*Photo taken by your intrepid blogger, from the 2112 album
I was stunned and saddened to learn yesterday, like everyone else, that the world had lost Rush lyricist/drummer extraordinaire Neil Peart to brain cancer. I don’t think anybody outside his tight inner circle knew he was even ill. I certainly hadn’t heard anything. In today’s share everything/voyeuristic society, kudos to Peart and his erstwhile fellow bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson for keeping it a secret. Everyone deserves to die with dignity and privacy. Neil and his loved ones are all in our thoughts here at B&V. I had wondered why Rush had retired when all of them were still in fighting form as players. Perhaps this was part of it. I loved the joint statement issued from Lee/Lifeson, I recommend Rush fans seek it out for solace.
Despite having three virtuoso’s in the band, Rush never seemed to get the respect they so richly deserved. Dismissed by critics and ignored by radio they had to make it the old fashioned way – touring, including a stint opening for Kiss. Rush was considered a Prog-Rock band because of the long, multi-suite songs but they could equally be considered hard rock. For me, if a Rush song didn’t have numbered subtitles, like say, 2112, I wasn’t interested. I wanted to hear a 13 minute song with all the different chord changes – give me “Xanadu” every day. “2112” was basically one song that lasted the entire side of an album. The bedrock of their sound was Peart’s drumming. He was perhaps rock’s greatest drummer. Some may argue Bonham or Moon, but I’m on the Peart band wagon. I had never seen a drum kit with that many drums. Unlike most drum solos – which is usually when I head to the bathroom and then the beer line (rinse/repeat) – Peart’s drum solos were often the highlight of a Rush concert. I wasn’t going anywhere when Lee and Lifeson left the stage. It was like Mozart with sticks in his hands instead of a baton.
Rush may have never gotten the love of the critics or radio (at least early on), but for us males of a certain age, Rush was one of THE bands. I can’t count the number of text messages I’ve got from friends mourning Peart’s passing. It’s virtually impossible to relate how much this band meant to us. From 1976’s 2112 to 1981’s Moving Pictures we were obsessed with this band. All The World’s A Stage from that time period remains one of my favorite live albums. The guitar, Geddy Lee’s high pitched vocals, the drums, Peart’s lyrics… although I will say he went a little heavy into the failed philosophy of Ayn Rand. The amount of “air-guitaring” and “air-drumming” that accompanied these guys is incalculable.
While I was always vaguely aware of Rush, it wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I actually heard an entire Rush LP. This guy I knew, I’ll call him Bobby (name changed to protect the guilty), was an “oops baby” considerably younger than his siblings. His parents were older and had basically given up. He had a bedroom and living room of his own upstairs. It was almost like he was a boarder and not a son. At one point he had a ladder pushed up against the back of his house and we’d bypass his “parental units” and just climb the ladder up to his apartment. His folks left town and he had a group of us over… he put on 2112 and I’m not sure, but I think it’s the first time I played air-guitar. I was so into it I partially tore off my thumbnail, proof that playing air-guitar is never a good idea… especially if Liam Gallagher can see you, but that’s another post.
I went out and bought 2112 immediately. Through high school my friend Matthew turned me onto a ton of Rush, he was a big fan. It was through him that I discovered the overlooked Caress of Steel. There’s an epic track on that album, “The Necromancer” that may be my favorite song of their’s. It’s the story of three fierce warriors, “Men of Willowdale” who go and fight the bad guy, the titular Necromancer. Men feel a need to quote songs and movies and for me, “The Necromancer” is one of those highly quotable songs. I’ve used the phrase “weakening the body and saddening the mind” since I was in high school. I love that phase of Neil Peart’s lyric writing.
I had a disparate crowd of misfits I hung out with and later in high school I was hanging out with a guy I’ll call Mike (name changed to protect the guilty) who had a mint condition older Mustang. He’d really put a lot into this car. The stereo was no exception in his spending and it was literally mind blowing. He had two small speakers mounted on the frame, on the arms that hold the roof up, and we’d blast the album Moving Pictures at top volume. I probably suffered most my hearing loss in that car… Alas, Mike was too big a fan of the hookah and treble for my tastes… bass, Mike, turn up the bass…but because of him I bought that album and it remains a favorite.
I went on to see Rush six times in concert. There were two levels to the Rush experience for me. First, you had to hear them on the headphones. The second was in concert. The first show I saw them at in 1981 was on the Moving Pictures tour and I was really disappointed. I saw them again in 1983 and they were awesome. Every time I saw them afterwards they, in the words of my friend Stormin, “brought down the sky.” I remember crashing to the floor, right up by the stage in 1983 right before they launched into “Temples of Syrinx” for the encore. Lee and Lifeson stood nose to nose in front of Peart’s drum kit. Peart scowled down from up there… they paused for a moment and then tore the roof off of Kemper Arena.
As I sit here today and think about Rush and Neil Peart’s massive contributions to rock and roll I can’t help but realize most of the stories occurring to me involve hanging out with friends. Maybe that’s why we “men of a certain age” are so fond of Rush. They were the sound track to that communal “dude” period of our lives, when we were surrounded by like minded miscreants, with our future’s entirely open in front of us. Rush’s lyrics conjured fantasy worlds and Sci-Fi that spoke to us, that said, anything can happen. The music rocked and will be a part of my make up for the rest of my life.
When it comes to drummers like Neil Peart and a band like Rush, they just don’t make ’em like that anymore. I feel, like most people, that the world of Rock N Roll has suffered a deep and tragic loss. I can say the news that he’d passed yesterday certainly had the effect of “weakening the body and saddening the mind” for me. While Peart had retired, he will still be missed. I know I’ve been cranking Rush for about 24 hours now and somehow, it’s making me feel a little better. Devil horns up to all of you out there in Rush-land today!
Its a long dark ride out there folks. To quote Brad Pitt, “if you have the chance to be kind to someone, take it.”