Neil Elwood Peart, 1952-2020

I’ve been a Rush fan since high school. Being a drummer I was attracted by that, then eventually got into Neil’s lyrics. He influenced me in so many ways. He made me realize rock musicians could be smart. He got me to read again. I wrote poetry. 

Over the years I have owned all the albums on CD and cassette. I’ve read all his books. Several times. I’ve read all the magazine articles. I own the DVDs. As I mentioned on my About page,

Rush albums mark and coincide with distinct periods of my life and I have memories of time periods that jive with each release.

Several years ago I wrote Neil a letter explaining what his music and words had meant to me, and included some books I thought he’d enjoy in return as I knew him to be an avid reader. Later I received this signed postcard and word of thanks.

In contrast to many celebrities, he’s always been an intensely private guy – a weirdness with fame that he addressed in songs such as ‘Limelight’.

“Living in a fisheye lens
Caught in the camera eye
I have no heart to lie
I can’t pretend a stranger
Is a long awaited friend”

Though he shared little, what he did share was thoughtful, thought-provoking, and at times brutally honest. I felt like I did know him, ironically – though that’s far from the truth.

What I do know is that he aimed to live a full life – and inspired others, including me, to do so as well. In this capacity he far surpassed simply ‘being a drummer’ – even if he happened to be one of the best of all time. An article in Rolling Stone at the end of their last tour summed it up:

Neil Peart likes to ask himself a couple of key questions. One is “What is the most excellent thing I can do today?” The answers lead him to travel between Rush’s shows on a BMW motorcycle instead of a plane or bus (creating scheduling nightmares for the band’s management), and to embark upon extracurricular bicycle trips through West Africa and China and Europe. He aims to fill every minute of his life with as much much-ness as possible, which may also help explain all those 32nd notes.

While I am sad at his passing – it is too early, the paradox is that this supremely private man still had so much worthwhile to share with us, musical or otherwise – I know that Neil managed to cram several lifetimes into his unfortunately abbreviated one and for those of us that remain remembering him, that is his last lesson and reminder to all of us.

Get out and find as much much-ness as you can my friends, and perhaps pause a beat once in awhile in the rhythm of life to remember those that have inspired us and moved on.

The Art of Rush

When I was in art class in 7th grade I used to hang out with this ‘heavy metal kid’ – not because I was into heavy metal per se, but because I was good at hand-drawn band logos. We bonded over our versions of Iron Maiden’s unique workmark. One day I mentioned I played drums and he asked if I’d heard Rush. When I replied in the negative he said I had to hear Exit..Stage Left – the drum solo was nuts. Some time later I bought the cassette and indeed, it was nuts, and I became an enthusiastic fan of the band.

I’ve been a steady fan since then, an appreciation that progressed from drumming and the music quickly into drummer Neil Peart’s lyrics and imagery. Peart’s lyrics in no small way introduced me to themes and ideas pertaining to philosophy, morality, perception, our state as beings in the world – and the importance of thinking on such things. I’ve followed their music and evolution from my young adult years, into middle age, into – whatever age I’m in now, and in many ways they have been one of only a few constants over time – their music has always been a component of my life. In addition I’ve always enjoyed their liner notes and album artwork and the fact that it was always well executed and relevant to the album contents.

Around 2008 – after working for several years as graphic designer, I moved to Atlantic Canada when I landed a gig working for Goose Lane Editions as a graphic artist and book designer. There I was fortunate enough to do the design and layout for Bob Mersereau’s book, The Top 100 Canadian Albums – which features two Rush albums, Moving Pictures at #9, and 2112 at #17 – and which also sparked an interest and appreciation for book design which I retain to this day. The only downside was having the author, Bob, tease me with tales of getting to talk to Neil on the phone for a sidebar of the book that he was responsible for, ‘The Top 10 Canadian Drummers.’

Sometime later I sent a goofy, fan-boy letter to Neil thanking him for all the music, memories and wisdom over the years – along with a few other books I’d worked on that I thought he would enjoy – expecting nothing in return. He very kindly replied with an autographed postcard out of the blue one day.

Seeing all of these intertwining interests and threads I’ve developed over the years combined into one – what no doubt is a very well done – package is something I look forward to enjoying in the future.

The Art of Rush is a 272 page coffee table book that delves into the 40 year relationship with Rush and their longtime artist and illustrator Hugh Syme. The stunning book begins with a foreword penned by Neil Peart, and contains original illustrations, paintings, photography, and the incredible stories behind each album that he has designed with the band since 1975.

rushbackstage.com

Mixtape Archive 1

Back in another lifetime when I was living in a house with anywhere from 5-7, dare I say what would now be referred to as Dude Bros, my buddy and I made many mixtapes for the purposes of ‘rocking out.’ Parties. In the car on the way to hockey. Workouts. Whatevs. We hand a bent for what was then deemed ‘classic rock’ partly due to our access to both his Dad’s and his older brother’s CD collections. That combined with our complete Rush catalogue (our fave band, Prog Rock Dude Bro bonding at it’s finest), and some other CDs we were buying at the time was the bulk of what we had to pull from. Things like infinite Apple Music libraries were a pipe dream. I still have huge box of cassettes in the garage. I play them when wrenching. They work good in the cold. There’s many store bough albums or complete duped albums, but some mixes as well. Many are ambiguously labelled or with no label at all. Figured I’ll start sifting through the ‘unknowns’ and see what’s on em. First up, this one labelled simply, ‘MIX’. Track listing:

Side: First Side I Played

  • The Ocean – Led Zeppelin 
  • Dogs of War – Pink Floyd
  • Working Man – Rush
  • Carry on My Wayward Son – Kansas
  • The Punk and the Godfather – The Who
  • Life in the Fast Lane – The Eagles
  • La Villa Strangiato – Rush

Side: Other Side

  • White Room – Cream
  • Sister Disco – The Who
  • Rhythm Method (Live Drum Solo from ‘A Show of Hands’) – Rush
  • Feels So Good – Van Halen
  • Walking Towards Paradise – Robert Plant
  • Locomotive Breath – Jethro Tull
  • Emotion Detector – Rush
  • Run Like Hell [Live, Delicate Sound of Thunder] – Pink Floyd
  • Foxy Lady [Live at Winterland] – Jimi Hendrix Experience
  • Limelight – Rush 

The Long, Lingering Death of the CD

The Grammy winning packaging for Tool’s album, 10,000 Days, art directed by band member Adam Jones. Photo by Josh Janicek

Best Buy to Pull CDs from Retail Stores

It’s been at least a year, maybe two since I bought a physical CD. As someone who’s library was at one point pushing the 1,000 unit mark, I find that fascinating.

I held on to my CDs for a long time, even after subscribing to Apple Music. I finally unloaded them all to a collector a few months ago for a painstakingly low sum when contrasted against the sentimental value they had for me. But the value was just that, sentimental.

At some point I bought in to the subscription music model. I still believe in supporting the artists in whatever way I can. Regrettably, the current music landscape has shifted so that artists no longer make the most of their money on sales – their money comes from touring and live shows – something I rarely take in anymore. Though I was – and continue to be -at odds with how artists are paid by streaming services, I had at some point to simply give up, and hope that somewhere, somehow, there were people working to make sure that artists were fairly paid for licensing their work to steaming services. History and a gut feeling about the industry tells me that the reality is, they probably aren’t.

I used to spend hours with new CDs. When I got a new CD from a favorite artist, I poured over photos, liner notes and detritus for clues about the artist and the music the album contained. I loved seeing new and innovative ways to package CDs – jewel cases, paper folios, gatefold packaging and the like. I believe there’s even a Grammy handed out for best packaging – what will become of that now?

I wonder if there will ever be a resurgence of CD interest in the same way there has been vinyl, but I doubt it. There simply isn’t the same attraction. I was a ‘middle’ kid – I discovered music in the age of the cassette and subsequently the CD, so vinyl never held the same nostalgic feel for me, but CDs do.

I wonder how my kids and future kids will develop their relationships with music and the artists in a world where physical product has become extinct and the emphasis has become more on ‘quick-hits’ vs. albums and artists are becoming increasingly more ‘flash in the pan’ and a disposable commodity.

When I dumped my CD collection, there were some I refused to get rid of. My Rush catalogue – simply because they’ve been my favorite band consistently over the years. Some CDs by friends or local artists that aren’t available online anywhere. Then there are bands like Tool, who’ve never licensed their albums to be on iTunes/Apple Music for example. I kept all my Tool CDs. With rumors of a new Tool album sometime in the future, one wonders if they will maintain that stance. If they’re committed, one wonders how they would release new material. Digital download direct sales? Will they actually produce physical product? An interesting question as they have consistently been a band who was at the forefront of design, packaging and presentation throughout the years.

Many artists are now releasing ‘pre-order’ packages for albums or digital downloads that still include physical copies of the album – either on CD or Vinyl, along with a download code, in addition to other select, sometimes exclusive, merchandise. Perhaps this will become the norm. One wonders at what point though, the production of physical product will become a financial liability to the point that it isn’t worth the expense and it will disappear all together.

My Albums of 2011.

Here’s the albums I dug the most, mostly for 2011. No particular order. Enjoy.

Sam Roberts BandCollider
I had hailed Love At the End of the World as Sam’s finest record yet to most of the people I argue about music with (ok, well, ONE person). But I think this record stepped it up a notch and I don’t even know how. My standout tracks: Let it In, Streets of Heaven (Promises, Promises)

ArkellsMichigan Left
I only discovered the brillance of the Arkells first record, Jackson Square about a month before this record came out and then was very impressed with the follow up effort. Jackson Square was a tough record to top. My standout tracks: Michigan Left, On Paper

Foo FightersWasting Light
After a long wait, Dave and Co. return and do not disappoint. The media/blitz/circus that ensued was also something to behold and would have been easy to ridicule had the tunes not stood up to all the hype. Several TV/web appearances playing the record in it’s entirety as well as the timely release of their movie, Back and Forth prompted one reviewer I read to quip, “Thanks Dave Grohl, for making us care about the album again.” I couldn’t agree more. My standout tracks: Rope, Miss the Misery

ChevelleHats off to the Bull
A sleeper, I had no idea these guys were working on a record and it barely made it in this year, but since it came out, I’ve listened to pretty much nothing but. My standout tracks: Pinata, Hats off to the Bull

The Black KeysEl Camino
I didn’t want to buy into the pre-hype regarding this new record because, well , I secretly long to be a hipster. Also, I really didn’t think they could top Brothers. Seriously. But once it came out, dammit, they did. And in a record that’s only 38 minutes long. I’m still not a hipster though. My standout tracks: Gold on the Ceiling, Little Black Submarines, Mind Eraser

Rival SonsPressure and Time
Bringing the classic rock back, these guys are kicking out some jams. Production that cries of vintage Zeppelin and a singer who screams like Ian Astbury and/or Plant combined. Sprinkle with a touch of Black Crowes and, voila, you’re scissor kicking. Only thing I can possibly fault them on is their pro-vegan stance. Wha? Tré un-rock. My standout tracks: Pressure and Time, Get Mine, Save Me

The Twilight SingersDynamite Steps
Greg Dulli sulks out from wherever it is he hides in the ‘off-season’ and wrangles his compatriots to bring us this lush, moody gem of a record. It’s been said before by many people, but it never ceases to amaze me how Dulli seems to create ‘movies’ or ‘soundscapes’ with his records. They’re like concept albums, but the concept is unique to every listener. My standout tracks: Waves, On the Corner, Dynamite Steps

Matthew Good Lights of Endangered Species
If you follow Matt at all this was an interesting record as he demo’d, discussed, and chronicled the writing and production of on his website/blog. A very interesting glimpse into the process. Given that, I have to admit it was a bit anti-climatic when the record officially dropped, as I’d already heard most, if not all the tunes in some form or another. That being said, I still think it’s an excellent record. My standout tracks: Zero Orchestra, Non-Populus, Lights of Endangered Species

In 2012 I’m really looking forward to the new Rush and Big Wreck records as well as some others.

Happy New Years, yo.