Neil Peart, the legendary drummer and brilliant lyricist of Canadian rock trio Rush, died in Santa Monica, California on January 7, 2020 of glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. He was 67. After going strong for over 40 years and releasing 19 studio albums, Rush retired at the end 2015. Peart, meanwhile, reportedly had been quietly battling his illness over the last three and a half years.
Here’s the official statement, which was posted to Rush’s official social media accounts, from bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson.
It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terrible news that on Tuesday our friend, soul brother and band mate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three and a half year battle with brain cancer (Glioblastoma). We ask that friends, fans and media alike understandably respect the family’s need for privacy and peace at this extremely painful and difficult time. Those wishing to express their condolences can choose a cancer research group or charity of their choice and make a donation in Neil’s name.
Born on September 12, 1952 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and raised in the province’s St. Catharines, a 21-year-old Peart joined Rush in mid 1974 after the band had released their self-titled debut. During his long, successful career with Rush, which yielded 14 platinum albums, radio hits, world tours, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, the notoriously private musician also turned his attention to long-distance cycling and motorcycling, which he chronicled in seven published travelogues and memoirs. In 2002’s Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, he surprisingly opened up about coping with the grief of losing his 19-year-old daughter Selina as well as his wife Jackie less than a year later. Peart also collaborated with noted scifi novelist Kevin J. Anderson on “Drumbeats,” a short story published in 1985 in the Shock Rock II anthology, and on the novelization Rush’s 2012 album Clockwork Angels and the sequel Clockwork Lives (2015).
RIP Neil Peart
September 12, 1952 – January 7, 2020
As I’ve noted here many times before, Rush is my favorite band ever and has been since I was a small child. While I admire many musicians, artists, and creatives for their contributions, I worshipped Neil Peart. I’ve hung on his every word and lyric since childhood and he’s the reason why I sort out authors like Ayn Rand, Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and many more at such a young age. He also helped strengthen my vocabulary, that’s for sure!
His death has hit me hard, as it has for so many inspired and admired by the man over the last 40 years.
Rush: A Band For The Heart and Mind
Rush is often thought of as a thinking man’s band. While that may be true, I argue that the group could not have maintained their mass appeal for over 40 years had they not been able to in some way touch the heart and minds of the average listener. People unfamiliar with the Canadian rock trio detect the technical prowess displayed in a popular song like “Tom Sawyer” and presume their catalog of 19 studio albums is filled with consummate, yet soulless tunes churned out by robots.
Though their live shows offered little in the way of improvisation — there were no 20-minute masturbatory guitar jams — the band member’s acute awareness of each other’s contributions were far from cold perfection. Neil Peart was one of the greatest drummers of all time, an innovator in his field, and an inspiration to all drummers who came after him. What he accomplished behind the kit in his 67 years of life is nothing short of astounding, hence why there isn’t a league of Neil Peart imitators out there — it’s just not possible.
But it’s not because he was a machine, but rather because he was the rare musician who was able to successfully merge passion with precision. While it’s not surprising that a drummer of his caliber would perform a fantastic live solo, accomplishing technical feats equivalent to those of an Olympic athlete, what’s remarkable is that concert attendees would stay put to hear it instead of heading for the rest rooms or concession stands. At most rock concerts, the audience can be seen air guitaring along to songs, but Rush shows were notorious for the massive amount of air drumming. People don’t connect like that to “machines.”
Aside from Peart’s instrumental proficiency, he was also the band’s prime lyricist, with words inspired by history, philosophy, literature, and nature that general listeners often felt went over their heads. But if you really look at what Peart was saying, you’d find it’s not difficult to comprehend proclamations like “I will choose freewill” and “I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend” or relate to predicaments like those faced in “Subdivisions” (“Conform or be cast out”) and “Distant Early Warning” (“The world weighs on my shoulders, but what am I to do?). On 1981’s “Tom Sawyer,” Peart says of the protagonist, “No, his mind is not for rent/to any god or government/Always hopeful, yet discontent/He knows changes aren’t permanent/But change is” — a heavy sentiment indeed, yet still wholly relatable. On their famed 2112 concept album (inspired by Ayn Rand’s Anthem), Peart tells a woeful tale set in a totalitarian society devoid of music, art, literature, and individual thought where the leaders dash the hopes of a boy who discovers music for the first time. It’s a dreadful scenario to anyone who enjoys the arts, but an especially torturous one for the youngster first learning to play an instrument. In 1980, Rush ironically had a radio friendly hit with “The Spirit Of Radio,” even though in it Peart bashes the corrupt business side of the radio world (“glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity”) while simultaneously celebrating the magic of radio itself (“All this machinery making modern music can still be open-hearted”). And on 1978’s Hemispheres, a concept album based on Greek myth, the conflict between the gods Apollo and Dionysus and their respective followers is resolved when the heart and mind become harmoniously united. This story is a great analogy of Rush’s offerings — a perfect blend of thought and emotion.
Peart’s passing is a tremendous loss for fans of Rush and the thinking man’s band, as well as to music lovers the world over. Exit the warrior… Neil Peart. RIP Professor.
“We’re only immortal for a limited time.” – “Dreamline”
“Each of us, a cell of awareness, imperfect and incomplete.” – “Freewill”
“The most endangered species, the honest man, will still survive annihilation.” – Natural Science
“Philosophers and ploughmen, each must know his part, to sow a new mentality, closer to the heart” – “Closer To The Heart”
“Freeze this moment a little bit longer, make each sensation a little bit stronger” – “Time Stand Still”