It is with a very heavy heart that I write this post to honor the passing of the great Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist for the band Rush. Peart recently died at the age of 67 after a three-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer. Considered one of rock and roll’s greatest drummers, Peart’s extraordinary drumming was only rivaled by his genius as a lyricist.
If you’ve listened to some Rush songs, such as “Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” “The Trees,” “Subdivisions,” “Freewill,” and “The Spirit of Radio,” you can tell that Peart was exceptionally bright, a voracious reader, and a deep thinker. His songs covered a range of topics including science fiction, fantasy, literature, philosophy, politics, religion, and existential questions. For so many of us who discovered Rush during our formative years as teens, Rush’s songs both inspired and challenged us when we needed it most.
Wisdom That Is Closer to the Heart
Peart once said that the greatest accomplishment an artist can achieve is to inspire others in positive ways. In that regard, his music was a resounding success. I, along with millions of others, have been positively influenced by Rush’s music and Peart’s lyrics. Many of his songs contain insights and wisdom that are intended to help us realize what is precious in life. These include exercising freewill for growth, appreciating what we have, and enjoying our connections with one another.
“Time Stand Still”
It is difficult for Rush fans to pick favorites, but on my shortlist is “Time Stand Still.” Released in 1987 on the Hold Your Fire album, the song is Peart’s realization that the unstoppable passage of time should compel us to savor what we have in life. He knows that given how precious our lives are and fleeting our existence, we should avoid taking our lives for granted. This realization inspires Peart (who inspires us) to learn to live “as if each step was the end.”
“Time stand still
I’m not looking back
But I want to look around me now
Time stands still
See more of the people
And the places that surround me now
Time stands still
Freeze this moment
A little bit longer
Make each sensation
A little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Experience slips away.”
The Real Relation
“The hours tick away, the cells tick away,” Peart writes in the song, “The Garden.” So, what should we do to savor this life? We cannot, of course, make time stand still, but we can learn to savor many of our experiences more than we typically do. In this sense, even simple, day-to-day experiences, can be sublime such as having a drink with a friend, the beauty of the trees, or the scent of the country air on an exhilarating drive.
Given that so much of our happiness in life comes from our relationships, our relationships with one another should be near the top of our list in terms of savoring. Peart points to the importance of relationships in a number of songs, including one of Rush’s most famous songs, “Limelight.” While many of us long to live in the limelight, “the universal dream,” Peart himself was somewhat of an introvert who shunned adulation.
Fans often felt like they really knew Peart from his songs because those songs resonated so much with them. Although he wanted to inspire listeners, he did not seek or want the adoration of fans. He wanted his fans to know that he could not “pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend.” Peart understands that the dream that we’ll find true happiness from living in the limelight is a red herring. The adulation isn’t real. “The real relation, the underlying theme,” are our relationships with one another.
We Are Immortal for a Limited Time
Reflecting upon the fact that our time here is limited doesn’t have to be a limitation. It can be a form of liberation. It can free us from grousing about things that don’t really matter as much in life and focusing more on what does. We want to transcend ways of thinking that limit us and our appreciation of what matters most in this life.
Peart’s death hit me like a punch to the gut, and my first inclination was to reach out to an old buddy of mine. We shared so many experiences during those critical years from childhood through young adulthood — identity, dating, marriage, religion, and what paths we want to take in life. Both of us have been big Rush fans since early adolescence, and we’ve seen them several times together in concert. Well, my buddy and I have grown apart of the years, some because of geography and life circumstances but perhaps some because of our political differences.
As I mourn Peart’s passing, I think of many of the messages in his songs that have inspired me over the years. But I didn’t want to mourn alone. I knew my buddy felt the same as I did. He was the one who first shared the sad news of Peart’s death with me. He knew that I would want to know right away. He knew that, despite some of our differences, we were connected by our shared life experiences as our love for a band who has meant so much to us over the years.
I called my friend to talk to him about Peart’s death, and we reminisced about Rush, the concerts we went to together, and some of the other past experiences that bond us. It made me realize how I lost sight of the big picture and that sometimes I “let my skin get too thin.” After our phone conversation, I texted him to let him know that I was sorry that we have drifted apart and that our friendship should transcend our differences. It was no surprise, but I was glad to read his text that he felt the same way.
Learn to Transcend
Mr. Peart, you have given me and millions of others a gift beyond price (almost free!). As just one example, you have inspired my friend and me to reconnect…to transcend our differences. The real relation is the underlying theme. We mustn’t forget that, although it is so easy to do!
I can’t speak for everyone, but I will seek to internalize your messages and pursue a life closer to the heart. I know it’s possible. My life isn’t determined. I know that I can mold a new reality. I know this because, Mr. Peart, you taught me during my most formative years that I can choose freewill.