As I begin writing this post, I have just learned of the passing of Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart. It's actually been a long time since one of my heroes died, and none of my heroes stand as large in my life as Neil, Geddy, and Alex. I feel like I need to spend some time processing and sharing how much Rush has impacted my life.
Rush is a band that influenced me before I even had any concept of playing an instrument or being in a band. When I was young most of my music consumption was through my parents. They didn't have any Rush records, but the band was a staple on the classic rock radio that they listened to. Limelight, Red Barchetta, Tom Sawyer, The Trees were all staples in rotation. But it was 2112 that got into my brain and stayed there, fermenting and shaping my musical future. For those too young to remember, once upon a time (and maybe still, I haven't heard classic rock radio in ages), the Overture and Temples of Syrinx were played as a radio edit for 2112. The swirling synths and bombastic hits grabbed me much the same way John Williams score for Star Wars did, and the lyrics drew me into imagined worlds far from my own, just like the Star Wars films or my constant book reading did.
Later, in the early days of my guitar playing, I started to choose my own music, form an identity away from my parents. A few of my friends were introducing me to new music, including the 80s shredders and bands like Queensryche and Living Colour. One particular friend loaned me a copy of Presto. I think I was in 8th grade, so Presto would have been brand new. I already knew something about Rush from the radio, but this more in depth absorption was the wide-open gateway I needed. Looking back I think it's also interesting that my first deep dive into Rush was more "middle period (but post-synth)" rather than with albums like A Farwell to Kings or Moving Pictures.
To make a long story short, I began to absorb all of Rush's work and as I grew as a musician their influence showed through. A story I'm sure is very common. When I was 16 I even had the audacity (as only a brash teenager could) to write and record a sequel to 2112, imagining a story of the "Elder race" in parallel to the world depicted in the original song. I mean, there had to be a back story to "Attention all Planets of the Solar Federation, We have assumed control," right?
Their influence on me has so many facets. I'm inspired by each of them as instrumentalists. I'm inspired by the writing. Both the music and lyrics. The music is just cool. Neil's lyrics taught me rock music didn't have to be all "ooh baby" superficial tripe. Tell stories, make them both closely personal and universal. Play with words as much as you play with notes. I'm inspired by their process for creating. It took time, but I learned to appreciate that a band evolves over time. I like all eras of Rush, and I learned not to be mad at my favorite bands when they changed. Continual growth is necessary, lest you become a staple on the state fair nostalgia circuit. I'm inspired by their humor and genuine friendship. If you've never seen it, find the Dinner with Rush extended extra from Beyond the Lighted Stage. 40 years of a close and loving friendship. No posturing, no fake manliness, no rock star swagger. Music aside, watching Geddy, Alex, and Neil is a lesson in how to be a good human. A lesson on what really matters. I wanted my band to be like Rush, not just because of the music, but because of the people.
Neil was also an excellent writer. I've read his books, and Ghost Rider had a profound impact on me. Keep going in the face of incomprehensible loss. Keep moving. Even if you can only say you got out of bed today, you are victorious. I'd also pop in on Neil's blog from time to time and catch up with his travel stories. I like travel writings, and his were excellent. I would rank him up with William Least Heat-Moon. More than just "I went here and saw this". Also a snapshot of inner monologue and a view of the people that make up this world.
As I reread this for mistakes, I've noticed I refer to the band members by their first names. I've never met any of them in person, yet I feel this is how all of us fans can relate to them. They are not heroes carved in marble up on pedestals. They are us. Neil's death has hit me surprisingly hard. I know everything and everyone will eventually pass into memory, but this was sudden, thanks to Neil's famous guarding of his privacy. But as I continue to process this, I also feel like I've lost a father figure. I hadn't fully realized the he, and the band, meant that much to me beyond the music. I take some comfort in being grateful Rush was there for us for so long, and I know I am far from alone.
I leave you with the song "The Garden," the last track on the last Rush album. It isn't big and blasting, it is quiet and introspective. A little melancholic but always with hope at the end. I don't know if this was the last song they wrote and recorded, but it is an appropriate fade to black on this story.
The Garden In this one of many possible worlds, all for the best, or some bizarre test? It is what it is - and whatever Time is still the infinite jest The arrow files when you dream, the hours tick away - the cells tick away The Watchmaker keeps to his schemes The hours tick away - they tick away The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect So hard to earn, so easily burned In the fullness of time A garden to nurture and protect In the rise and the set of the sun 'Til the stars go spinning - spinning 'round the night It is what it is - and forever Each moment a memory in flight The arrow flies while you breathe, the hours tick away - the cells tick away The Watchmaker has time up his sleeve The hours tick away - they tick away The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect The way you live, the gifts that you give In the fullness of time It's the only return that you expect The future disappears into memory With only a moment between Forever dwells in that moment Hope is what remains to be seen Rush - Clockwork Angels Tour - The Garden