Neil Peart 1952-2020 1/12 '20
After a bad week, I heard the news on Friday that Neil Peart had passed away.
My mom and I moved to the Chicago suburbs in 1978, thorougly uprooting me from my Mayberry like life in rural New England. My hometown was an example of late 70's post-industrial collapse. No jobs, no surviving industry, and being located in a valley, no radio signals. We'd get one rock station, that specialized in 60's hippie and acid rock and distantly, on a good night, a pop station out of Westerly, Rhode Island.
And then I got dropped into Chicagoland, and the rock scene there was heavily influenced by Canadian imports. Moxy, Pat Travers, April Wine, Triumph and this little band called Rush.
While my school peers listened to more mainstream bands, the nerds at my school all listened to Rush, among other bands. WLUP would occasionally throw one of their songs on the air, and it was always a good time. While Rush wasn't mainstream, it was at least well known enough in Chicago that you weren't completely ostracized for listening to them.
All of that changed in 1982, when we moved back to New England and the valley of shadow of radio signals. Coincidentally almost in time with Rush's release of their album, Signals. Then, my age peers didn't want anything to do with Rush or Geddy Lee's shrieky vocals. The content of Peart's lyrics was of little interest to them. Rush became my solitary pleasure. The music I listened to alone, frequently when I had time to read the liner notes and contemplate the message that Peart, Lee and Lifeson were sending.
Peart, in his younger years was an admirer or Ayn Rand, and although by his own admission he parted ways with her philosphy, he remained a staunch libertarian. And that belief shone through in his lyrics, and in a way, infected me. Meanwhile, the 80's and 90's rolled on. The albums kept coming, life was good.
Until it wasn't. Peart was rocked by two tragedies, the death of his only daughter and his wife. Rush ended their tour early and went on hiatus. I didn't know it at the time, but Peart took to riding his motorcycle around North and Central America, twice, trying to decide whether he wanted to live or die. As usual, great pain can be channeled into art. And he wrote about his journey in a book, Ghost Rider.
Hiatus usually means a band is done. But around the beginning of 2001 I started hearing rumors of a new Rush album. And sure enough it came to be. My favorite band was back and hopefully would be forever.
But if you live long enough, you get to see your heroes die.
Peart officially retired in 2015. It was explained that he retired because he could no longer perform at the level he expected of himself due to tendonitis. Of course, it's easy to now surmise that his retirement was related to his diagnosis of brain cancer.
So, here's Rush being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an honor that was long denied them. It's a nice snapshot of a happier time and acknowledgement that this little quirky trio from Toronto is, was and always will be cool.