We sometimes think strange thoughts about our heroes. I had pondered that question every once in a while about one of my heroes, Neil Peart, who loomed large as the most important drum teacher in my life. Not in person, of course. But via Rush’s extensive catalog, I – along with tens of thousands of other drummers – grew and learned a vast vocabulary under the tutelage of my “virtual” professor.
Sadly, the question that I had asked myself periodically over the years was answered all too abruptly last week when I learned, along with the rest of the world, that Peart had passed away from brain cancer on January 7 at 67 years young.
The copious outflow of meaningful mourning which erupted all across the internet in the wake of his death has been a testament to the legacy he left behind as a towering percussionist, lyricist, and human being.
In 2010, I wrote a review of Rush’s 1985 “Power Windows” album on Amazon. As an homage to the band, and especially to Neil, who – with that album and performance – lit a percussive fire in me that will likely remain lit until I’m old and gray, I offer it again here:
I am a big Rush fan and believe they are still in possession of most of their creative and musical powers. The issues of comparing this album to Moving Pictures or 2112 aren’t really fair in that the album production and head space of the band are wildly different in each case. If some people are narrow minded enough to think that all synths are inherently anti-rock, there’s nothing really to argue about.
As a drummer, though, I have to say that I think a transcription of Neil’s drum parts would reveal 1975 to 1985 as his golden years of creativity and prowess, with Power Windows its apogee. The fantastic drum arrangements on this album, all so inventive, purposeful, difficult and yet perfect for each song, are an education for any aspiring rock drummer. That they are all performed on the candy apple red Tama/Simmons/Zildjian kit that thousands of drummers identify as quintessential Peart, is icing on the cake. And if that weren’t enough, these lyrics are some of the finest in Neil’s career, coming off his period of being influenced by the greats of American literature (Hemingway, Steinbeck, Dos Passos, et al).
I won’t say following records go downhill. I will say they go down a different path. More groove-oriented, less musical stretching. (Note Rush purists, I didn’t say NO musical stretching, just LESS). Nothing wrong with that. That’s just the way they chose to go.
But I would like to tip my hat to this crowning gem of Neil’s super-creative years. It has brought me endless enjoyment over the years and now my young sons, budding musicians themselves, have listened and seem to understand this album’s intuitive appeal to the mind of anyone who can appreciate well-crafted rock music.
May “The Professor” rest in peace, and may his family and friends and two bandmates know comfort and consolation during this time.