Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published January 11th 2020
Vale, Neil Peart
After a long battle with brain cancer, Neil Peart has passed away, aged 67.
The announcement on Rush's official Twitter feed.
For many people, that name will not mean a great deal. But it should. Peart was one of rock's great drummers, pounding the skins for one of the greatest bands to ever come out of Canada – Rush. But he was so much more than that. He was also the band's primary songwriter, and his way around a lyric was poetic. It was bassist Geddy Lee who sang Peart's lyrics, and he always said he was amazed by what the man could write.
They struck the world's consciousness with two hits songs, but they had a career that lasted over 45 years (though Peart joined after their first album, halfway through 1974) and produced some wonderful, masterful albums and songs during that time. It is a shame that so many of their great work just went unnoticed by the world at large.
This list, therefore, is just to be some of my favourite Rush songs to give us a chance to remember the talent we have lost.
'2112 Overture – The Temples Of Syrinx' (1976)
Title track from a frankly bonkers album with a story that even I, a person who reads and writes fantasy as par for the course, have trouble making heads and tails of. I think it's a concept album, but… wow. Still, the lyrics are beyond the normal "moon-spoon-June" stuff and are really deep and incredible, and the musicianship… wow. Even as far back as the mid-70s, they were showing the world that they were one of the best trios in all of rock music.
No, not the ELO/Olivia Newton-John title track from the film, but a song directly influenced and related to the famous Coleridge poem Kubla Khan. (Quick admission, one of the short stories I've sold was also based on the same poem, and I had this song playing in the background while I was writing it a lot of the time.) I mean, we are talking an 11-minute epic here. So, sure, the lyrics are derived from an awesome poem ("In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasuredome decree…" and so on), but the music is incredible. I listen to songs like this and wonder why they were not better known in the world.
'The Spirit Of Radio' (1980)
The first track to make an impact on the world, their biggest seller and highest chart performer outside of Canada, this is the first Rush song I heard and is still one of my very favourite ones. It is a song that is just so awesome, from music to lyrics to Geddy's remarkable voice. But the lyrics! Alluding to Simon and Garfunkel and celebrating the power of radio (for younger readers, it was what we used to listen to, to hear the latest music or older sings), it is probably one of their more accessible songs as well.
'Natural Science' (1980)
A song protesting against the destruction of the natural environment… recorded 40 years ago! So, to give you an idea of how long the warnings that the world is headed for climate destruction have been going on - here is proof it's been a lo-o-ong time. If we'd done something in 1980, then maybe we wouldn't be in such dire straits now… and that's my political rant for this column. A much gentler track than many others in this list, with an acoustic opening, and it does go for over 9 minutes, but it is still a powerful song with some more great lyrics.
Another song based on a piece of writing that is considered classic – in this case Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage…" passage from As You Like It – which Peart uses to indicate his unhappiness with the band's growing public profile. It still sounds as strong and powerful now as it did almost 40 years ago. An underappreciated track.
'Tom Sawyer' (1981)
The second track to make an impact around the world. I have come to know a few Canadians and where we in Australia had Jimmy Barnes' 'Working Class Man' as our unofficial national anthem (or John Farnham's 'You're The Voice' or Daryl Braithwaite's 'The Horses') in the 1980s, they had this track. What a track to be remembered by, by a wider audience. Just glorious.
A track that is a rant against conformism. This was my favourite Rush track for a long time. I love the music and the lyrics are awesome. I mean, this:
"Growing up, it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided…"
Superb. Just superb.
'Distant Early Morning' (1984)
Though maybe a little synthesiser heavy, this is still a powerful track, doing what Van Halen were doing at the same time (as on the album 1984), only with a heavier sound overall. The lyrics are quite complex – I think, in the end, it is a protest song, but that is really a guess. Still, great track.
'One Little Victory' (2002)
I love the opening of this song. From their first album of the 2000s Vapor Trails, it is like Rush decided to ignore the synthesisers that had so long been a part of their sound and just go all-out. This is a straight-ahead rock song, and Peart's drumming is as good as it ever was in this track. That's probably why I like it so much. The drumming is front and centre. The lyrics are pretty good as well, but that music, the pounding beat, it is awesome.
'The Garden' (2012)
From Rush's final album Clockwork Angels… what a way to end an era. With a melodic piece reflecting on life and death. This is a beautiful piece of music that did not make an impact under the weight of rubbish music pouring out of America and swamping us all. I mean, these lyrics:
"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…"
They are a wonderful way to remember Neil Peart's ability.
Neil Peart has left a legacy of so many great and even awesome songs. With his passing, I hope there is a re-appraisal of all he has given to the world of music. Vale, Neil Peart… and thank-you.