An appreciation of Neil Peart: Farewell to a king

[Here’s a guest post from life-long Rush fan Chris Donaghue. -AC]

Neil Peart got me through highschool. I want to celebrate the man because he gave us so much to enjoy. He rose above for us, so we could all feel a little taller.

The first time I ever went to Maple Leaf Gardens was to see Rush. The first song I ever fell in love with was “Fly By Night.” I was seven, and I dreamed of flying nightly. Later when I got to know the lyrics I realized that there was flight in the ideas too, not just the chords, or the owl on the cover, stomping on a map of Canada with the aurora borealis rippling in the ether.

This was music and imagery that I already knew. I didn’t need it to sink in. It was like it was already there, inside me.

My brother Mark played me “Fly By Night.” He and my sister Beth both gave each other Exit Stage Left on vinyl for Christmas one year. She because she wanted him to have it, and he because he wanted to have it in the house.

Mark also introduced me to “Red Barchetta.” On the day Neil’s passing was announced I wrote an article about the best sci-fi songs. I picked “Red Barchetta” but I hadn’t heard yet. Then the next day I realized I needed to write a new article.

Last year I wrote an article for this site about the passing of one of the Gords of Ontario. And I made reference to the Neils of Yonge St. With the deaths of Leonard Cohen, Gord Downie, and Neil Peart, Canada has lost its post-war poets. But the music lives on on the radio, “a companion unobtrusive, plays that song that’s so elusive, and the magic music makes your morning mood.”

It’s up to the rest of us to be inspired and continue to add to the world the way that these wise wordsmiths did. I play the drums and write lyrics not because of Neil, but because that’s the way that I am. And when I looked around at the world, I saw what I saw reflected in Neil’s writing.

Lakeside Park? That was a place I had heard of. By-Tor & The Snow Dog? That sounded like Kydo, the Samoyed I grew up with, (who got himself in the paper as “The Pearl St. Fox” a couple times. He came home one Thanksgiving with a cooked turkey, stuffing and all, and ate it on the front lawn. He was ambitious).

And the stories in the songs told a mythology of not just places that I knew, but made them seem magical, yet attainable. And yet they also made us dream of far off lands, “perfumed by a Nepal night, the express gets you there.” Rush took us all on a ride that couldn’t compare. I ended up teaching drums, and I had a student who showed up in a Rush t-shirt. I told a Rush-fan buddy of mine who said, “Wow, that’s ambitious”–and she was. And so were they.

Rush aspired to heights not seen in Canada, or the cosmos. Propelled by a galloping thunder of a drumming wonder who spoke with his open fists, and his heart, Rush surpassed their influences, their peers, and their influence will live on in many of us.

CBC made a play list of Canadian music for Obama when he got elected that was picked by the public. After Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” the 2nd choice was “Closer To The Heart,” by Rush. A song about how to govern a nation. In grade 12 English class I compared this song to Plato’s Republic, which is the inspiration I’m sure. And what Neil had to say through Geddy was, “Can’t we find the minds to lead us closer to the heart?”

I hope so Neil, because if the nations of the world could unite with the imaginations of musicians and writers like Neil, we could find those minds.

Neil Peart helped lead the way towards a future we can all look forward to.

And he made it OK to air drum along the way. Thanks Neil, we are all richer for having heard you.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

3 thoughts on “An appreciation of Neil Peart: Farewell to a king

  • January 15, 2020 at 10:45 am

    Canadian Railroad Trilogy was written by Gordon Lightfoot, not Oscar Peterson as the article indicates.

    • January 15, 2020 at 2:17 pm

      Right, it was Place St. Henri from The Canadiana Suite, by Oscar Peterson on Obama’s list. Thanks for the keen eye. Odd I would make that mistake since I mention Mr. Lightfoot as one of ‘The Gords of Ontario.’ Thanks.


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