Modern Drummer readers immediately shared their heartfelt feelings with us when they heard about the passing of drumming icon Neil Peart. One particular letter stood out for us. We think it speaks for a great many of his fans.
Have you ever experienced a moment when you realize your life has changed? A moment that you will forever remember for the rest of your life? Something where you know, right then and there, that your life will never be the same again? A true defining moment. That is what happened when I heard my first Rush song, and the drumming of Neil Peart.
It was during the Christmas break of 1982. I was riding on a high-school bus, returning from one of my first winter track meets. This was an incredible transitional time in my young life. Having been brutally bullied from third grade on, my life was just starting to normalize in high school. For the first time I was part of a school team, and though I had yet to forge strong friendships, I was making acquaintances, and for the first time people were actually cheering for me when I ran races. This was a far cry from being jeered, or worse.
The 1980s were the age of the boom box—huge portable stereos—and we were allowed to bring them to track meets. Blasting them at the back of the bus was a sacred teenage ritual of the time.
I was sitting midway in the bus, lamenting a less than stellar performance in the JV heat of the mile, when something caught my ear. The sound was coming from the boom box owned by Paul Quandt, who was sitting with his friend Rory Martin. The two were “copiloting” the device, the largest in the high school I think, which earned them the seat of honor, i.e., the last seat on the bus. You know, where the cool kids sat.
The song was “The Camera Eye,” and by the time it was over, I knew my life had somehow changed. Musically the song was unlike anything I had ever heard. It was the exact opposite of the pop songs of the day. It was over ten minutes long, contained more shifts in tempo than I could keep track of, was sung with a voice that threatened to crack the windows of the bus, and had drum rolls that seemed to move through hyperspace.
Before it ended, I had moved to the back of the bus, a location I had once feared. Somehow I knew it was okay, since I was coming to partake in the music being offered. By the time it was over, the guys (I don’t remember any girls back there) were cracking jokes at my newly discovered “air drumming” skills. But this was also different. I inherently knew they were laughing with me, not at me. I also wasn’t the only one air drumming that night.
This turned out to be the start of me becoming friends with upperclassmen, and put me on a path to actual friendships for the first time since moving to my mother’s hometown six years earlier. Not only did the music and drums affect me, but through the years, Peart’s lyrics spoke to me in a way I never thought music could.
Within a year, I would go to my first Rush concert with these people (Dave and Ron), and the love of that band would be a common bond with my college and lifelong friends. The best man more all went to Rush concerts together.
In fact, my first Rush concert was in 1984 (the Grace Under Pressure tour) and I never missed a tour after that, concluding with the R40 tour in 2015, Rush’s last. Along the way I graduated from air drums (my mother would not allow drums in her house) to drumming magazines, catalogs, buckets, and more. When I graduated with a master’s degree, my wife agreed it was time for a drumkit. Though I’ve never played in a band, I’ve introduced countless people to drums. In fact, I introduced my nephew at the ripe old age of one. Three pictures that tell the story are one of him at age one on my lap at the drums; one of him at his first Rush concert with me (Clockwork Angels tour), and one of him winning a statewide award for drumming during his senior year in high school. He continues to play, and lord knows he’s far better than me.
Thirty-eight years ago I was discouraged and alone, but to quote another Canadian musician, Rik Emmett from Triumph (who were greatly influenced by Rush), “Music holds the secret, to know it can make you whole.”* My life changed that cold, bleak winter night, and Neil Peart has touched every part of my life since then, and only in the most positive of ways.
Neil Peart died on January 7, 2020, and a small part of me died as well. I know many who feel the same. I am left with the gift of thirty-seven years of original music that continues to enrich my life to this day. And as Neil wrote so eloquently years ago…
Everyone would gather
On the twenty-fourth of May
Sitting in the sand
To watch the fireworks display
Dancing fires on the beach
Singing songs together
Though it’s just a memory
Some memories last forever**
* from “Hold On,” by Triumph, lyrics by Rik Emmett
** from “Lakeside Park,” by Rush, lyrics by Neil Peart
MD’s tribute to Neil Peart begins on page 34.