A Farewell to the King: Neil Peart Retires

Neil

I was walking down the hallway in our house Monday night when my daughter called after me, “Daddy!”

“Just a second,” I replied. I needed to tell my son something.

“But this is really important!” There was a plaintive urgency in her voice, so I stopped and turned around. “Neil Peart retired!” Ouch.

Like a heavy punch to the gut, the announcement hurt. Badly.

Being an Internet denizen, I immediately jumped online to see if I could verify what I hoped was only a rumor. I clicked over to my favorite Rush blog and, sure enough, there was a link to an essay Peart had written in Drumhead magazine, released over the weekend.

There, Peart had written, “… Lately Olivia has been introducing me to new friends at school as ‘my dad – he’s a retired drummer.’ True to say – funny to hear. … Now after fifty years of devotion to hitting things with sticks, I feel proud, grateful and satisfied. The reality is that my style of drumming is largely an athletic undertaking, and it does not pain me to realize that, like all athletes, there comes a time to … take yourself out of the game.”

Oof.

“I would much rather set it aside than face the predicament described in our song ‘Losing It.'” Here, Peart refers to the song from the album, Signals, which the band played live (maybe presciently) for the very first time during their tour this summer. The song ends with the lyrics, “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…” (You can read the rest of the essay at another excellent Rush blog, Cygnus X-1.) It’s a subtle and tepid announcement, but calling it quits after so long has got to be tough.

It’s appropriate that Peart cites lyrics in making this announcement. For 40 years, he’s spent his career in Rush not only drumming (and quite well, I understand), but acting as the band’s chief lyricist, as well. It would be easy to expound here for thousands of words, providing examples of Peart’s literary references and ability, but there is really only one lyric that I always connote with Neil Peart and it’s from Moving Picture‘s ‘Limelight‘: “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.”

It’s been one of those things that’s always been a tad bit difficult to rectify. Peart has always held his adoring fans at arm’s length. Probably further, if he could. It’s no secret that he’s always had a tough time with the celebrity that has accompanied Rush’s success, but the lengths he has gone to distance himself from fans has been challenging for Peart and fans alike. But, like clicking any EULA, it’s just one of the things we did as fans. If that’s what it took to hear the music and see the concerts, we were on board with clicking “OK” and agreeing to Peart’s conditions.

After all, it’s not a new thing. Peart has always been good at separating himself and his work. He plays the songs and then he is done; off to his motorcycle or a book or writing. As a fan, I can accept that. The tradeoff was more than worth it to me. Besides, it was in his writing that Peart really shared; baring his thoughts (and soul) in lyrics, books, and articles. Reading Peart’s tale of recovery after tragically losing his daughter and wife in Ghost Rider brings the reader closer to Peart than any meet & greet ever could, anyway.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s definitely not a surprising announcement. The hints were there from the R40 tour announcement and long before. What’s more, it’s unrealistic to think that three guys into their 60s can continue playing as fast and as technically as their “music for morons” demands. Still, (and maybe it’s just delusional or refusal to accept) maybe there’s always the chance that this is just retirement from touring and there will be further recordings. But, I guess, time will tell. After all, Peart has “retired” a time or two before. If only that “time machine” were real …

Like legions of others, I love Rush. I even enjoyed them during those maligned synth years. The band and their music have had a significant impact on my life for more than three decades. I became aware of Rush soon after 2112 (in 1976) and became a full-fledged fan after Permanent Waves (in 1980). For me, Rush has, seemingly, always been a part of my life.

Their career has tracked pretty closely to the span of my time here. From listening on the shag carpet of my parent’s living room floor to the wool rug on the office floor of the home I own, Rush has been a constant; every bit a part of me as my slowly-changing reflection in the mirror. To think that it is over, pains me like losing a friend. As geeks, we are all overabundantly into things we love. Rush is one of those things for me … as they have been for many of us.

So, today, I am saddened. And, yet, I am happy.

This seems to be the end, since without Peart at the back of the stage, there is no Rush. No one can take his place. I’m happy that a guy who I respect is putting his family first, so he can enjoy time with them. Also, I am incredibly thankful for the decades of happiness their music brought me and others (and will continue to). I am further thankful that I got to see Rush live so many times. I am especially grateful that the ticket gods smiled broadly upon us and I got to see them (front row, center) on the R40 tour, with a good friend, when they stopped in my city. That will likely go down as a top 10 life moment.

But even more than that, I’m beyond thankful that I was able to take my kids to see shows this summer. My son accompanied me to the second night of the tour in Omaha. He still wears the tour shirt and talks about what a great time it was. One of my daughters went with me to see the show in New Orleans. She absolutely lights up every time she talks about the experience. (My other daughter isn’t at all interested … and that’s OK. We do other things together.) I am eternally happy to have been able to share something I care so much about with my kids, before it was gone.

I am a writer. Words are important to me and, given that Peart was the lyricist, I’m given to ending this with a lyric. (It’s easier than trying to convert one of his mind-blowing fills into a sentence or two.) To that end, I’m especially fond of ‘Resist’ for its wordplay and uplifting message and ‘The Spirit of Radio’ for encapsulating pretty much everything I feel about music and the FM dial. Beyond those, there are dozens and dozens of others, really. It’s tough to choose a favorite that’s appropriate. Though he avoids it in his essay, it rings true as a fan. So, I’ll point to the last album, Clockwork Angels; it seems like the right place to end. There, Peart writes in ‘Headlong Flight’:

All the journeys of this great adventure, it didn’t always feel that way. I wouldn’t trade them because I made them the best I could, and that’s enough to say … I wish that I could live it all again!

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