We’re Only Immortal For a Limited Time: In Memory of Neil Peart

Life is really, truly weird sometimes. Friday morning, I was driving around running errands and listening to Moving Pictures, Rush’s 1981 masterpiece – I think it’s rare for a band’s consensus best album to be their actual best album as well, but Moving Pictures is certainly both – and, largely because it had been a long time since I had listened to it last, I sat in the car listening with a fresh sense of awe.

If you knew me in college or in the years after, odds are I spent a significant amount of time breathlessly praising Rush directly at your face and entirely against your will (I’m very sorry), and while I still love the band, I don’t listen to them that much these days. I’ve listened to Rush’s whole catalog more times than I’ve had hot meals, and there’s entirely too much new music to keep up with these days. How can I justify putting on Grace Under Pressure for the 756th time when there are 28 other albums from the past month I want to check out?

But listening to music in the car is different; we don’t have any sort of smartphone hookup, all we have is a CD player and my old CD wallet from high school, pared down to just the stuff that’s fun to drive along to. Since they’re CDs, this collection is a frighteningly, almost shamefully accurate snapshot of my tastes circa 15 years ago. There’s lots of Maiden, there’s lots of Priest, and there’s lots of Rush. When there’s no way to listen to newer, fresher songs, there can be no cause to feel dubious about listening to the old shit.

Moving Pictures is one of those albums that’s so good I’m almost afraid to listen to it. I want it to stay as fresh to my ears as possible for as long as possible. Of course, I’ve still spun it hundreds of times over the years, but when I do listen to Rush these days, that fear keeps from listening to Moving Pictures; I usually go with something else. On Friday, as I jammed out to it in the car, it struck me that perhaps this strategy worked. All of the songs on Moving Pictures are classics on their own, and I heard each with a renewed sense of wonder at the band and their skill at merging progressive dense material with memorable hooks. I reflected on how much I still like Rush, even if I don’t listen to them very much these days, and how glad I was to have seen them live before they broke up a couple of years ago.

And then, a few hours later, I get a text from my brother telling me Neil Peart is dead. Like I said, life is weird.

Since Peart himself made it as clear as possible throughout the course of his life that he felt nothing is weirder than total strangers acting like they know you because you’re famous, and since I have nothing but respect and admiration and attitude, I’m going to keep my thoughts and observations within the realm of the externally observable. Neil Peart ruled at playing drums. Neil Peart could (and did) play nine-minute drum solos (drum solos!) that were awesome every second of the way. He was the best drummer I’ve ever heard, period. (You could, in fact, say that he stands alone.) As the primary lyricist in Rush, Peart’s early material espoused a bunch of Randian horseshit that I normally wouldn’t give the time of day to, and only tolerate in context because the songs themselves rock. But when you examine Rush’s lyrics over time, you can see Peart’s worldview gradually shift away from that nonsense and towards a more compassionate stance, one that is more considerate and understanding of the struggles of others, and more critical of rigid individualism, even though he seemed to retain a certain libertarian streak. I don’t think Peart gets enough credit for growing up in this sense.

Neil Peart is dead, and that sucks, but in life, he gave inspiration and sick fills to millions, and that rules. Therefore, I am choosing to celebrate his work in his honor. Today, let us all flail wildly with air drums.

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