For a while, years maybe, I thought Pete Townshend was my rock god.
He didn’t sing the songs, but he wrote every word Roger Daltrey sang, be they about dying before getting old, not getting fooled again, a teen-age wasteland or how a deaf, dumb and blind kid sure played a mean pinball.
But he’s not.
Townshend’s generation is not my generation.
They don’t even overlap.
The Who were already an all-time great by the time they came on my radar. Townshend couldn’t be my rock god any more than Lou Brock could be my baseball player, Bobby Hull my hockey player, Bob Cousy my basketball player or Daryle Lamonica my football player.
Just a little too old.
Maybe they were still going by the time I turned on. Or maybe, like Townshend, they had another 40 years (or more) of creative vitality in the tank.
No matter, if not there when they made their bones, only for the spoils once made, it’s not the same. It can’t be a part of you in the same way.
My rock god is Neil Peart.
• • •
All the world’s indeed a stage
And we are merely players
Performers and portrayers
Each another’s audience
Outside the gilded cage
— Limelight, 1981
• • •
It’s tempting to say that if you’re not a Rush person, you just wouldn’t understand. Yet, by the standards of some Rush people, I’m barely a Rush person.
I only saw them live once. I didn’t buy every album. I sort lost track of them between Signals (1981) and Hold Your Fire (1987) and again from Roll the Bones (1991) to Rush in Rio (2003).
I can still be introduced to Rush music I’ve yet to digest, even as they’re the only the band I’ve ever known I remain incapable of settling on a favorite song for any length of time.
Peart was Rush’s drummer.
Is Rush’s drummer.
He died a week ago today of brain cancer, though the world didn’t know it until last Friday afternoon.
He was 67.
Rolling Stone says Peart is the fourth greatest drummer to ever live, behind John Bonham, Keith Moon and Ginger Baker and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to disagree with that or merely point out that neither Bonham nor Moon lived to see 33 and Baker makes no list at all had he not hooked up with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce and, yes, Cream was an amazing band, but lasted less than three years, disbanded the year I was born, and saying Baker's the third best drummer of all time is kind of like saying Don Mattingly’s the third best-hitting first baseman of all time even though he hit .286, slugged .405 and connected for just 58 home runs his last six seasons and 3,299 plate appearances.
Because Peart joined Rush in 1974 and played his last concert in 2015 and never lost his fastball — or his curve, changeup, slider, splitter, you name it, he had them all — and the reason he claimed retirement when the “R40” tour concluded more than 40 years after his run with bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson began, was precisely because he never wanted to take the stage with less than all of his skills.
• • •
There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas
— The Trees, 1978
• • •
Still, I shouldn’t be upset.
While Peart’s drumming was other-worldly, played on an other-worldly kit that knew no limits, it’s construction limited only by an imagination — Google “Peart Drum Solo” and take your pick, yet make sure you’ve got the hours available for the rabbit hole you’re falling into — that knew no limits, it’s the fact that, though the world, possibly, maybe, could again bump into a drummer of Peart’s infinite abilities, it may never, ever, again meet as thoughtful or vast a lyricist.
Yeah, he wrote the words, too.
He wrote about a future without music, ruled by high priests in “2112.” He wrote about the suffocating nature of life in the suburbs in “Subdivisions,” lamenting Nowhere is the dreamer/Or the misfit so alone.
He wrote about growing older in “Time Stand Still,” about the Holocaust in “Red Sector A,” about God, or something like it, in “Presto” and “Prime Mover,” about the journey of life in so many different ways, yet always from the point of view of one who wants to understand, to be understood, coming to terms with their own limits and abilities, who may appear to have it all, yet knows having it all is sort of impossible.
• • •
Big money got a heavy hand
Big money take control
Big money got a mean streak
Big money got no soul
— Big Money, 1985
• • •
Peart was famously private.
Just about all the press, meet and greets and whatnot required of the band was performed by Lee and Lifeson.
The Peart-penned lyric most often used to describe the author himself was “I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend.”
The idea somebody might really know him through his work, through the music and words, remained foreign to him.
It’s ironic, because the reason so many Rush people became Rush people, remain Rush people, will always be Rush people, can’t imagine why all people are not Rush people, is because Peart’s lyrics spoke for them.
They confirmed the reasonableness of doubt unexpressed, of sensitivity in a world that doesn’t reward it, of the desperate attempt to hold on to a fleeting moment, of coming to terms with all the forces that came before and all the forces still to come.
• • •
Every day we're standing in a time capsule
Racing down a river from the past
Every day we're standing in a wind tunnel
Facing down the future coming fast
— Turn the Page, 1987
• • •
Rush let everybody know R40 would almost certainly be their last tour, that even as a one-off, they might never take the stage again. Perhaps that left the door open to new music, just not taking it on the road, but I don’t think anybody expected it.
Now we know.
The music lives.
It and the words put to it will be relevant forever.
Also, there will be no more.
It’s the end of something.
The end of a voice that spoke for so many of us, even when it disagreed with itself, letting us know we’re not alone.
Maybe you have to be Rush person.
A Neil Peart person.
• • •
The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect
The way you live, the gifts that you give
In the fullness of time
It’s the only return that you expect
— The Garden, 2012