the character created by Mark Twain (first appearing in the 1876 novel “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”), “Tom Sawyer” was the opening track of 1981’s “Moving Pictures”,  which went on to become Rush’s best-selling album in the USA with over 4 million copies sold. Poems by Dubois would also result in co-writing credits for three further Rush songs: “Force Ten” (1987), “Between Sun and Moon” (1993) and “Test for Echo” (1996).

 

In addition to “Tom Sawyer”, “Limelight” and “Vital Signs” were also released as singles off “Moving Pictures”, and the instrumental “YYZ” (the airport code for Toronto Pearson International Airport) was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. When performed in Rio de Janeiro on the final night of the Vapor Trails Tour in 2002, as captured on “Rush in Rio”, the crowd movingly sang along to the instrumental composed by Peart and Lee. Peart wrote the lyrics to all other songs on “Moving Pictures”, including “Red Barchetta” and “The Camera Eye”.

 

 

 

The “Moving Pictures” track “Witch Hunt” was Part III of the “Fear” song series, but the first to be released. In the fashion of an alternative Star Wars universe, Part IV wouldn’t be released until 2002 (“Freeze” off “Vapor Trails”) while Part I (“The Enemy Within” off “Grace Under Pressure”) saw the light of day in 1984. Rush’s next studio album, 1982’s “Signals” featured Fear Part II, “The Weapon”.

Sometimes referred to as the “synthesizer-oriented era”, “Signals” was the first of four album that Rush released before their next live album, 1989’s “A Show of Hands”. It featured Peart’s drum solo as a seperate track, “The Rhythm Method”, and some of Rush’s best songs from the 1980s.

 

“Signals” was the last album produced by Terry Brown and the track “Chemistry” marked the first time that each member collaborated on the lyrics to a song, with Lifeson and Lee devising its title, concept, and several phrases that they wished for Peart to include. “New World Man” became the band’s highest charting single in the United States and a number-one hit in Canada.

 

In the 2010 documentary film “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage”, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails cited “Signals” as an influence for incorporating keyboards into hard rock. This was something done even better, arguably, on “Grace Under Pressure” (1984) and “Power Windows” (1985). Peart wrote all of the lyrics to some of the very best Rush songs during this period. “Distant Early Warning”, “Red Sector A”, “Between the Wheels”, “The Big Money”, “Manhattan Project”, “Mystic Rhythms”, “Marathon”… I could go on. “Hold Your Fire” (1987) was another good one with classics like “Time Stand Still” (feat. Aimee Mann), “Force Ten”, “Second Nature” and “Mission”.

 

 

 

Peart’s only “release” as a “solo artist” was 1987’s “Pieces Of Eight”, a single sided 7″ flexidisc soundpage presented in the May 1987 issue of Modern Drummer magazine. Around the time of “Power Windows”, Peart decided to replace and rethink his drum setup, both acoustic and electronic. His demonstration of his new toys was “Pieces Of Eight”, a multi-track recording of a piece of music that used only percussion instruments.

 

As the 1990s approached, Rush started to regain their instrumental balance with Alex Lifeson’s guitars again gaining more ground through the albums “Presto” (1989), “Roll the Bones” (1991), “Counterparts” (1993) and “Test for Echo” (1996). “Show Don’t Tell”, “The Pass”, “Superconductor”, “Bravado”, “Roll The Bones”, “Ghost Of A Chance”, “Dreamline”, “Animate”, “Stick It Out”, “Nobody’s Hero”, “Leave That Thing Alone”, “Resist”, “Driven”, “Virtuality”, “Limbo”… With Peart delivering the lyrics, Rush kept on making great songs even during this period.

Peart also appeared on “Whale Music”, the 1992 album by Canadian rock band Rheostatics. Peart played drums on “Guns” and provided percussion on the tracks “Rain, Rain, Rain” and “Palomar”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then tragedy struck as Peart’s child and wife died. This could have proved the end of Rush aswell, who went on to release the triple-CD live album “Different Stages” (1998), featuring recordings from 1978, 1994 and 1997. Happily, Peart was introduced to photographer Carrie Nuttall in Los Angeles by long-time Rush photographer Andrew MacNaughtan. Peart and Nuttall married on September 9, 2000 and a couple of months later, in early 2001, Peart announced to his bandmates that he was ready to return to recording and performing. Rush returned with the 2002 album “Vapor Trails” but Peart did not take part in the daily grind of press interviews and “meet and greet” sessions during the following tours. Peart has always shied away from in-person encounters and it was decided that exposing him to a lengthy stream of questions about the tragic events was not necessary.

Criticized for it’s bad sound quality, “Vapor Trails” was later re-issued in a re-mixed version. It did contain some good songs though, such as “One Little Victory”, “Ghost Rider”, “Secret Touch” and “Earthshine”, all of which would be appear in superior versions on the following live album, “Rush In Rio”. Peart’s drum solo was given the title “O Baterista”.

 

 

2004 saw the release of “Feedback”, an EP of eight cover songs. Two songs each associated with The Who (“The Seeker”, “Summertime Blues”), The Yardbirds (“Heart Full of Soul”, “Shapes of Things”) and Buffalo Springfield (“For What It’s Worth”, “Mr. Soul”) was included along with “Seven and Seven Is” by Arthur Lee’s Love and “Crossroads”, the Robert Johnson classic as performed by Cream. Giving a taste of what the band members listened to in the 1960s, this also gave Neil Peart a chance to play songs previously performed by some of his heroes, notably Ginger Baker and Keith Moon.

 

Two more studio albums followed, “Snakes & Arrows” (2007) and “Clockwork Angels” (2012), along with a steady stream of live releases. A triumphant return to form, the former featured excellent tracks like “Far Cry”, “Workin’ Them Angels”, “The Larger Bowl”, “The Way The Wind Blows”, “Malignant Narcissism” and “The Main Monkey Business”. Live shows — of course — continued to feature an extended Peart drum solo, performed with the precision of a surgeon and the creative freedom of a surrealist. Rush’s swan song contained another set of strong compositions, notably “Caravan”, “Headlong Flight”, “BU2B”, “Clockwork Angels”, “The Wreckers” and “Seven Cities of Gold”.

 

 

Peart also guested two albums by the American alternative rock band Vertical Horizon. Band leader Matt Scannell worked with Richard Marx for the 2009 album “Burning the Days”, also inviting Neil Peart to play drums on three songs: “Save Me from Myself”, “Welcome to the Bottom” and “Even Now”. Peart wrote the lyrics for the latter song and also appeared on the follow-up,  “Echoes from the Underground” (2013), playing drums on the songs “Instamatic” and “South for the Winter”.

 

In the end, Neil Peart remained true to Rush for over four decades, in the process making some of the best rock music ever made. Thank you, Professor, you sure were a Prime Mover.

From the point of conception to the moment of truth, at the point of surrender to the burden of proof.
From the point of ignition to the final drive, the point of the journey is not to arrive.

 

Rush discography featuring Neil Peart:

Studio releases:
Fly by Night (1975)
Caress of Steel (1975)
2112 (1976)
A Farewell to Kings (1977)
Hemispheres (1978)
Permanent Waves (1980)
Moving Pictures (1981)
Signals (1982)
Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Power Windows (1985)
Hold Your Fire (1987)
Presto (1989)
Roll the Bones (1991)
Counterparts (1993)
Test for Echo (1996)
Vapor Trails (2002)
Feedback (2004) – covers EP
Snakes & Arrows (2007)
Clockwork Angels (2012)

Live releases:
All the World’s a Stage (1976)
Exit…Stage Left (1981)
A Show of Hands (1989)
Different Stages (1998)
Rush in Rio (2003)
R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour (2005)
Grace Under Pressure Tour (2006)
Snakes & Arrows Live (2008)
Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland (2011)
Clockwork Angels Tour (2013)
R40 Live (2015)

 

R.I.P., Neil Peart.  You will be forever missed.

Cristoffer Eriksson

Cristoffer Eriksson

Writer

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