Neil Peart

neil-peart1 2There are good drummers. There are great drummers. And then there’s Neil Peart of the Canadian progressive rock band Rush.

Peart (pronounced “Peert”) is one of the most honored and influential drummers in rock history. Known for his massive drum kit, exotic percussion instruments, and complicated solos, he was inducted into Modern Drummer’s Hall of Fame in 1983, and was voted by the magazine’s readers as Best Rock Drummer in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985. He was honored 13 times for “Best Recorded Performance” for his drum work on Rush albums between 1981 and 2002.

Rocking out with Ayn Rand

Besides its musical ambition and instrumental proficiency, there is one other thing that sets Rush apart from most bands — the strong libertarian/Objectivist themes in its lyrics, which are written by Peart. The band’s 1976 album, 2112, was even dedicated to “the genus of Ayn Rand.” The album, inspired by Rand’s novel Anthem, is about a future society where the rediscovery of the guitar threatens a totalitarian society. It’s no surprise that Rush is the only band ever cited in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

In more recent years, Peart has distanced himself somewhat from Rand and her Objectivist philosophy. In an online chat on www.2112.net (November 4, 1993), Peart downplayed Rand’s impact on him. “For a start, the extent of my influence by the writings of Ayn Rand should not be overestimated — I am no one’s disciple,” he said. “Yes, I believe the individual is paramount in matters of justice and liberty, but in philosophy, as Aristotle said long ago, the paramount good is happiness.”

The Rocker’s Roots

Neil Ellwood Peart was born in 1952 in Ontario, Canada. In 1974, he joined Geddy Lee (vocals, bass, keyboards) and guitarist Alex Lifeson (guitar) to form the current line-up of Rush. Musically, the band has always been defined by Lee’s high, soaring voice and the complicated interplay of instruments. Early Rush albums were influenced by British blues/rockers like Led Zeppelin and The Who, while later albums became more “progressive,” with longer, more ambitious songs, heavy use of synthesizers, and a greater variety of instruments.

In the early to mid-80s, the band released several radio-friendly albums, and achieved their greatest commercial success. By the late 1990s, Rush had returned to a more guitar-driven sound. In 2005, the band celebrated its 30th anniversary with the release of a live album, R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour.

Rush was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1994, and all three members were honored as Officers of the Order of Canada in 1996. Rush has also won nine Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Emmys), including one in 1990 as “Artist of the Decade.”

Rush’s studio albums include Rush (1974), Fly by Night (1975), Caress of Steel (1975), 2112 (1976), A Farewell to Kings (1977), Hemispheres (1978), Permanent Waves (1980), Moving Pictures (1981), Signals (1982), Grace Under Pressure (1984), Power Windows (1985), Hold Your Fire (1987), Presto (1989), Roll the Bones (1991), Counterparts (1993), Test for Echo (1996), and Vapor Trails (2002).

A Rush to Liberty

A number of Peart’s songs very clearly hint at his libertarian sensibilities. The song “Free Will” (from Permanent Waves) proclaims: “I will choose a path that’s clear / I will choose free will.” Tom Sawyer” (from Moving Pictures) states: “His mind is not for rent / To any god or government.” And “Something for Nothing” (from 2112) cautions: “You don’t get something for nothing / You don’t get freedom for free.”

According to a 2005 story by Bob Cook on the web site www.JewsRock.org — a site devoted to Jewish rock ‘n’ roll musicians — “Peart now refers to himself as a ‘left-leaning libertarian.’”

In addition to his career in music, Peart has published four books: The Masked Rider (1996), Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road (2002), Traveling Music: Playing Back the Soundtrack to My Life and Times (2004), and Roadshow: Landscape With Drums, A Concert Tour By Motorcycle (2006).

Quotable

“I believe the individual is paramount in matters of justice and liberty.” — Neil Peart (November 4, 1993)