What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
In my mind, the definition of a “dream” is the difference between what you are and what you want to be. When Ginger Baker passed away a few months back, I made mention of my roots as a musician. I was always fascinated by music, and I jumped at the first opportunity in school I got to take up an instrument. I was originally a string guy; my first instrument was the violin, which eventually led to the bass. But my real passion proved to be the drums. The reasons for that are numerous, but I believe the one foremost on the list is my age.
As a child of the “classic rock” era, and originally being a “classic” strings musician, it would take a while for me to come to the electric bass I play to this day and the many virtuosos it had in that era. When you’re 13, you don’t understand subtlety yet, which comes in handy when understanding the proficiency of great bassists. In contrast, the “classic rock” era provided so many drummers whose greatness was plainly obvious.
Keith Moon was flamboyant. John Bonham was polished. Charlie Watts was precise. Ian Paice was musical; probably because he was also a classic strings guy. Bun E. Carlos might have been the coolest, and I certainly borrowed a bit from all of them. I took it it as high praise when musicians I was in bands with would compare me favorably to those drum heroes.
But more than anything, the dream was to capture the sound of Neil Peart.
Now that he’s gone, the usual gushing has begun, and perhaps I’m guilty of that as well. But to me, the thing that set Peart apart as a musician wasn’t his technical mastery of percussion. It was his cerebral approach to music in general. Yes, Peart was a technician in a world full of rock drummers who did little more than count to four and hit something hard, but Peart took percussion beyond the realm of time-keeping.
The “power trio” is the haiku of rock music; the format is at once limiting in choices of arrangement, but it also forces a degree of musicianship which can open a universe beyond the metronomic rhythm section and dueling “effect pedal” guitars sprouting from the “twelve-bar blues-rock” flower pot. Rush was the essential example of that, and Neil Peart was the one who made that possible.
Don’t misunderstand me. That’s not to take anything away from Alex Lifeson, who for my money gets consistently overlooked when the discussion comes to great rock ax-men of all time, and Geddy Lee has more musicianship in three of his toes than the entirety of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But Peart was the mortar that held those bricks together to form the sonic wall of sound which was Rush.
That’s because Peart’s percussion stylings were like a musical octopus whose tentacles touched every facet of a song; at once he could weave a delicate hi-hat line through the melody while his right foot was delivering precision bombing to the bottom end. That freed Lee’s bass from the standard confines of bridging rhythm and melody, and once those walls were gone the exceptional virtuosity of Lifeson, Lee, and Peart knew no bounds.
As a dedicated “Rush-o-phile” I understand many rock fans run “hot and cold” on the Canadian trio. To me, Rush was the musical equivalent of “Monty Python Flying Circus;” you either understood their genius or you didn’t and it really wasn’t a topic for explanation. In turn, Rush fans have a similar relationship with the album “Caress of Steel.” It didn’t sell well; in fact it almost got the band dropped by it’s record company. But it also was a “preview of coming attractions” of what Rush was going to be with Peart as a songwriter.
It kicks off with the note-heavy, power-chord thunder of “Bastille Day,” which for my money is the world’s first “speed metal” track. Then there’s the “Top-40 friendly” lilt known as “Lakeside Park.” The entire “B” side of that album was ground-breaking in the sense that a band who had really been cast as a “heavy metal” act could take “prog rock” to a new level, and Peart played a huge role in writing all of it.
The best description of Rush I ever heard came from Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters.
“If you liked the musicianship of Yes and the power of Black Sabbath, then Rush was for you.”
That would have never happened without Neil Peart. In my mind, I picture Rush without Peart sounding like a slightly harder version of Grand Funk Railroad., That wouldn’t have been a bad thing, but it also wouldn’t have been iconic. Peart was the difference between Rush being “good” and “great;” he took them to the limelight where they lived the universal dream.
And he was a fan of the Montreal Expos.
RIP, Neil Ellwood Peart. You will be missed, but never forgotten…though it’s just a memory, some memories last forever.
P.S. Neil Peart has also been immortalized as one of our Sports Doppelgangers.
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With the passing of both he and Baker, the world just got a little quieter.
There’s a great old documentary on Rush on Netflix if you feel like geeking out to their music and seeing some great old footage.
I love that throughout their band’s history, Peart was always known as “the new guy.”
Here’s my take on Peart for those who are so inclined…