On January 7th, the music world lost one of it’s most celebrated and talented drummers and lyricists, Neil Ellwood Peart, OC. He had been fighting brain cancer quietly for the last three-and-a-half years. He is survived by his wife, Carrie Nutall and their daughter, Olivia. Neil was known as, ‘The Professor’ for his precise and seemingly unreal drumming technique which has been air-drummed by thousands of fans at every single concert for decades. He was also a gifted writer, not only of his band, Rush‘s lyrics, but chronicling his journeys by motorcycle throughout the world in a series of books . He was 67 years old.
Peart joined Rush in 1974, replacing their first drummer John Rutsey. The impact was immediate on their second album, 1975’s Fly By Night. Gone was an album full of standard pub rock-and-roll, now it was intermixed with songs culled from J.R.R. Tolkien and Ayn Rand. Peart stayed chief lyricist throughout the entire 45+ year span that Rush recorded and toured. Tracks with longer running times and greater musical complexity began with By-Tor and The Snow Dog from this album, then their follow up was released in the same year, Caress Of Steel, having the entire second side dedicated to the epic track, “The Fountain of Lamneth”. Their label weren’t satisfied with their progress and told them to make a more commercial album or they would be dropped. The band didn’t bow to the pressure and released the controversial, 2112, which Peart drew lyrical inspiration from the Ayn Rand novel, The Fountainhead. History now sees Rand in a completely different light and so did Peart years after, stating many times he was an acolyte of hers no more. 2112 was a major turning point for the band by having another side long multi-layered song and also cementing them firmly on major market radio stations, picking up their profile and changing minds at headquarters. Commercial seas were ahead for the band with mainstay tracks like, “Closer To The Heart”, “Spirit of Radio” and of course what came to be their signature song, “Tom Sawyer”.
Peart suffered two devastating personal losses in quick succession. His 19-year old daughter, Selena, was killed in an auto accident on her way to University in Toronto on 10 August 1997. Almost a year later, Selena’s mother and Peart’s common-law wife of 23-years, Jackie Taylor, was diagnosed with cancer and rapidly succumbed to it on 20 June 1998. Devastated by these losses, he told band mates, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, to consider him retired from the band and took off on his motorcycle for a trek across America to clear his head. He eventually did remarry to photographer Carrie Nutall in 2000 and the couple had a daughter, Olivia, in 2009. His return to Rush in 2001 after his self imposed hiatus was met with bliss from every fan of the band. They returned with the album Vapor Trails in 2002 and hit the road with all wheels squealing.
He announced his retirement from music in 2015. His tendonitis and issues with his shoulders forced an unbelievably talented musician to live his lyrics from the song, “Losing It”, ‘Sadder still to watch it die, than never to have known it’. Hope remained for fans and band mates alike, but the silence was shattered when Lifeson said in January 2018 that the band was, “basically done”. Knowing what we do now, Peart had already been diagnosed with his extremely aggressive brain cancer when that statement was made. He fought for three-and-a-half brave years. His passing was announced to the public on January 10th by Elliot Mintz, the families spokesperson. Alex and Geddy would make the following announcement about his passing on the official Rush website: “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.”
It’s hard to convey in words what Peart was. He was music. He was a poet. He was reclusive. He was intelligent. He was so many things to so many people. He was a tapestry woven of the finest material Earth had to offer.
“Summer’s going fast
Nights growing colder
Children growing up
Old friends growing older
A little bit longer
Make each sensation
A little bit stronger
Experience slips away
The innocence slips away“