TU professor of English Bob Jackson fondly recalls Neil Peart’s impact on rock music.
It’s been a rough start to the year. We’ve had war escalations in Iran, the tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant and his daughter and an outbreak of Coronavirus in China. Seemingly lost in the mix of this terrible month was the loss of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame drummer and Rush band member Neil Peart, who succumbed to brain cancer after a long battle. Widely regarded as the greatest drummer of all time, musicians and fans alike lament the passing of this rock icon.
TU English professor and avid Rush enthusiast Bob Jackson says of Peart’s “Greatest Ever” moniker, “Of course [he] is the greatest rock drummer of all time. Nobody else is even in the conversation. People who call him ‘one of the best’ are either clueless or just trying to be polite.” While Jackson says Peart had several influences, like The Who’s Keith Moon, The Police’s Stewart Copeland and jazz drummers like Buddy Rich; Peart had a style all his own that constantly evolved, a style that Jackson describes as “technically masterful.”
However, it wasn’t just Peart’s insane skill on the drums that garnered worldwide admiration. The guy was also a talented lyricist. He was the main lyricist in Rush, as gems like “Limelight” and “Subdivisions” still fill the airwaves today. Nicknamed “The Professor,” Peart was a dedicated reader and poet despite dropping out of high school. Jackson mentioned Peart had an Ayn Rand phase during the early portion of his career, a phase and philosophy he’s since disavowed with wry embarrassment. Peart also wrote several books of his own, including autobiographical accounts and fiction.
Referencing the impact Peart had on music, Jackson recalls a time he was in a band in college:
“When I was playing rock and roll in college, my band’s drummer listened to everything out there, but when he played onstage or in the studio, there was really only one role model he held high. That’s about how I’d sum up Neil’s impact on music. The problem is that Neil was so much better than everyone else, so sometimes it’s hard to know how much other people have been influenced by him. You can’t always hear it in their playing. Neil was also a great individualist, creating his own personal sound that could never be confused with anyone else’s . That’s a tremendous legacy, because it pushes everyone else to figure out who they are and aspire to comparable levels of achievement in their own ways.”
The news of Peart’s death came as a surprise to fans everywhere, as Jackson details, “It’s the kind of news one is never ready to hear. I was in shock for a while. I’ve been listening to his music since I was fifteen years old. I saw him play live 20 times between 1990 and 2015. I’ve had a lot of friends over the years who also loved his music. Many of them were calling and sending messages. So, a lot of that history and memory came flooding back, and I felt a lot of warmth and gratitude amid the sadness.”
One of my favorite non-Rush Neil Peart moments comes from “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters,” a movie based on the Adult Swim series. Peart voices a miniature version of himself (for some reason) and plays “The Drum Solo of Life” to revive characters in the movie. In some brand of absurdist irony, I don’t think anyone will ever match his skill and talent needed to replicate “The Drum Solo if Life” in order to bring the legend back.