One fan’s reflection on the impact of Rush on the teenaged soul
OK, so it’s Monday, and the media feeding frenzy on the unexpected passing of Neil Peart is on the comedown. I never knew there were so many Rush fans in rock journalism. Where were all you guys in the last 45 years of this band’s existence, BTW?
Oh that’s right, you were all decrying them as dweeby and unhip as you clutched your Forced Exposure mail order catalog tightly to your chest. As a music fan really coming into my own during freshman year of high school, I had gotten into Rush right after the Hold Your Fire tour. I’ll never forget my beloved cousin William Gamble (RIP) took me to Record World in the Mid-Island Plaza of Hicksville (now the Broadway Mall) for my birthday and bought me Show of Hands on vinyl, as it had just come out.
I had received one of those cheapie Soundesign record and cassette player consoles as a gift from my grandpa on that birthday as well, so I began collecting records. Show of Hands was the first actual new album I had purchased as a young music fan making the transition from toys to tapes and vinyl.
By the time Presto had come out on the back end of 1989, I was a full-fledged fan. The next year I had used a portion of my meager earnings as an usher at the local United Artists cineplex in Newburgh, NY to purchase Mercury’s two-cassette Rush anthology Chronicles, which 30 years later remains the most essential overview of their pre-Atlantic years.
I was not alone in my love for Rush at Wallkill Senior High School either. I was blessed with a small posse of like-minded misfits who were as crazy about Rush as I was, a love that would soon segue into another famous power trio then on the cusp on their comeuppance, Primus, as they dropped Suck On This and Frizzle Fry within months of one another.
VIDEO: Primus opening for Rush in Los Angeles 1/23/92
Come senior year, Rush had just put out their second outing for Atlantic, Roll The Bones, and a few of us got tickets to see them play the Knickerbocker Arena (now Pepsi Arena) up in Albany, which is amazingly available on YouTube. It was such a good show, and speaking of Primus, it was unfortunately not one of the stops where Les, Ler and Herb were opening for the band. We got the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, which sucked at the time but retroactively has gotten cooler and cooler as my affinity for his role in heavy metal and hard rock has evolved in time.
Roll The Bones remains one of my absolute favorite Rush albums, and to say I got to see them on this tour only resonates in significance the older I get. I was lucky to have witnessed the Rush concert experience eight times since then, and each time it was just such a joy to be a part of this club, this giant club of guys and gals (there are more of them than you realize!) who just know every word to every song and welcome the new material with the same beam of love they do the likes of “The Trees” and “Tom Sawyer”.
The last three times I got to see Rush it was with one of my longtime true friends I was lucky to make along the way in this industry, Mr. Brad Filicky of Let’s Talk Nerdy. We saw them last when they came to Prudential on the R40 tour in 2015, and it was just such a fitting (if sudden) conclusion to my history of seeing this band in concert.
Knowing what Neil Peart had gone through with the losses of his daughter and wife at the turn of the new century, and the spiritual journey he embarked upon by riding his motorcycle across the North American continent (as chronicled in his must-read memoir Ghost Rider), only made this final Tri-State Area Rush show even more resonant in the hearts and minds of their loyal fanbase. And, after all these years, my favorite moment at a Rush show remains the title track to Roll The Bones, featuring rap lyrics penned by an inspired Peart after listening to LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out and Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet. It’s honestly a song I lyrically reference all the damn time in my personal life, so you know it has to be good. But when they did it on this R40 tour, oh man they had all these different high profile Rush fans, including Peter Dinklage, Chad Smith, Jay Baruchel, Les Claypool, Tom Morello, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel and Trailer Park Boys actors John Paul Tremblay, Robb Wells and Mike Smith all lip synching to Geddy Lee’s surprisingly smooth flow. I mean, he’s no Jay-Z, but better than expected from Geddy Lee, you know what I mean?
VIDEO: Rush and Friends perform “Roll The Bones” on the R40 Tour
So yeah, Neil Peart has been such a huge part of my life, as he was to the lives of so many. His passing has more in common with when we lost Jerry in 1995, because not only is a whole world kinda casually mourning the loss of a music giant; there is also a huge cult fanbase in deep sorrow over losing one of their yogis. And for Rush fans, that was the man they call “The Professor”. Not only was he the single best drummer rock music has ever seen thus far (I am hopeful for the future) going into his 60s, but he resonated with so many people through his lyrics. Growing up in middle school in the mid-80s and high school in the early 90s, he spoke to kids like me so resoundingly on songs like “Subdivisions” and “Time Stand Still,” a song that I can also thank immensely for introducing me to the great Aimee Mann.
No other rock drummer led from behind the way Neil did, his closest rival being Phil Collins by a country mile. Don Henley, too, I suppose. He was the head and the heartbeat of Rush, and his death means that the band as we know it ceases to exist.
I hope that Geddy and Alex will one day go on the road again, maybe with a guy like Mike Portnoy or Danny Carey sitting on the drum stool, two men I could only think would be apt enough to fill in for the Professor on that sacred ground on the Rush concert stage.
Jesus he’s gonna be missed. Godspeed, Neil Peart. Thanks for everything.
VIDEO: Rush Live in Nevada on the Roll The Bones Tour 1992