There are drummers, and then there are really good drummers. And then there is Neil Peart. It’s almost fitting of Peart that his death was not announced until today, January 10th, three days after his actual death on January 7th. Whereas others did things in simple time and merely kept the beat, Peart’s timing – in drums and in life – was never conventional. Hence the announcement of his death not on the day he died, but three days later. The beats never fell quite where they were expected.
There is not much I can say about Peart, the drummer, that hasn’t already been said. Just about every superlative imaginable has been used to describe his drumming, and a few have probably even been made up. Peart was simply so good at what he did that new words needed to be invented if one wanted to give an adequate description. And still, it fell short. You just had to listen to him play, and if were lucky, see him. Peart set a standard the drummers everywhere have been trying to live up to, with only a few able to even get within the ballpark. That’s not a criticism of those that can’t.
Part of the reason Peart was such an incredible talent on the drums has to do with his own philosophy for living. Whether by temperament or practice, Peart was a Stoic’s Stoic. He comported himself in a way that would have made Epictetus and Marcus Aerelius proud. Far from indulging in the perks of fame and fortune and losing his head, Peart shied away from the excesses of the rock star lifestyle. Instead of flying in a fancy jet between tour dates, as would be common for rockers of his stature, Peart rode his motorcycle between cities, choosing instead to indulge himself in nature and the world around him. Instead of chasing groupies and destroying hotels, Peart would sit quietly in his room, reading books, filling his head with knowledge.
And as an artist, he valued his integrity above all else. He was never content to simply go through the motions for a given song or a given album. It had to be his best. Nor would Peart, the chief lyricist of Rush, chase hits with sappy love songs and the like. He deplored the excess commercialization of rock music, as spelled out in the lyrics of one of Rush’s more popular songs, The Spirit of Radio.
From a personal perspective, the timing of the arrival of both Rush and Peart into my life was most serendipitous. In the spring of 1979, I purchased their breakthrough album, 2112. As Rush fans are well aware, 2112 revolves around themes of the individual vs. the collective, totalitarianism, and the human spirit’s unshakeable yearning to be free. Around that same time, I was having numerous, lengthy conversations with my maternal grandmother who, along with my grandfather, aunt, and mother, were defectors from the communist hellhole known as East Germany. Whereas Peart’s lyrics from 2112 introduced me to a fictional world in which the human spirit was crushed by a totalitarian government, the talks with my grandmother introduced me to one that was all too real. Individually, 2112 and the talks with my grandmother both left strong impressions on my. Together, those impressions reinforced one another to leave an indelible mark.
My story is just one of perhaps millions with regard to the influence of Neil Peart. The impact drummers have on their fans is through their drumming, and little more. They set an example of how to play drums. Peart, on the other hand did so much more. He set an example on how to live, how to maintain one’s self when the surrounding world is pulling in different direction, how to maintain one’s integrity through the ups and downs that life throws at all of us. And thankfully, so much of that is recorded for posterity.
Thank you, Neil, for being a shining example for all of us.