January 10, 2020
The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect. Tonight there is no shortage of either as the world learns about the passing of Neil Peart, the beloved drummer of the Canadian trio Rush. Although he was “the new guy” in the band, he certainly didn’t shy from leaving a mark on the hearts of every Rush fan. From inspiring air drumming with his meticulous approach, to having a unique ability to connect lyrically with the underdog, Neil was not just an exceptional musician – he was a national treasure to us Canadians.
Despite the success, he always remained humble and down to earth. Like his bandmates Alex and Geddy, he never took himself seriously. He did, however, possess a passion for sticking up for the underdog and trying to articulate human experience. One of the best examples of this stems from the lyrics of “Subdivisions,” which first appeared on the Signals album in 1982. Musically it was a departure from their previous works, and despite fans being somewhat resistant to the musical change, it was the lyrical aspect that won over the fanbase. The lyrics reflected the struggles that arise from trying to fit into fictitious social constructs and dealing with the pressures of conformity against one’s personal preferences and capabilities. These lyrics – along with the accompanying music video – not only affected the fans’ perspective of the then-new direction Rush were taking, but it also changed Neil’s approach to songwriting. During an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine’s Brian Hiatt in July 2015, Neil stated:
"A lot of the early fantasy stuff was just for fun because I didn't believe yet that I could put something real into a song. 'Subdivisions' happened to be an anthem for a lot of people who grew up under those circumstances, and from then on, I realised what I most wanted to put in a song was human experience."
Despite the horrific tragedies that occurred in Neil’s personal life, he did not give up. He persevered and used his writing as a creative outlet. In the process of finding solid ground once more, he inspired and helped people all over the world fight their battles, and win.
One does not need to venture too far into Rush’s fanbase to appreciate and understand the inimitable connection Neil gained with his audience through his judicious use of language through storytelling and poetry. The man was an intellectual; reading countless books of equally myriad genres. He was an articulate rebel that could overtake any sword that dared to oppose his pen.
Learning today that Neil’s beautiful mind lost a three year battle to brain cancer is an absolute devastation, and has left me numb. For the drive home, I put on “The Garden” without hesitation, and spent the rest of the drive in silence. The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect, so hard to earn, so easily burned. Without a shadow of a doubt, Neil earned it all, and so much more.
“Although it’s just a memory, some memories last forever...”
Neil Ellwood Peart