Neil Peart, the legendary drummer and songwriter, has passed away at the age of 67 after quietly battling brain cancer for the past 3 years.
When the notification popped up on my phone, I audibly gasped. It reminded me of the scene in Freaks & Geeks where Jason Segel’s character comes to school all bummed out because John Bonham had just died.
Peart (and Bonham) occupied that very top tier of rock drummers – he really was one of the all-time greats. A brilliant lyricist and incredibly competent player, no doubt, but I think what made him so special were the drum parts he wrote. He had a sound that you instantly knew was Neil Peart. His famous drumkit (which I once read was rumoured to be worth $80,000) was totally unique and he used it to make equally-unique parts. In a three-piece prog outfit like Rush, the role of the drummer can’t be understated. In fact, it’s one of the few situations in which the drummer may be more important than the singer, and Rush would not have been the band they were without Neil’s genius. It’s why Modern Drummer magazine placed him at number 3 on their list of the greatest drummers of all time in 2014.
In one of his books he talked about how, at a point well into his career, he realized he had some bad habits to his playing, so he started taking lessons again. At this time Rush was selling out stadiums, he was already considered one of the best ever, and yet he had the humility to go back to the beginning and allow a drum teacher to show him how to better hold his sticks. He talked about how he would start warming up weeks before a tour because Rush’s shows were 3 ½ hours long and he needed to build the stamina to make it through, including nightly performances of his legendary drum solos.
If you ever had the chance to attend one of those shows, count yourself lucky because we’re unlikely to see talent like his reach such heights as Rush did. Monster drummers like Neil Peart come along once in a generation, and prog bands will probably never achieve mainstream success or fill stadiums ever again. Rush did, and Neil did.
And best of all, Canada got to call him our own.