On the Passing of Neil Peart - 1952-2020
Losing Neil Peart or any member of Rush was a day I had never thought about. Not once. I mean, of course it was inevitable, like losing a parent is inevitable. But something about hearing your band every day makes them immortal, and not for a limited time.
Pre-Permanent Waves, Neil and the boys were young, hungry, and innocent immortals with long hair and weird clothes, and music and lyrics lush enough and big enough for me to hide inside. Hide from the bitterly cruel storms of adolescence that seem to target the misfits and the losers and the strange rock and rollers who wanted more than a band that polled the audience on their favorite cocktail or demand they spell the word ROCK (nods to Hedwig and Bubbles…). Songs so complex and vast that when hiding inside them, no one could find me if I didn’t want to be found—unless you were a Rush fan. And if so, well, you were probably hiding there, too. Like refugees hiding in rubble, and unlike didacts and narpets, when we saw each other, we would put one finger to our lips--shhh, LISTEN! Then, when the storms quieted, we would tip-toe out, we cast-outs from the cool. We would gather around our wizard bongs and speakers and vinyl and share our awe and ebullience over those bass riffs, that guitar solo, those words, and all those DRUMS. Like worshipers forced to practice their religion underground, we hid our passion and our need for this band’s music and in doing so, fierce unbreakable connections were made. And in these sad days, we are brought back together, issuing secret signals to each other (and some not so secret ones, too). Signals that remind us that Rush had made bearable, even enjoyable, all the pain and hope we all felt from different things. Rush offered us a world to hide in that was deep and complex and beautiful and intense. Where gods point a finger or wave a magic wand to create a world, Alex, Geddy, and Neil worked their asses off to build theirs by hand and by heart. And when it came time to share it, they worked even harder. Makes me think that Sisyphus would have made it to the top if he had two close friends to share in his obligation.
Permanent Waves and after, Geddy and Alex and Neil were still immortal, their clothing got way less weird, the haircuts weirder. Now, instead of crafting a safe world for us to take refuge in, they made music that helped us find our place in the real one. The unsafe one. A world where the Holocaust happened. Where friends die (and, tragically, families, too). Where cars are fast and red, and the bridges one lane. Where the light is limed and uncomfortable. A world of possibilities and hard realities. A world so full of differences and so out of touch that we must treat each other with kid gloves if we are to survive it. A world where we are still cast-outs from the cool, but we are no longer in hiding. Because now, their music has given us the courage and comfort to stand and face it. Sure, we still got our asses kicked—who doesn’t? But we knew we’d be able to take it. We knew we would be okay, because we’ve been LISTENING. And dear God and Neil and Geddy and Alex, how LISTENING has helped. I don’t think I would have made it without LISTENING. And I know I am not alone.
I am crying as I write this. My keyboard would be rusting except, like Rush’s music, it’s not metal. I have to laugh. I don’t want to, goddammit, not yet. But I think Neil would have wanted me to at least smile. He certainly would not want me or you to be maudlin. But it’s so hard and his passing is such a huge event. The afterimage so all consuming. We lost the man who, with his best friends, literally pounded into us that it is okay to be different. Being a cast-out offers gifts and we must use them the best we can. That’s why I became a writer. And a guitar player. Why in part I became an emotional, ethical being. LISTENING as Rush grew up and evolved helped me do the same. I am so grateful.
In the end, I feel blessed. My first concert ever was Farewell to Kings and my last Rush concert was R40. I remember seeing R30 alone with 22,449 other cast-outs, close to the stage, tearing up when they went into Spirit of Radio. Geddy looked me right in the eye and I looked away because I was embarrassed of my tears. Rush has been a major part of my life for almost all of it. I suspect that will remain the case even though there will be no more new Rush music. And I’m truly okay with that. Because, like always, when I am LISTENING, I am experiencing Alex and Geddy and Neil’s immortality. When I am LISTENING, they are right where they are supposed to be: wearing guitars, playing multiple instruments at once, singing words that touch my heart and soul, and surrounded by a constellation of drums and percussion expertly bashed with a serious kind of joy. And when I am LISTENING, you are there too, just like you were in the concert hall, the car, the record store, the secret world. Another refugee for whom they mean (not meant) so much.
Thank you, Neil. Thank you, Alex. Thank you, Geddy. Thank you so much.
I promise I will always LISTEN, and some part of me will always be testing for echo, hoping for the impossible and seeking to remind myself that I am not alone.
To the Rush family and world, I am so sorry for our loss.