Here we are, again. In the midst of all the chaos and confusion of life, we have lost another great musician. The last decade has seen many greats shuffle off this mortal coil and some have hit me harder than others. This one is near the top for me, and I know it’s way up there for many others. What is it about music and musicians that have this effect on us? I think it’s because music breaks down barriers. In a world hell-bent on dividing us, it brings us together. It’s part of our every day. It’s there for the good times and bad. It makes us feel. It transcends. My wife absolutely loves music and everything about it and that’s one of the things I absolutely love about her.
Back in September or October of 1988, I was sitting in the first-floor hallway of my high school when my friend Jeremy plopped himself down beside me. He had a Walkman and he was air drumming. He said something to the extent of, “You GOTTA listen to this.” He rewound the tape a bit and handed me the headphones. Once I had them on, he pressed play and I heard the opening chords to Limelight. By the ninth measure, the thump-da-thump of Neil Peart’s drums kicked in and I was completely hooked on RUSH not 20 seconds into the first of their songs I’d ever heard. For the next twenty years, they were my #1 band. Even today, thirty years later and a good five since they retired, I’d put them in my top three.
I can remember back in 1993 my friends and I would huddle in front of computers in the math building at the University of Waterloo and connect to The Internet. We’d hit the newsgroups and bulletin boards searching for nuggets of information to sate our fanboy desires. Some of my friends would go to alt.music.nirvana and others to alt.music.pearljam. I went to alt.music.rush and even then the internet consipirators were out in full force.
“Neil Peart has cancer. That’s why he wears that beanie on his head!”– Early Internet Trolls
Five years later daughter died in a car crash and ten months after that he lost his wife to cancer. Twenty years after that the Early Internet Trolls’ prognostications came true, and as off base as they were back then I can imagine they, like so many of us today, are crushed by the news.
Neil was the soft-spoken one. Neil was the lyricist. The quiet brooder tapping out “YYZ” in Morse code in the studio because he saw the Toronto airport tag on his luggage (“YYZ” is the transmitter code for Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport) and liked the beat. That would later become an instrumental of the same title that was nominated for a Grammy (losing to The Police’s “Behind My Camel”).
I haven’t tested the theory yet but I am certain that there is a lyric that he’s written that maps perfectly to every moment in my life. He wrote books as well as lyrics. He made a number of instructional videos. He used his fame and recognition to bring styles of music to the masses that we would have otherwise ignored.
“He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: We all learned from him.”Dave Grohl
If you’ve been on social media for the past 18 hours you’ve no doubt seen all the messages, condolences, and tributes come rolling in. There are a lot of them. The most well-known musicians in the world today are talking about it. That’s the type of influence Neil Peart had on not just music, but the music industry. He touched so many, myself included, and my heart goes out to his family, his friends, and of course to Geddy and Alex.
There are literally thousands of lyrics to choose from to close out my thoughts but one that was penned by Neil’s bandmates seems most apt. For me, it perfectly sums up what it was like having Neil behind the drum kit and I can imagine Geddy and Alex felt much the same way.
“You can take me for a little whileGeddy Lee and Alex Lifeson
You can take me
You can make me smile
In the end”