One of my early inspirations for writing was Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist for the band, Rush. I discovered his words when I was a teenager, probably no more than 13 or 14 years old. A guy that sat next to me in one of my classes let me borrow a cassette tape of Caress of Steel and I was hooked. I quickly became a fan and began my life-long love affair with the band. And while the musicianship of all three members is something I admire, it was always Neil’s lyrics that got into my head and inspired me.

Early Rush songs were what you’d expect from a progressive-rock back in the 1970s – fantasy and science fiction themes, which obviously appealed to someone who read those types of novels. But as the band matured, so did their themes, and soon Peart was writing about freewill, passion, and the quality of humankind. For someone who was full of teenage angst and in search of direction, I found guidance and began to develop my own personal philosophy and code of ethics.

These themes continued to develop in their music through the 1980s and into their later career and I continued to feel as if Peart were writing my thoughts and beliefs into the songs. Everything from Marathon and Heresy, to Faithless and The Larger Bowl, all made me think deeper, gave me ideas, helped me to understand and see things from another point of view.

An example from Natural Science, the last song on Permanent Waves (1980) –

“Science, like Nature
Must also be tamed
With a view towards its preservation
Given the same
State of integrity
It will surely serve us well

Art as expression –
Not as market campaigns
Will still capture our imaginations
Given the same
State of integrity
It will surely help us along

The most endangered species –
The honest man
Will still survive annihilation
Forming a world –
State of integrity
Sensitive, open and strong.”

In the late 1980s, Peart published his first book, The Masked Rider, a travelogue of a bicycle tour he took in Cameroon, Africa. I’d never read a book about a travel adventure before, and it ended up being more than what I expected. The book not only told the tale of his tour – the beauty, fear, and excitement – but also examined his fellow travelers (hence, the title). I’ve reread the book several times over the years and still enjoy it.

Peart has continued to write books in a similar vein – him, traveling by bicycle, motorcycle, car – relaying the adventures had by him and his companions, as well as examining the people he meets and the places he visits. I recently finished reading Roadshow: Landscape with Drums – A Concert Tour By Motorcycle, which covers the band’s 30th anniversary tour. Peart and his riding companions travel across the US, then most of Europe. It was interesting to read about the contrasts between US and European cultures, the differing landscapes, attitudes, and obviously, the strange similarities. In other words, there are crazy people everywhere.

I’ll admit that this isn’t high art and Peart isn’t going to rank as one of the greatest writers of all time, but he is a good writer. His prose is clean, simple, direct. He writes as if he’s talking to you. It reminds me a bit of Stephen King in that the prose has a conversational tone that’s easy to follow. Also, Peart’s observations on the people he encounters are always interesting. By nature, he’s not a social person. He’s quiet, likes to keep to himself, but he also realizes that he’s well-known, a celebrity, and he understands the issues that come from being in the spotlight. As he so succinctly wrote in the lyrics to Limelight (1981):

“Cast in this unlikely role
Ill-equipped to act
With insufficient tact
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact”

Hell, I think everyone can relate to that at some point in their lives.

Peart has now officially retired from touring and quite possibly drumming. He’s pushing seventy now, his joints are tired, and he has a young daughter and wife at home. And while I accept that I’ll never hear a new song by Rush, I hope that Peart will continue to travel, to have adventures, and to write about them.

RB


Philip Roth

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