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Neil Peart, Geddy Lee & Alex Lifeson

Thu, Jan 21, 2021

Remembering Neil Peart on the first anniversary of his death

Thu, Jan 7, 2021@8:24AM | comments

UPDATE - 1/8@10:13AM: Ultimate Classic Rock's Ryan Reed wrote an article yesterday on how Rush's The Garden feels like Neil Peart's symbolic goodbye:

... "For me, 'The Garden' was a major step forward as a songwriter and as a singer," he reportedly recalled in a promotional interview from 2012. "I've always wanted to do that kind of song where the melody was the thing that made it connect with you, that gave it resonance, where the voice kind of comes out of the soundscape and delivers the story to you in a heartfelt way. To achieve that without it being schmaltzy or feeling forced, and with the music around the voice to be very relaxed, I think can only come from years of playing and from confidence."

And Peart's meditative poetry sparks that performance. He was always one of rock's wisest lyricists, dwelling on Big Themes like adolescent angst ("Subdivisions") and alienation brought from fame ("Limelight"). And "The Garden" ranks among his most direct and primal work - one final reflection on mortality and maximizing every moment.

"The measure of a life is a measure of love," Lee sings. "So hard to earn, so easily burned / In the fullness of time / A garden to nurture and protect / It's a measure of a life."

Before his death, Peart quietly battled brain cancer for three and a half years - given that timeline, he clearly didn't conceive "The Garden" as a literal goodbye. But for his fans, still searching for meaning amid the sadly meaningless, it serves as a symbolic one.

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UPDATE - 1/8@10:04AM: Geddy Lee posted the following photo and message to his Instagram yesterday in tribute to his friend and rock brother:

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UPDATE - 1/7@4:31PM: Here are some more excerpts from that excellent Rolling Stone article, including the following details about Neil's private memorial service along with a mention that Lifeson was briefly hospitalized in March:

... With Peart's passing closely followed by a global catastrophe, it's been a dark and surreal year for his friends and family. In a world frozen in place, it's been hard to process grief. "It feels like it wasn't very long ago," says Lee. There was more drama in the Rush camp, too. Lifeson became terribly ill in March, and was hospitalized for a few days and placed on oxygen. He tested negative for Covid-19 but positive for the flu, though he did lose his sense of taste and smell while he was sick. Lifeson has since fully recovered.

A planned private Toronto memorial for Peart had to be called off, but there was a small dinner with the band and friends in Los Angeles, and a formal memorial there hosted by his widow weeks later. "Carrie picked a beautiful place overlooking the Pacific," says [Doane] Perry. "It was a beautiful afternoon. It was a healing time for everyone. Carrie put together a wonderful slide show of pictures, going right back to when he was a boy."

Some of Peart's friends - [Matt] Scannell, Perry, [Stewart] Copeland, prose collaborator Kevin Anderson - spoke in front of an audience that included his bandmates and other famous drummers: Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Chad Smith, Tool's Danny Carey. In Copeland's speech, he noted that thanks to Peart, all of the drummers in attendance shared the indignity of meeting fans who'd tell them, "You're my second-favorite drummer!"

At the end, Olivia Peart, age 11, got up and talked about her dad. "She was wonderful," Perry says. "She's really Neil's daughter, a really smart little girl."

Olivia and her mother are, of course, still struggling with the loss, compounded by pandemic-era isolation. The Canadian border has been largely closed for months, separating them from Peart's extended family. "Our lives were turned upside down when Neil died," says Nuttall, who spent Christmas alone with her daughter. "And then eight weeks later we were alone at home together, and it's been tough. ... We both think about him every single day, and talk about him every single day, and miss him every day." Through it all, Olivia is continuing her drum lessons. ...

Geddy and Alex also talk about how Neil's death affected their desire to continue playing music:

... Since Peart's passing, Lee and Lifeson have found little interest in picking up their instruments. "I love playing, and I never, ever wanted to stop," says Lifeson, during an emotional joint video call with Lee. Lifeson was in his studio, where nearly a dozen gleaming guitars hung behind him. "And I thought, you know, 'One day, when I'm just sitting around shitting my pants, I'll still want to play guitar.' And that's kind of gone now. After he died, it just didn't seem important. But I think it'll come back."

"For the longest time," says Lee, "I didn't have any heart to play. ... I still feel there's music in me and there's music in Big Al, but there's no hurry to do any of that."

Even as they mourn their friend, Lee and Lifeson are adjusting to the idea that Rush, too, is gone. "That's finished, right? That's over," Lee says. "I still am very proud of what we did. I don't know what I will do again in music. And I'm sure Al doesn't, whether it's together, apart, or whatever. But the music of Rush is always part of us. And I would never hesitate to play one of those songs in the right context. But at the same time, you have to give respect to what the three of us with Neil did together."...

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UPDATE - 1/7@11:54AM: The city of St. Catharines, ON has issued a press release with updates on the status of the establishment of a commemorative work of art honoring the late Neil Peart. From the release:

... This past year, St. Catharines City Council, with the support of the community, voted to name the newly rebuilt pavilion at Lakeside Park after Neil Peart. The pavilion, now known as the Neil Peart Pavilion at Lakeside Park, honours Peart's connections to Lakeside Park - a place that inspired the lyrics to a famous Rush single of the same name. Council also established the Neil Peart Commemorative Task Force this past year with the objective to commission a public work of art that will commemorate Neil Peart's life in music. The task force, chaired by Dave DeRocco, has been meeting since last July, reviewing options for the type and location of a memorial, which will also be located in Lakeside Park. The procurement process is in progress and a request for pre-qualifications will be issued within the next few weeks with the goal of selecting an artist and proposed design. The task force has also established a subcommittee to champion a full fundraising campaign, including an online donation portal, that is set to launch in February. ...

You can read the full release here.

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UPDATE - 1/7@10:30AM: Lesley Choyce of Pottersfield Press, who published Peart's first book The Masked Rider, shared his memories of his friendship with Neil and of learning about his death in this video which he posted just before Christmas (the original text was published last year):

... It was in March of 2017 - my birthday message again - when Neil told me about the brain cancer and asked that I didn't mention it to others. He did a fairly good job of keeping it quiet for the ensuing few years. I think I understand that it's better to hunker down with close family rather than milk sympathy from fans far and wide. The emails grew shorter, the jokes fewer, the prognosis grimmer. But he stayed in touch and there was not a hint of wallowing in his prose. The Neil Peart I will remember is the modest, soft-spoken, literate and loyal friend whose lyrical and musical craft had taken him to the top but whose feet were most solidly planted on the ground. And then the news hit me at Friday dinner time, after a day of teaching, after some afternoon preaching about how writing shapes a life. And I'll always remember Neil as a writer. A lover of words and literature, a craftsmen of lyric and, as The Masked Rider revealed, a modern day Dante who, in midlife, found himself on a descent into hell and mustered the will, the courage and the wisdom to find his way back into the sunlight of everyday life.

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UPDATE - 1/7@9:53AM: Neil Peart's widow Carrie Nuttall, along with his bandmates and Rush manager Ray Danniels talk about Peart's illness and final years in this new Rolling Stone interview:

... After the tour, when Peart wasn't working in his man cave, he volunteered for library time at Olivia's school. "Olivia was thrilled," says Nuttall. "She got to see Daddy at school all the time." At night, he'd come home and cook family dinners. "He was living his life exactly the way he wanted for the first time in decades, probably," she says. "It was a very sweet, content time ... and then the gods, or whatever you want to call it, snatched it all away." ...

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NeilPeartOne year ago today, on January 7, 2020, Neil Peart passed away at the age of 67 after a three-year battle with brain cancer. The general public did not become aware of this shocking news until three days later on the afternoon of Friday, January 10, as reported in this CBC article and by other news outlets. Neil and his family managed to keep his illness private, so fans were completely blindsided by the tragic news. Rush posted this official statement via social media shortly after the news broke:

It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terrible news that on Tuesday our friend, soul brother and band mate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three and a half year battle with brain cancer (Glioblastoma). We ask that friends, fans, and media alike understandably respect the family's need for privacy and peace at this extremely painful and difficult time. Those wishing to express their condolences can choose a cancer research group or charity of their choice and make a donation in Neil Peart's name. Rest in peace brother.

Feel free to share your memories of Neil Peart and this tragic day in the comments below. Rest in Peace Professor.

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