In 2010 or thereabouts, on a trip to Wal-Mart (I want to say it was to buy StarCraft II), my father reached into a bargain CD bin and pulled something out. “Have you ever heard this?” he asked. I hadn’t. “You’ll like it.” I did.
It was, of course, Moving Pictures, the seminal work from the progenitors of progressive metal, Rush. As a drummer, he suspected I’d appreciate their brilliantly talented rhythm section, as I obviously did, but there was something else in there, too.
As a deeply nerdy teenager attempting to find a place in the world, Rush resonated with me in a way nothing else had before. It wasn’t until later that I learned that that had, essentially, been what they’d been doing for over 30 years by that point. To the outcast, ostracized, and tragically unhip, Rush were the beacon. Rush “got it,” because Rush were it. They knew how hip it was to be square long before Huey Lewis did.
After devouring Moving Pictures front to back, I went on to pick up a best-of and added everything to my constantly-repeated playlist which to that point primarily consisted of “stuff my parents listen to” and the odd video game soundtrack. And a few years after that when Clockwork Angels came out, I immediately picked that up, too. I thought it was incredible. I still do.
While the virtuosity and impact of Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee is not to be understated, anyone will agree that the lifeblood of Rush was always Neil Peart. As the drummer he laid down consistently inventive and technically impressive beats, fills, and solos that easily placed him among the ranks of not only the legendary rock drummers like Keith Moon and John Bonham, but the jazz legends like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, as well. Instantly recognizable and impossible to emulate, Neil Peart was the quintessential prog drummer, even when Rush wasn’t making progressive music. But they always were, weren’t they?
The depth and weight of their music is not only due to the musical proficiency on display, but also to the lyrics set to it. Starting in 1975, Neil became the chief lyricist for the band, causing the band to take a huge leap from “Hey, baby, it’s a quarter to eight, I feel I’m in the mood” to “By-Tor, knight of darkness, centurion of evil” in less than a year. And while it’s true he wrote lyrics about wizards, spaceships, and talking trees, he was also writing about the human spirit, what it means to be free, and how the ordinary person can make a difference. While the legions of nerds that flocked to the band in the ’80s may have been brought in by songs about Sauron or black holes, they stayed because of the songs like Subdivisions or Mission that made them feel like they weren’t alone.
The R40 concert in Phoenix was the first concert I ever bought a ticket for with my own money, and the only time I ever got to see them. I didn’t understand at the time that it was the end of their story, but in hindsight it was pretty well telegraphed that this was it. The concert was a nearly religious experience, and shortly after it I bought every Rush CD I could get my hands on. This was just before I went off to college.
Rush became the soundtrack to my first year of college, and was the only thing that staved off the pervasive loneliness that arises when one leaves home for the first time. Songs like Far Cry, Prime Mover, and Grand Designs still remind me of walking around campus in the winter, feeling cold and moderately terrified of the unsavory characters that permeate Las Vegas late in the evening, but not wanting to return to my room that felt a bit like a prison. It’s certainly melodramatic to say so, but Rush’s music was really the only friend I had that first semester.
In the ensuing years I fully embraced my love for the band, forcibly introducing any friends I made to their music. I taped posters up all over my dorm room, blasted Rush records for the enjoyment of the people walking by in the hallway, and went to see Rush documentaries in the theater. I titled all of my essays after lyrics from Rush songs, bought and read all of Neil’s books, started a vaguely Rush-themed blog, and ran a Dungeons and Dragons campaign based on Clockwork Angels. I was, and remain, fully entrenched. I know that, to many of my friends and loved ones, I’m the person who pops into their mind when they see or hear anything related to Rush. I consider this a great honor.
I owe nearly all of my present music taste to Rush; without them I’d not have found my current favorites like Dream Theater, Neal Morse, or Ayreon, or nearly any other progressive rock bands. Because, as few understand, while bands like King Crimson or The Moody Blues may have invented prog, it was Rush, and more specifically Neil Peart, who made it matter. The headiness, extravagance, and ethereal nature of progressive music was made relatable to the average nerd by Neil Peart, through Rush’s music. He knew the struggle of the geek, and wanted to make music that people who enjoyed things like 2001: A Space Odyssey or who knew what the word “Demogorgon” meant could connect with.
Neil Peart’s life wasn’t a simple one — the tremendous personal losses he suffered in the late ’90s nearly spelled the end of the band, but ultimately the music brought him back the same way it brought light to the millions of ravenous Rush fans who never let piles of bad reviews spoil their love for the weird. On their final tour he endured severe physical stress from the various ailments that come from being the greatest drummer alive for four decades, but he didn’t let it stop him. He was deeply private, rarely appearing in an interview or another situation that would require him to deal with having praise heaped on him. He didn’t even ride the tour bus with the band, preferring to explore the world from the seat of a motorcycle. Even when he fell deathly ill, he wouldn’t trouble his fans with knowing so. He was, is, and always will be a legend.
Thank you, to the Professor, to the Watchmaker, to the Necromancer, to Pratt, Peke, Bubba, and the Ghost Rider. To the working man, and the new world man.
Thank you, Neil Peart. Rest well.