“We sparkle … and then we fade.” – Neil Peart (1952 – 2020)
It was a devastating blow to rock fans across the globe Friday, as word of the passing of Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart broke on the internet.
“It’s a sad day for all. A sad day for rock, and a sad day for music,” said Rush visual artist Hugh Syme.
Syme’s over 40-year career as the band’s art director was recently captured in the spectacular Art of Rush. He spoke with CBS4 shortly after the news of Peart’s Tuesday death became public.
“From the very beginning of our treasured friendship and unique creative alliance in 1974, I always felt so fortunate to have known such a remarkable guy,” said Syme. “I loved his creative spirit. I loved how he encouraged me to defend my own creative environment and to embrace his own personal credo: ‘always strive to deviate from the norm.’”
With Peart’s drumming arguably at the forefront, Rush’s unique sound rocked legions of fans worldwide since the 1970s and inspired countless other artists to walk their own path.
Lars Ulrich of Metallica took to Instagram on Saturday to thank Peart for taking the time to “talk to a young green Danish drummer about recording, gear and the possibilities that lay ahead.”
Ulrich continued, “Thank you for what you did for drummers all over the world with your passion, your approach, your principles and your unwavering commitment to the instrument!”
CBS4’s Zach Myers said that he grew up playing drums by ear, and learning songs was pretty much a straightforward thing – until Rush.
“I got my first real exposure to Rush when I bought Counterparts in 1993. This was when grunge and alternative rock had taken over the airwaves, so it really stood out to me as something different,” Myers remembered. “It was also my first real exposure to the use of electronics in order to complement the drums, rather than replace them.”
Myers explained that he did his best to learn Rush’s material, but was never able to exactly duplicate everything Peart was doing on the drums. That was OK, Myers said. He felt as long as he maintained the integrity and feel of Peart’s playing, he could still play along with the albums and enjoy it.
Myers continued, “I didn’t have all the drums and electronics he had, so I learned how to get creative with my equipment. Neil taught me that I could use my own interpretation of his playing to create something new and different. That to me is the very definition of inspiration.”
Julie Wright of Noblesville said her first vinyl record was Rush’s 2112 as a birthday present when she turned 13. Wright remembered she played it as often and as loud as she could get away with – and like any truly great rock record – her mom hated it.
“My school friends had The Jackson 5 and The Osmonds, but I had so much more,” said Wright, “I loved ‘The Temples of Syrinx,’ ‘Discovery’ and of course ‘Something for Nothing’ from 2112, and whenever ‘Spirit of Radio’ hits my speakers, I am engrossed as if it was the first time ever hearing it.”
Wright reflected on her siblings being a big influence on her musical tastes, with her older sisters being into the British invasion and her brothers hipping her to new rock like Rush. She said she continued the family legacy of jamming to good music as best as she could.
“When my son joined the percussion section of his high school band, he became more interested in rock drummers. I bought him Neil Peart: Anatomy of A Drum Solo video to introduce him to greatness,” she proudly stated.
According to decades of testimony from fans and peers, Peart was unparalleled as a drummer and creative force. The weekend following the announcement of his death saw scores of rock and metal giants paying tribute to the fallen titan.
Musical legends praised Peart with posts on Twitter including Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS, Questlove of The Roots, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters, and Chuck D of Public Enemy.
Danny Carey of TOOL is another ground-breaking drummer and Peart-inspired songcrafter that paid tribute to the master after the crushing news. A picture of Carey and Peart was projected on screen during a song at TOOL’s San Diego show Friday night, with the band reportedly playing part of Rush’s “A Passage to Bangkok” and used “2112” to walk offstage after the show.
T.R. McCully, of Lafayette, says Peart inspired him at the early age of 11 after his sister gave him a copy of Exit… Stage Left, the band’s second live album, released in 1981.
“When I heard the drum solo during ‘YYZ’, ‘Tom Sawyer’, and the epic ‘La Villa Strangiato’, I was hooked. That’s when I decided to be a drummer,” McCully said.
After years of seeing Rush in-person and on video, McCully remembered he was always amazed how Peart could play with such precision, yet make it look effortless.
“He could incorporate other styles like jazz, swing or even reggae elements into a Rush song and make it work. Neil not only inspired people to play drums, but he inspired us to become better drummers. Rest In Peace, Neil: We will forever play your drumming upon our steering wheels.”
Though Peart graced the lighted stage and received countless accolades throughout his career, Syme remembers the personal struggles as documented in the book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road.
“‘We sparkle … and then we fade.’ Those were the words my friend Neil used, during our first phone conversation after almost five years. He described to me how I should approach the artwork for Vapor Trails, as he was navigating through the seemingly unendurable tragedies of losing his only daughter and wife within the span of one year.”
As the official news of Peart’s passing made its way around the world and long-time fans began looking back on his life and legacy, Syme closed with parting words of love and respect for his fellow artist and comrade.
“I will miss Neil. I will miss his big heart and his big brain. Raising a glass of 25-year-old Macallan to you, my old friend!”
We’re only immortal for a limited time. – Neil Peart