YYZ – In honour of #Neil Peart. #MusicisLife #TedTocksCovers #Rush #DreamTheater

Today’s feature is less about a song and more about a man. A good and humble man who created his own path and did things his way. Neil Peart stayed true to his integrity from the day he decided to pursue his passion of music as a career. He never wavered. He is one of the greatest drummers who has ever lived. He is among my favourite lyricists and he is also among my favourite authors. Depending on what day you ask me I would struggle to tell you which aspect of this multi talented man’s career I respect the most. Today I will venture as to say it is the fact that he is the genuine article. There is nothing pretentious about Neil Peart and for that he will always have my utmost respect. 
From the day I first heard Rush I was drawn to the sound but enthralled by the lyrics. When I opened my first Rush album I was introduced to liner photos of this majestic man with long hair and a regal moustache. His drum set was jaw dropping. Everything about Rush appeared otherworldly and magical. The liner notes gave credit to songs as ‘lyrics by Peart; music by Lee and Lifeson’. From that day on I became infatuated by the songwriting process. Rush was the gateway for every bit of interest I have in music to this day. As a result, Neil Peart is the gatekeeper. He will never know and probably not really care but he truly he is where my love of music began. 

Living in a fish eye lens
Caught in the camera eye
I have no heart to lie
I can’t pretend a stranger
Is a long-awaited friend

Neil Peart

I have read all of his books and numerous blogs and I find his writing captivating. On his website he has a blog called ‘Bubba’s Book Club’. Here he does book reviews and he has introduced me to several great writers; perhaps my favourite is Nick Hornby. For that I am thankful. 
Neil Peart’s life has been a roller coaster of adversity, perseverance and new beginnings but through it all he stayed true to himself. It was never easy. His success as a drummer comes not so much from any sense of ‘god given’ talent but as a result of his focus, inner resolve and desire to be as good as he can possibly be. As a child he would go around the house drumming on things with a pair of chopsticks. When he was 13 his parents bought him a pair of drum sticks and a practice pad. The deal was if he stuck with practicing for a year they would buy him his own drum set. Peart lived up to his promise and for his 14th birthday he got a drum set. He took lessons from a local instructor named Don George. I had the pleasure of meeting Don George at my friend Sam’s gig several years ago and I asked him what stood out about Neil Peart as a student and as I recall he told me “there was no doubt he was talented but he was more impressed with how dedicated Neil was to be good.” In short there is nothing about Neil Peart’s ultimate success that surprised his first teacher. The running joke from Don George is “I was such a good teacher, Neil didn’t need another teacher for 30 years.” This is in reference to the fact that in many ways Neil was self taught, but by the early to mid ‘90s and at the suggestion of Steve Smith of Journey fame he employed the teachings of Freddie Gruber to teach him some new stylings and a completely different drumming grip. So twenty plus years into his career one of the best drummers ever literally tore it all down and built himself back up as a drummer. He taught himself to play all over again. Here is Neil Peart commenting on his teaching influences:

And he did—Don gave me a strong enough direction toward what I needed to know that I could follow it through those decades. Most of all, he gave me the encouragement that I could be a drummer, if I worked at it. Essentially, Don kept me climbing that mountain for three decades, until I needed Freddie Gruber and Peter Erskine to guide me to higher elevations.

Neil P

This speaks to Neil Peart’s humility. Where credit is due, credit is given. It is a frequent pattern in his life and yet another reason why I am attracted to his words. 
By 1974 after many trials and tribulations Neil Peart auditioned for the position of drummer for Rush; a role left vacant after the departure of John Rutsey who played on the band’s self titled album. Hilariously, Neil Peart drove from his home in St. Catharines to north Toronto to meet with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson in a beat up Ford Pinto with his drums stored in trash cans. It must have been a sight to see. Lee and Lifeson are on record as being divided over the impression Neil left on them. Lee liked Neil because they hit it off based on their musical preferences and taste in books. Lifeson wasn’t so sure. They agreed to give him a shot and from that day in late July, 1974 Neil Peart was ‘the new guy.’ He took on the role as Rush’s lyricist as well as percussionist extraordinaire and the rest is history. 
For me, I could relate my life from about the age of eleven to the present through passages from Rush songs and Neil Peart lyrics. Here is a passage from Subdivisions:

Growing up, it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass-production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out

Neil P

Speaking of resolve I can’t tell you how many times I have been faced with personal challenges and I have been able to turn to Neil’s lyrics for inspiration. I have spoken of his ability to persevere and this trait was borne out of necessity for him, as he faced a devastating series of personal tragedies in the late 1990s. His daughter was killed in a car accident in September of 1997 and approximately a year later his wife Jackie died of cancer. It was a horrible period for Neil Peart and he took some time to gather himself, travel on his motorcycle and above all write. It is this combination of events that led to a ton of personal reflection. Out of this tragedy a powerful book called ‘Ghost Rider’ emerged. He chronicled the events of his past and attempted to make sense of everything and piece things together in order to move forward. Incredibly he did not play the drums at all for close to three years. He was shattered and the drums became a symbol of guilt for times not spent with his daughter and wife. By 2000 he began to write lyrics for the Rush comeback album called ‘Vapour Trails’. While this is not one of Rush’s best records because of dubious production, the lyrics represent some of Neil Peart’s best. Here is a passage from the song ‘Ghost Rider’ which sets up the background of this time of Neil’s life. Read along and you can sense the evolution from hopelessness to healing. It is truly inspiring and it is a window into the depth of Neil Peart’s character. 

Pack up all those phantoms
Shoulder that invisible load
Keep on riding north and west
Haunting that wilderness road
Like a ghost rider
Carry all those phantoms
Through bitter wind and stormy skies
From the desert to the mountain
From the lowest low to the highest high
Like a ghost rider
Keep on riding North and West
Then circle South and East
Show me beauty, but there is no peace
For the ghost rider
Shadows on the road behind
Shadows on the road ahead
Nothing can stop you now
There’s a shadow on the road behind
There’s a shadow on the road ahead
Nothing can stop you now
Sunrise in the mirror
Lightens that invisible load
Riding on a nameless quest
Haunting that wilderness road
Like a ghost rider
Just an escape artist
Racing against the night
A wandering hermit
Racing toward the light
From the White Sands
To the Canyonlands
To the redwood stands
To the Barren Lands
Sunrise on the road behind
Sunset on the road ahead
There’s nothing to stop you now
Nothing can stop you now

Neil P

Back to the influence his lyrics have had on me in the way of personal inspiration and motivation here is ‘We Hold On’ from ‘Snakes and Arrows’. Again, not a commercially successful song or a song a Rush fan would raise as a prime example of their work, but a song that speaks to Neil Peart as a philosopher, a poet, a lyricist but mostly a genuine person with an incredible capacity for empathy and the ability to relate to the masses through his words.

How many times
Do we tire of all the little battles
Threaten to call it quits
Tempted to cut and run?
How many times
Do we weather out the stormy evenings
Long to slam the front door
Drive away into the setting sun?
Keep going on till dawn
How many times must another line be drawn?
We could be down and gone
But we hold on
Keep going on till dawn
How many times must another line be drawn?
We could be down and gone
But we hold on
How many times
Do we chaff against the repetition
Straining against the faith
Measured out in coffee breaks?
How many times
Do we swallow our ambition
Long to give up the same old way
Find another road to take?
Keep going on till dawn
How many times must another line be drawn?
We could be down and gone
But we hold on
Keep holding on so long
‘Cause there’s a chance that we might not be so wrong
We could be down and gone
But we hold on
How many times
Do we wonder if it’s even worth it?
There’s got to be some other way
Way to get me through the day
Keep going on till dawn
How many times must another line be drawn?
We could be down and gone
But we hold on
Keep going on till dawn
How many times must another line be drawn?
We could be down and gone
But we hold on

Neil P

Alas, all good things must come to an end and in late 2015 after another successful world tour and over 40 years as a band Rush called it quits. I wasn’t upset. Seriously! What a run they had. Forty years as a continuously running band is virtually unprecedented. It was time. Neil Peart was living with chronic tendonitis and shoulder issues that stemmed from his repetitive assault on drum sets through the years. Alex Lifeson was dealing with some arthritis. Geddy Lee had multiple outside interests that kept him busy. Perhaps the clincher was Neil had picked up the pieces of his life and remarried. He and his new wife Carrie had a daughter named Olivia. He knew he had made the right decision when she introduced her father to teachers and friends at school as her ‘’father and retired drummer.” He knew he had made the right decision to retire on his own terms. Here is a passage from ‘Losing It’ that sums things up perfectly. 

Some are born to move the world
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we’d like to be
Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you, the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee…

Neil P

Personally, my life is better for the words of Neil Peart. I salute him on this, his 66th birthday. I raise a toast of his favourite; the Macallan. Here’s to you Neil…and many more. Thank you for opening my eyes to the world of music and writing. It has made me a better person. 
Word count…2112. Cosmic!
For today’s cover here is Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater doing a tribute to Neil Peart in his cover of the YYZ drum solo with a touch of Spirit of Radio and Xanadu. Enjoy!

8 thoughts on “YYZ – In honour of #Neil Peart. #MusicisLife #TedTocksCovers #Rush #DreamTheater

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