If you are a rock fan of any stripe, you felt this one.
The news of the death of Rush drummer/lyricist Neil Peart came as a shock to many, who had long held out hope that the band would do one final run or at least one last show. They actually retired from the road in 2015, before finally bringing the curtain down as a band in 2018. At the time Peart had admitted to suffering from tendonitis, citing that as the primary reason for wanting to retire from road work. Only after his passing has it become known that he had been battling cancer for the past three years; the drummer was intensely private and swore his friends to secrecy about his condition.
Joining Rush soon after their debut album’s release (taking over from original drummer John Rutsey), the trio of Peart, bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson began to get recognition beyond their native Canada as their music evolved from Zeppelin-style hard rock into long-form progressive rock. For a while in the late 1970s you would always see denim jackets with intricately-embroidered recreations of the Rush symbol from ‘2112’ worn by rock fans of the time. Almost totally ignored by the mainstream, the band nonetheless attained, and sustained, success right up until their retirement. Their music evolved further, with the turn of the 1980s shorter, snappier songs began to supplant the progressive epics and the trio took full advantage of new technology, allowing them to perform their complex material live as a trio, without the need for additional musicians.
You didn’t need to be a devoted fan to recognise the band’s prowess; Lee regularly topped ‘best bassist’ polls in music magazine reader’s polls for many years, while Peart was cited as inspiration to many drummers, most notably Mike Portnoy who founded the Rush-influenced Dream Theater before founding Sons of Apollo. He was dubbed ‘The Professor’ for his mastery of the drums, although he left publicity to his two band mates preferring to stay in the background. He was known for travelling to shows alone, often taking to a motorcycle rather than travel on a tour bus, reasoning that he got to see more of the world around him that way. He suffered the loss of both his wife and daughter in quick succession during 1997, becoming all-but retired at that time as he took several years out from the band. He finally resumed his place with Rush in 2002, as the band toured their ‘Vapor Trails’ album to great acclaim.
Neil Peart leaves behind an immense body of work and remains a lasting influence on anybody who ever picked up a pair of drumsticks. His loss is a huge one, and impossible to overstate.
Some video to close this post: Rush ‘YYZ’ (Neil Peart cam) from Rio 2002:
Neil Peart solo from Rush R30 tour (viewed from above)
Neil Peart on David Letterman, 2011: