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  • Ben Province

Remembering Rush's Neil Peart

Other than Cream, no power trio had more collective talent than Rush. The Canadian rock icons formed in 1968, when Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson were in the their mid-teens, but they would truly become Rush when the late, great Neil Peart joined in '74.

Replacing original drummer John Rutsey, who played on the band's self-titled debut, Peart would not only go on to be an icon behind the kit but would also help solidify the band's songwriting.

Starting with the Rush's second album, "Fly By Night," Peart would become, decisively, the band's primary lyricist, going on to provide words for Canadian top-20 hits "New World Man" and "Limelight," as well as other time-honored songs that have found a seemingly permanent home on classic rock radio. (Lee, bassist and singer, and Lifeson, guitarist, mainly handled instrumental composition once Peart joined.)

"I never really paid a lot of attention to lyrics until after I started writing them, and then it became a craft, like drumming," he told the magazine Guitar for the Practicing Musician, in 1986. "It's something I became aware of as my involvement with words became more and more active and intense."

His process, which involved "a table and a chair and my rhyming dictionary," churned out some of rock's most uniquely existential lyrics. As April Rose Schneider wrote for the website Literary Kicks in 2011, "The contents of Neil Peart’s subconscious -- poured out in the form of rock verses that dominate numerous award winning albums over the past three and a half decades -- reveal a man of great depth and creativity."

Whether or not his lyrics were always accessible enough for mainstream radio, Peart helped give Rush the depth that some hard rock contemporaries, who sang primarily about more shallow topics, lacked. In my opinion, this is one of the key factors in Rush's enduring legacy.

Their modern relevance is also helped, albeit in a much smaller way, by a scene in 2003's "School of Rock" wherein Jack Black's character hands a young drummer a CD saying, "Okay, for you, Rush. "2112." Neil Peart, one of the great drummers of all time. Study up." (It's a great reference, despite Black slightly mispronouncing the drummer's last name.)

And in 2016, Rolling Stone named Peart the fourth-greatest drummer of all time, behind Cream's Ginger Baker (third), The Who's Keith Moon (second) and Led Zeppelin's John Bonham (first). Not bad for a guy who showed up to his Rush audition in a beat-up Ford Pinto.


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