Witness Rush Drummer Neil Peart’s (RIP) Finest Moments On Stage and Screen

Rush drum­mer and lyri­cist Neil Peart died this past Tues­day at age 67. Trib­utes have poured in from bands like Tool, Foo Fight­ers, and Super­chunk and appeared in the pages of The New York­er, a tes­ta­ment to Peart’s sta­tus as both a musi­cian and writer. Drum­mers of all gen­res revere him, even if they don’t quite get the breadth of lit­er­ary, mytho­log­i­cal, and philo­soph­i­cal ref­er­ences in the band’s dense, epic song cycles.

Nor have Peart’s lit­er­ary admir­ers always under­stood his tech­ni­cal vir­tu­os­i­ty behind the kit. But it was nev­er nec­es­sary to ful­ly grok his bril­liant con­tri­bu­tions to Rush’s out­put to appre­ci­ate them—from his first album with the band, 1975’s Fly by Night, to his last, 2012’s Clock­work Angels. Cer­tain­ly not all Rush fans shared Peart’s one­time fond­ness for the work of Ayn Rand, which influ­enced the band’s 1976 break­out album, 2112. Peart lat­er claimed her work “no longer res­onat­ed with him,” as Annie Zales­ki writes at NPR, and called him­self a “bleed­ing heart lib­er­tar­i­an.”

Yet even fans who loathe Atlas Shrugged don’t seem to feel the influ­ence undu­ly com­pro­mised Peart’s cre­ativ­i­ty. His influ­ences were vast and his “love of lit­er­a­ture and rev­er­ence for his­to­ry deeply informed his song­writ­ing… he became known for his philo­soph­i­cal mus­ings on road life and rest­less souls; cri­tiques of pow­er and greed; fan­ta­sy-tinged vignettes; and inci­sive polit­i­cal and social com­men­tary, cloaked in metaphor.” For all their self-seri­ous­ness, Rush wasn’t immune to humor either.

2012 was all of these things, with a sprawl­ing, epic fan­ta­sy/s­ci-fi, 20-minute open­ing title track, fol­lowed by an ode to pot called “A Pas­sage to Bangkok,” in which Peart names “var­i­ous cities and coun­tries around the world where it is cul­ti­vat­ed,” The New York­er’s Aman­da Petru­sich writes, and pro­claims “We only stop for the best!” Rush could wink at their goofi­ness while also ful­ly embrac­ing it with­out reser­va­tion, in “a kind of fuck-it aban­don.”

Rush assem­bled an audi­ence not by “exten­sive radio play or crit­i­cal adu­la­tion or cor­po­rate posi­tion­ing” but good old word of mouth from dumb­struck fans. They did secure their first U.S. record deal through radio play, how­ev­er, right after Peart joined the band in 1974. Don­na Halper—then a DJ at Cleve­land radio sta­tion WMMS, now an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of media stud­ies at Les­ley Uni­ver­si­ty—played their sin­gle “Work­ing Man,” which “prompt­ly took off,” notes Zales­ki.

Halper explains why Peart earned the nick­name “The Pro­fes­sor,” say­ing that “above all, his lyrics made peo­ple think—Rush fans were lib­er­al, con­ser­v­a­tive, reli­gious, non-religious—but they all unit­ed around their respect for the band and their admi­ra­tion for how Neil could artic­u­late their expe­ri­ences, or give them a new way to look at an issue.”

As a musi­cian, Peart made thou­sands of drum­mers feel the same way. “I still vivid­ly remem­ber my first lis­ten of 2112, when I was young,” Dave Grohl wrote on the Foo Fight­ers Insta­gram page. “It was the first time I real­ly lis­tened to a drum­mer. And since that day, music has nev­er been the same.” Foo Fight­ers’ drum­mer Tay­lor Hawkins had a more suc­cinct state­ment: “Neil Peart had the hands of God. End of sto­ry.”

Peart’s own sto­ry may have end­ed but his musi­cal and lyri­cal lega­cy will out­live us all. See clips of his incred­i­ble per­for­mances over the years above—on stages around the world and the set of David Let­ter­man, in tours de force that show off not only his tech­ni­cal mas­tery, but also show how his drum­ming drew on as broad a range of influ­ences as his song­writ­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Who Are the Best Drum Soloists in Rock? See Leg­endary Per­for­mances by Neil Peart (RIP), John Bon­ham, Kei­th Moon, Ter­ry Bozzio & More

Iso­lat­ed Drum Tracks From Six of Rock’s Great­est: Bon­ham, Moon, Peart, Copeland, Grohl & Starr

Watch John Bonham’s Blis­ter­ing 13-Minute Drum Solo on “Moby Dick,” One of His Finest Moments Live Onstage (1970)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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