R.I.P. Neil Peart: “I will choose a path that’s clear. I will choose free will”

LEICESTER, ENGLAND – 21st JUNE: Drummer Neil Peart of Canadian progressive rock band Rush at his kit during a soundcheck at the De Montfort Hall, Leicester, 21st June 1980. (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

From The New York Times (Jon Pareles):

His drumming was at once intricate and explosive, expanding Rush’s power-trio dynamics. His lyrics transformed the band’s songs into elaborate suites.

Neil Peart, the pyrotechnical drummer and high-concept lyricist for the Canadian progressive-rock trio Rush, died on Tuesday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 67.

The cause was brain cancer, according to a statement by the band’s spokesman, Elliot Mintz.

Rush was formed in 1968 but found its long-term identity — as the trio of Geddy Lee on vocals, keyboards and bass, Alex Lifeson on guitars and Mr. Peart on drums — after Mr. Peart replaced the band’s founding drummer, John Rutsey, in 1974.

Mr. Peart’s lyrics transformed the band’s songs into multi-section suites exploring science fiction, magic and philosophy, often with the individualist and libertarian sentiments that informed songs like “Tom Sawyer” and “Freewill.” And Mr. Peart’s drumming was at once intricate and explosive, pinpointing odd meters and expanding the band’s power-trio dynamics; countless drummers admired his technical prowess.

In a recording career that continued into the 2010s, Rush headlined arenas and had more than a dozen platinum albums. Mr. Peart was also an author, writing books about his travels and his memoirs. After a Rush tour in 2015, he retired from performing, citing its physical toll. According to the band’s statement, he had been suffering from brain cancer for three and a half years…

Neil Peart was born on Sept. 12, 1952, in Hamilton, Ontario, where his parents, Glen and Betty Peart, had a dairy farm. In 1980 he told Modern Drummer magazine that as a child he would “pick up chopsticks and play on my sister’s playpen.”

[…]

In 1974, an audition got him into Rush. He became the band’s lyricist, he said in 1980, “just because the other two guys didn’t want to write lyrics.” He added that he considered the band’s lyrics “secondary” to the music…

Mr. Peart grew up as a fan of loud, flashy drummers like Keith Moon, Gene Krupa, John Bonham and Ginger Baker, and he was known for hitting his drum kit hard. But as his playing developed, he quickly earned a reputation for precisely conceived, meticulously executed drum parts.

He expanded the standard drum kit with double bass drums and a wide array of cymbals, wood blocks, bells and timpani, and he eventually added electronic percussion to his arsenal when it suited the music.

His recording career with Rush began with the band’s second album, “Fly by Night,” in 1975. His approach immediately transformed the music from blues-based hard rock to compositions that were more demanding, ambitious and changeable. Rush’s 1976 album, “2112,” began with a 20-minute, seven-part title track…

Rolling Stone placed Mr. Peart at No. 4 in its 2016 list of “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.” Mr. Peart paid tribute to one of his influences when he produced a two-volume compilation, “Burning for Buddy,” pairing the Buddy Rich Big Band with jazz and rock drummers including Mr. Peart, Max Roach, Bill Bruford, Steve Gadd and Omar Hakim…

Although Rush’s music was proudly untrendy, it drew fiercely loyal fans who embraced lyrics like those Mr. Peart wrote for “The Spirit of Radio”:

All this machinery making modern music

Can still be open-hearted

Not so coldly charted

It’s really just a question of your honesty.

Video is from the Snakes & Arrows Tour, recorded at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, Netherlands on October 16 and 17, 2007.

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