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Neil Peart: The ‘Working Man’ Bids Farewell

neil peart, rush
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Music’s Ghost Rider has announced he’s riding off into the sunset. Let’s just hope he won’t disappear entirely.

I sensed Rush would exude true grace under pressure and quietly stop touring after 40 years as a solid musical behemoth. However, Monday’s bombshell announcement from drummer Neil Peart that he’s retiring from music altogether changes things. Will the band continue on as a recording entity only? Is the band officially done?

Essentially, Peart gone means everything in the Rush stratosphere grinds to a halt.

Other bands would march on, and replace a defunct member, hoping the fans wouldn’t notice or give them shit for it. But Peart is no ordinary band member. He’s the blood flow and heartbeat of Rush. He turned the drum kit into a 360-degree instrument where hands and feet traveled all the way around as opposed to sticking to a basic high hat / snare model.

For decades, he pounded and chimed his heart out, even if his face stayed stoic the entire time. The heart kept pounding as the band shifted from genre to genre, long songs to shorter pieces, progressive rock to hall rock. If the heart stops, what’s left?

Peart’s exit stage left also leaves a major void in Rush’s lyrical arsenal; it was Peart who committed to paper the words that defined the band from their second album, Fly By Night, all the way up through 2012’s Clockwork Angels. A student of Ayn Rand, Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkien and countless others, Peart’s lyrics connected with everyone from the alienated to the repressed when sung through the banshee vocals of Geddy Lee. Yet he never wanted to be the face of the band. He lived by the musician’s creed of “Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you,” and was still idolized despite the fierce guarding of his privacy.

Peart has nothing left to prove. He’s received every drumming honor imaginable; he’s a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; he’s Buddy Rich’s heir apparent—he’s done it all. But Geddy Lee said it best in the Rush documentary, Beyond the Lighted Stage: “I don’t want to play without those other two guys. There’s no replacing anyone in this band.” Take Peart out of the equation and Rush becomes incomplete in every sense of the word. Thank God then that I got to see the band for the first (and arguably) last time live during their 40th anniversary tour this year.

Lest we forget, Peart technically left the band once before, after tragically losing his daughter and wife within a year (1997-1998). It took years of soul searching and biking across North America for him to return to the kit. With a young family in tow and health issues on the rise, he can’t be faulted for just not wanting to live the rock musician’s life in the limelight anymore. Surprising? Not necessarily. Sad? You betcha!

—Ira Kantor

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