Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5)
A day came today that I never wanted to see.
My hero, Neil Peart, has retired…meaning that Rush is no more.
Neil told Drumhead Magazine that he had retired.
It brought my entire day to a screeching halt. And I cried.
You see, Neil has been my “hero” since I was 12 and my friend Tim Houser’s friend whose name I can’t remember let me borrow a copy of “Moving Pictures”. For a kid who loved playing drums and had zero self-esteem, finding Rush and Neil’s incredible playing was like manna straight from heaven. I suddenly had someone to whom I could look up to in an area where I had a lot of interest. I also had a bar to which I could continually try to reach that encouraged me to play more, practice more and strive harder.
Rush became my best friend for many years. There were many Friday and Saturday nights when I was home alone with Geddy and Alex and Neil. Nights that I would stay in the basement and pound away on “La Villa Strangiato” or “Marathon” or “Mystic Rhythms” or “Superconductor” or “YYZ” or “Limelight” or … well, pretty much any album that came out before I left home in 1993 for parts out west.
I took treks of hours and hours to see them live. I would camp out in front of the record stores on release day…usually the only one…just to get my hands on the first copy of the new album.
Before I came to Christ, I even had a joke. “Who’s better, Neil Peart or God?” Then when someone would pick one, I’d say “Wrong! Neil Peart is God!” (Remember, not a Christian then!)
I mean…I even named my cat Neil.
Over the years, in my worst moments, I always turned to Rush. Many nights I spent laying there listening to their music trying to escape whatever pain was in my life. I would get in the car, turn up the volume, pop in 2112 and try to let myself fly away.
And the lyrics that Neil would write…they reached me. “Subdivisions” could have been the story of my youth.
His lyrics were not stuff like “Party in the USA” and lame odes to women’s body parts. No, these were words that made you think. Feel. Grow.
For example, here’s a favorite passage of mine from “Marathon”:
From first to last
The peak is never passed
Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes
One moment’s high, and glory rolls on by
Like a streak of lightning
That flashes and fades in the summer sky
He was inspired by classical literature…he read. He recommended books to the people that followed the band.
He was the prime thinking man in a thinking man’s band.
Neil was who I was inspired to me as a drummer and writer. He set a very high bar and I’m not ashamed to say I never reached it because honestly, the man has been the best drummer in the world for 40 years. The best ever. No shame in not measuring up.
I knew he was getting older. When he disappeared after Test For Echo following the death of his wife and daughter and it looked like things were done for the band, I mourned the idea I would never see him play live again. When the word came out that he was coming back and that Rush was in the studio, I didn’t care what they produced. It could have been a disc of kids nursery rhymes as far as I was concerned.
When Vapor Trails came out…it was like the second coming for me. (Yes, I see it differently now…but Rush’s return meant that much to me in a difficult time.)
When the band released their last studio album, Clockwork Angels, I remember saying to some friends that if it was going to be their last studio album they were going out on top. To me, it’s a masterwork, on par with 2112 and Moving Pictures. Considering Moving Pictures was released in 1981 and Clockwork was in 2013, I didn’t see them sticking around 21 more years to create another masterwork.
Then the tour came, and I saw that tour not knowing it was the last time I would get to see them, and reveled in every second of the show. I spent much more money than I should have to be on the floor 20 rows from the stage…the best seat I’d ever had at a Rush show. It was 3 hours of nirvana.
Now, there won’t be one more show.
They did go out on top with Clockwork Angels. My comment, while a wish for them to go out on top without wanting them to actually go, ended up to be a melancholy premonition.
And now, on December 7, 2015, my hero made it official that he is no longer fretting on the stage.
And there is a big, dark, empty stage in my life.
I know he’s not dead. He’s just retired.
And I know that he deserves to be happy with his family and to enjoy the laurels that come with the fruits of his many years of labor.
But it’s a loss.
Knowing that my friend who carried me through so much of the worst times of my life has gone away, never to return. Through losing jobs. Broken hearts. Divorces. Burned down apartments. Neil and Rush were always there. And I always had the hope even when times looked bad, as silly as this sounds, that there would be a new Rush album and a new tour for me to see.
And now, there is no more of that hopeful flame flickering.
So Neil, good bye. And thank you.
And if you ever decide you want to come back, I’ll be here.