“Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone”
-Neil Peart, Subdivisions, 1982
You know you’re getting old when your rock heroes start passing away.
In our recent past, we have mourned the deaths of Michael Jackson and Prince, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer. For any self-professed audiophile, it has been an upsetting state of affairs.
Friday afternoon, we learned that a musician had passed who I probably logged more hours listening to than all of those artists put together.
For me, in high school, there were three rock bands, above all others, that I listened to night in and night out, whose every album I knew frontward and backward, note for note, lick for lick and lyric for lyric, whose discographies had an album or song suited for my every mood. Those three bands were Led Zeppelin, The Police and Rush.
Sure, there were other bands whose posters hung on my wall but more often than not, it was these three bands whose cassette tapes and vinyl I wore down to the nub.
These bands featured iconic drummers who kept their beat pulsing and unmistakable: John Bonham, Stewart Copeland and Neil Peart. Bonham died at the age of 32, which meant the end of Led Zeppelin. Copeland, who is fortunately still alive, had a style that made him perhaps the most unique rock drummer of all-time. And Peart, well, Peart was King Kong fighting Godzilla behind the drum set. He was not only a lyricist of the highest order but a mechanical madman who created a wall of sound that defined his band’s music.
Peart’s drum solos were iconic. There’s not a Rush geek out there that doesn’t hold every tom, snare, bass kick, hi-hat and crash of his closer to their hearts. Copeland respectfully called Peart “the most air-drummed to drummer of all time.” He couldn’t be more on time.
Any high school teen in the early 80s who didn’t own Moving Pictures simply didn’t listen to rock and roll. Not only did it make you cooler, and perhaps even smarter, but Rush’s references to modern lit throughout their discography made you feel like you could skip English class and still get a passing grade.
I lived overseas as a youngster and didn’t get much of a chance to see my favorite band perform live until I was into my late teens. Missing a Rush concert by only two days because I had to fly back home created such a rift between my father and me that I almost wasn’t invited back to live with him. I debated whether it would have been worth it.
Ultimately, I did see Rush in concert. Four times. As much as I’ve seen any other band. And they never disappointed. Three monster musicians creating a sound uniquely their own, void of pop radio play but entrenched deeply in the hearts and soundtracks of their fans and their upbringing.
When I heard of Neil Peart’s passing, I couldn’t help but feel like a huge chunk of my foundation had been forcefully removed. I can assure you I am not alone in that sentiment. Peart’s sound was such an indelible part of my childhood, his beat, his syncopation, his lyrics, his eternally shaking drum kit. The age-old friends that I either contacted or contacted me upon hearing about his passing felt exactly the same.
As an only child, music was my sibling. I may not have been the most talented musician but damn if music wasn’t with me wherever I went. It remains that way to this day.
Rush stopped touring many moons ago. The last time I saw them perform was probably in the late nineties. As I aged along with them, I often wondered, if they ever toured again would I pay to see them, standing in line with all the other fifty-somethings, balding, wearing our black rock concert T’s and closeted denim jackets, waiting for Neil to toss that drum stick one last time high into the air as he always did.
I would have gone without a doubt.
It’s only appropriate that Peart died of brain cancer for it was his brain far more than any of his other body parts, not his right or left arms, not his right or left legs, that created Rush’s one and only sound.
This was the sound of my adolescence: booming, beating, shaking, syncopated, rhythmic, organized, rebellious, forever unforgettable.