The Impeccable Timing of Neil Peart
Max Mobley "guarding" Peart's Time Machine kit.
By Max Mobley
I, like many Rush fans was taken aback by Rush drummer Neil Peart’s quote in Drumhead magazine that went exactly like this: “Lately Olivia has been introducing me to new friends at school as ‘My dad–He’s a retired drummer.’ True to say–funny to hear. And it does not pain me to realize that, like all athletes, there comes a time to take yourself out of the game. I would rather set it aside then face the predicament described in our song ‘Losing It’ (‘Sadder still to watch it die, than never to have known it’).”
Could it be? Is Rush truly over? And if so, is this really how us fans learn about it? In a cute anecdote from a father about his young daughter? Well, for now, the answer seems, unequivocally, and rather tragically—yes.
But, at least in my hemispheres, there is equal parts light and dark at the far end of the tunnel out of Lamneth. Leading up to the R40 tour, Rush’s last (most recent?) outing, guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist Geddy Lee, who share spokesperson roles have indicated that this tour could maybe possibly kinda perhaps be their last. Yep, they seemed as unsure as anyone about that. Anyone except Neil Peart, that is.
In June of 2015, early during one of Rush’s shortest tours (a mere 35 dates between May 8th and August 1 of 2015, less than half that of the full 2012-13 Clockwork Angels tour) Geddy Lee told Blabbermouth Magazine, "I can certainly see us writing together and putting a musical project together. I cannot really tell you how that would present itself in a live situation. I don't know that there is the will from my two partners to do any kind of tour. But I wouldn't exclude the possibility of doing a set of dates, or some one-off things. I don't mean to be evasive, but I can't really answer the question about any future touring, because I don't really know. And the other guys — it's an ongoing conversation, and I would say that it's a decision that's in flux."
But wait! As recently as November of 2015 Lifeson, while doing press for the R40 Blu-Ray/DVD/CD box set all Rush fans must own, told Billboard Magazine: "That question [about Rush’s future] was posed many times: Is this it? Is this the end? I don't think it is the end, and we never really said this is definitively our last tour. I think it's likely to be our last major tour, but we're still in contact, very close contact with each other, all three of us, and I don't think it's certainly the end of the band. There are still lots of things we want to do. It's not to say that we wouldn't do something in the future on a smaller scale, and there's always the fun project of making a record, which we've all loved forever. Right now I think we're just kind of relaxing and taking it in and getting reconnected with our families and friends and more of a domestic life, and then we'll kinda sort of review it, I think, in the new year and see what we want to do."
The truth I perceive from this, and this is only my take; my version of what I think is going down in Lotus Land between prog’s three greatest carnies is simply this: They (all three) truly do not know what the future holds. They only know the present. And that is perfectly acceptable by me. Expected even. Rush enjoyed 40 years of cult success that grew so big the outsiders became the ones who didn’t get the band instead of the other way around (I miss those days . . .). Counting their earliest work, solo drum and acoustic guitar pieces, and medley’s like "R30 Overture", they’ve written and recorded nearly 200 of the biggest, baddest, deepest, prog rock songs that Katy Perry fans have never heard but you and I have over and over again—sometimes with a wizard bong in our hand, sometimes with tears in our eyes, and almost never with a girl in the same room. The band has earned the most fiercely loyal fan base in the history of rock—millions strong. And there is some stiff competition for that title. So how do you say goodbye to that? How could you even fathom it?
You can’t. It’s some seriously deep shit, man. Rush fans have always expected a lot from the band in the ways of songwriting and performance. And the band always worked up a sweat trying to exceed those expectations—right up until the last chord of the last song on the last date of the R40 tour. And I can only imagine that sometime after the last reverberations of that last chord, you have to wonder if you got it in you to do it again at that same level. Because one thing is for certain, Rush only has an A game. It goes against their beliefs and their muse to take it down a notch in a nod to that omnipresent asshole, time. Time always wins, and in the long run, always works against us. Sure, in the short term, it also heals. And thankfully Lee, Lifeson and Peart are doing their version of that—taking time to recover from yet another tour. Refill the proverbial tank. And when they’re all fueled up and ready—where does that energy go? It has to go somewhere. The studio? A few nights playing on the east coast, a few on the west, maybe extended runs in Vegas and Chicago? That kind of tour gives the crew a break, less so for the artists. Travel does take a fair amount of energy, even when using private jets and staying in luxury suites. So there is some energy savings there. But is it enough to bang out "YYZ" and "La Villa Strangiato" and sing "Temples of Syrinx" and "Freewill" a few nights a week? Therein lies another part of the problem. Keith Richards can play Stones songs well into his 70s because they don’t take a lot of energy or dexterity. (And hey, I love the Stones). But what we love about Rush is what also signifies the end is nigh—big music and even bigger musicianship requires a helluva lot of effort at any age. At some point, unlike the Stones, they will be too old to play Rush songs. Hell, I could barely play them in my twenties!
Rush doesn’t know how to write or perform any other way, and they certainly don’t know how Rush fans would take a lesser performance if that were an option (It’s not). Would fans be okay with a Rush concert without a Neil Peart drum solo? A few less Alex Lifeson guitar solos? Less high-energy vocals and less insane bass riffs from Geddy-Fucking-Lee? (I checked Wikipedia and that is his middle name). Would it still be a Rush concert at that point?
That’s the 800 pound gorilla hanging out in Lee’s wine cellar, Lifeson’s studio, and on the back of Peart’s motorcycle. And it will take time (such a bastard) to decide if that gorilla is a beast of burden or a big hairy muse ready for MORE!
Now in regards to the “R” word. Sure, let the man be retired. Let him try it on like a Slanket. Neil Peart owes us nothing (though a brief official statement to fans would have been nice). Take all the time you need and call it whatever you like—for it is your time Mr. Peart, and your family’s. It always has been, and you’ve been more than generous with it as far as rock and roll is concerned.
While precious children are being raised, times being shared, rides being ridden, and words being written, time fills the tank. The need for notes and beats and melody and rhythm and the alchemic dialog shared among bandmates once again becomes an all-consuming desire. And when you’ve spent as much time on stage as Rush has; when you’ve spent most of your life playing an intense form of music and being driven by an equally intense muse, it’s nearly impossible to turn away from that forever. But it is a requirement now and then for the sake of self-preservation. People come out of retirement all the time. And when Peart does, who knows what it will sound like. Can’t wait to find out, though. Art needs constraint to exist. Physical constraints are as good as any when it comes to that. Though I hate to think physical pain could shape the next step in Rush’s evolution. I’ve always been fine when emotional pain has shaped my rock and roll. So what’s the difference, really?
And if it really is over. If Mr. Peart decides to be the exception that proves the rule, man, we were all so very lucky to have known it at the level we did. Lee is clearly not done, Lifeson either. It is no sacrilege should they start a new project with a different muse, a different music, and a different drummer. It would certainly not be Rush. But I wonder what it would be?
I hope we’re not there yet. I hope there’s one more. Just one more, please. In the long run . . .
You can do a lot in a lifetime
If you don't burn out too fast
You can make the most of the distance
First you need endurance --
First you've got to last...