The hardest words I read on Friday, January 10, 2020 when I double checked Neil Peart’s page on Wikipedia: “Neil Peart was…”
Clearly it had to be a hoax. Neil, in my mind, was immortal. Such news would never come to pass.
I was wrong.
Over the past week, I’ve been going over in my head; OK, what WAS Neil Peart? He was a hero to so many; something he was never to afraid to tell the world made him uncomfortable. He was greatness. He was someone’s family. He was a gentle soul.
Neil was a drummer.
For decades upon decades, he mastered his art – drumming. He’d playfully describe himself as just a guy who “hit things with sticks,” but he never found a comfortable place in his career and phoned it in. He took pride in his efforts. Always giving the best he could give at a show; playing with ear infections, tendinitis, and a bout of a nasty foot infection.
He continued to learn and evolve his craft despite the fact that for so many years he was deemed the BEST EVER. He was. I’m not sure we’ll ever see anyone else like him; certainly not in my lifetime.
Neil was a writer.
Not only did he pen almost all of the Rush catalog of lyrics (which made us THINK!), but he had quite a talent for logging his hundreds of thousands of miles traveling through roads rarely traveled all over the world on two wheels.
He painted pictures of his travels with words, which I can imagine have inspired many an-adventurer. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his books and blog posts. On his terms, he was opening up his very private life and letting us in. He took great care in his writing, and it showed.
Neil was a husband and father.
Twice over, Neil was a family man. Brought up in a typical middle-class family, he maintained those values through his lifetime.
He was a fiercely private man and kept his family affairs close to home. After the tragic loss of his first wife and daughter, he went on his way to find himself again; and once found, he married once again and had another little girl.
I found it fitting that, being in a rock band with two other guys, his nuclear families were all women. Just as he was the protector of his own privacy, it conjured up an image of the Papa bear with his girls. Always the protector, but a very gentle husband and father.
A quote that touched me was when referring what was a deciding factor in his stepping back from touring. Referring to his 6-year-old, at the time: “I can stand missing her. I can’t stand her missing me.”
Neil was a son and a brother.
I don’t think Neil could have had a more normal and average upbringing. His parents supported him when he showed interest in drumming and, as any middle-class family would in the 60s, had to help make those dreams come true in drips and drabs as could be afforded.
They saved up for lessons, for the pieces to that very first drum kit, they grinned and bared all the noise that first kit made; I could only imagine! We tend to forget our heroes lives before they became our heroes.
Just as Neil had to bear the weight of losing a child, so now does his own parents; losing their first born. His siblings losing their brother. We grieve for our loss, but we mustn’t forget to grieve for their loss, as well.
Neil was Neil.
Neil Peart, I could safely say, is a drumming hero first and foremost for the general base of his following. He has inspired generations of drummers, writers, travelers, and will inspire generations to come.
But, for me, he’s always been more of a kindred spirit. I came to my obsession with RUSH in my mid-30s. My youth was not shaped by their music, my young adult choices were not inspired by any of their choices in their careers. I was an ordinary wife and mom when the bug bit me.
Of course, the music is what grabbed me right away, but as I learned more and more about WHO the trio was, the more I was enthralled. I gravitated to Neil, naturally because I love drummers. I think I have more favorite drummers than I do singers, bassists, or guitarists. I poked around gathering what little information was available about his private life.
I decided to read Ghost Rider which was basically his travel journal after the loss of Jackie and Selena, after he had considered himself retired from RUSH, after he didn’t know what else to do but ride away. It was in those pages, on his terms, he let us in. He told his story, shared his pain, explained who he was.
It was the ordinary that interested me more than the extraordinary. He was inherently shy and uncomfortable with being singled out. He kept his own heroes at arms length because he didn’t understand the need to be a PART of their world. He appreciated them from afar.
He reveled in his time alone and didn’t compromise his privacy under the weight of pressure from fans, management, or record labels. If one were to have been so fortunate to have met him in person, it was either by his choice or because they didn’t know who he was!
Because of his unwillingness to become part of the fandom machine, some had described him as arrogant, rude, or pretentious. From all of the outpouring of love and loss this past week, we know he was quite the contrary.
A common thread of those closest to him who have spoken publicly has been stories of special visits with long conversations. Hugs and “I love yous” before parting ways. Long, detailed, thoughtful correspondence via traditional letters or email.
He was a man that seemed to truly make the extra effort for those he cared for and who he knew were his true friends. It is THAT part of him that interests me, inspires me, and challenges me to make time for those who care.
My heart is certainly heavy and very broken with his loss. A loss that has cemented all loss of hope for the RUSH family to one day be reunited in the midst of our beloved trio, but we continue on with a long legacy The Professor has left us and the generations we will pass it on to.
“Through the void
To be destroyed
Or is there something more?
Atomized, at the core
Or through the astral door
~ Cygnus X-1