A Rockapaedia Obituary
Neil Peart died aged sixty-seven from brain cancer on 7th January 2020, in Santa Monica, California, U.S.A. He had been diagnosed three and a half years earlier, and the illness was a closely-guarded secret in Neils inner circle until his death.
Neil Peart was born on 12th September 1952 and had a brother Danny and two sisters, Judy and Nancy. Neil described his childhood as happy and says he experienced a warm family life. By early adolescence he became interested in music and acquired a transistor radio, which he would use to tune into pop music stations broadcasting from Toronto, Hamilton, Welland, Ontario and Buffalo, New York.
Neil's first exposure to musical training came in the form of piano lessons, which he later said, in his instructional video A Work in Progress, did not have much impact on him. Neil did have a penchant for drumming on various objects around the house with a pair of chopsticks, so for his thirteenth birthday his parents bought him a pair of drum sticks, a practice drum and some lessons, with the promise that if he stuck with it for a year they would buy him a kit.
His parents bought him a drum kit for his fourteenth birthday and he began taking lessons from Don George at the Peninsula Conservatory of Music. His stage debut took place that year at the school's Christmas pageant in St. Johns Anglican Church Hall in Port Dalhousie. His next appearance was at Lakeport High School with his first group, The Eternal Triangle. This performance contained an original number titled "LSD Forever". At this show he performed his first solo.
Neil Peart got a job in Lakeside Park, in Port Dalhousie on the shores of Lake Ontario, which later inspired a song of the same name on the Rush album 'Caress of Steel'. He worked on the Bubble Game and Ball Toss, but his tendency to take it easy when business was slack resulted in his termination. By his late teens, Neil Peart had played in local bands such as Mumblin' Sumpthin', the Majority, and JR Flood. These bands practiced in basement recreation rooms and garages and played church halls, high schools and skating rinks in towns across Southern Ontario such as Mitchell, Seaforth, and Elmira. They also played in the northern Ontario city of Timmins. Tuesday nights were filled with jam sessions at the Niagara Theatre Centre.
At eighteen years old after struggling to achieve success as a drummer in Canada, Neil Peart travelled to London, England, hoping to further his career as a professional musician. Despite playing in several bands and picking up occasional session work, he was forced to support himself by selling jewelry at a shop called The Great Frog on Carnaby Street. While in London, he came across the writings of novelist and Objectivist Ayn Rand. Rand's writings became a significant early philosophical influence on Neil, as he found many of her writings on individualism and Objectivism inspiring. References to Rand's philosophy can be found in his early lyrics, most notably "Anthem" from 1975's Fly by Night and "2112" from 1976's 2112.
After eighteen months of dead-end musical gigs and disillusioned by his lack of progress in the music business, Neil Peart placed his aspiration of becoming a professional musician on hold and returned to Canada. Upon returning to St. Catharines, he worked for his father selling tractor parts at Dalziel Equipment.
After returning to Canada, Neil Peart was recruited to play drums for a St. Catharines band known as Hush, who played on the Southern Ontario bar circuit. Soon after, a mutual acquaintance convinced Neil Peart to audition for the Toronto-based band Rush, which needed a replacement for its original drummer John Rutsey. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson oversaw the audition. His future bandmates describe his arrival that day as somewhat humorous, as he arrived in shorts, driving a battered old Ford Pinto with his drums stored in trashcans. Neil Peart felt the entire audition was a complete disaster. While Lee and Neil Peart hit it off on a personal level, both sharing similar tastes in books and music, Lifeson had a less favourable impression of Neil Peart. After some discussion, Lee and Lifeson accepted Neil Peart's maniacal British style of drumming, somewhat reminiscent of The Who's Keith Moon.
Neil Peart officially joined Rush in July 1974, two weeks before the group's first US tour. Neil Peart procured a silver Slingerland kit which he played at his first gig with the band, opening for Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann in front of over 11,000 people at the Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 14th August 1974. Neil soon settled into his new position, also becoming the band's primary lyricist. Before joining Rush, he had written few songs, but, with the other members largely uninterested in writing lyrics, Neil Peart's previously under-utilized writing became as noticed as his musicianship. The band was working hard to establish themselves as a recording act, and Neil Peart, along with the rest of the band, began to undertake extensive touring.
Neil's first recording with the band, 1975's 'Fly by Night', was fairly successful, winning the Juno Award for most promising new act, but the follow-up, 'Caress of Steel', for which the band had high hopes, was greeted with hostility by both fans and critics. In response to this negative reception, most of which was aimed at the B side-spanning epic "The Fountain of Lamneth", Neil Peart responded by penning "2112" on their next album in 1976. The album, despite record company indifference, became their breakthrough and gained a following in the United States. The supporting tour culminated in a three-night stand at Massey Hall in Toronto, a venue Neil Peart had dreamed of playing in his days on the Southern Ontario bar circuit.
Neil Peart returned to England for Rush's Northern European Tour and the band stayed in the United Kingdom to record the next album, 1977's 'A Farewell to Kings' in Rockfield Studios in Wales. They returned to Rockfield to record the follow-up, 'Hemispheres', in 1978, which they wrote entirely in the studio. The recording of five studio albums in four years, coupled with as many as 300 gigs a year, convinced the band to take a different approach thereafter. Neil Peart has described his time in the band up to this point as "a dark tunnel."
In 1992, Neil Peart was invited by Buddy Rich's daughter, Cathy Rich, to play at the Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concert in New York City. Neil Peart accepted and performed for the first time with the Buddy Rich Big Band. Neil Peart remarked that he had little time to rehearse, and noted that he was embarrassed to find the band played a different arrangement of the song than the one he had learned. Feeling that his performance left much to be desired, Neil Peart decided to produce and play on two Buddy Rich tribute albums titled Burning for Buddy: A Tribute to the Music of Buddy Rich in 1994 and 1997 in order to regain his aplomb. While producing the first Buddy Rich tribute album, Neil Peart was struck by the tremendous improvement in ex-Journey drummer Steve Smith's playing, and asked him his "secret." Smith responded he had been studying with drum teacher Freddie Gruber.
In early 2007, Neil Peart and Cathy Rich again began discussing yet another Buddy tribute concert. At the recommendation of bassist Jeff Berlin, Neil Peart decided to once again augment his swing style with formal drum lessons, this time under the tutelage of another pupil of Freddie Gruber, Peter Erskine, himself an instructor of Steve Smith. In October 2008, Neil Peart once again performed at the Buddy Rich Memorial Concert at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom, the concert since being released on DVD. In August 1997, soon after the conclusion of Rush's Test for Echo Tour, Neil Peart's first daughter, at the time his only child, Selena, was killed aged nineteen in a car accident on Highway 401 near the town of Brighton, Ontario. His common-law wife of twenty-three years, Jacqueline, succumbed to cancer ten months later. Neil attributed her death to the result of a "broken heart" and called it "a slow suicide by apathy, saying she just didn't care.
In his book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, Neil Peart writes that he told his bandmates at Selena's funeral, "consider me retired". Neil Peart took a long sabbatical to mourn and reflect, and travelled extensively throughout North and Central America on his motorcycle, covering 88,000 km (55,000 mi). After his journey, Neil Peart decided to return to the band. Neil Peart wrote the book as a chronicle of his geographical and emotional journey.
Neil Peart was introduced to photographer Carrie Nuttall in Los Angeles by long-time Rush photographer Andrew MacNaughtan. They married on ninth September, 2000. In early 2001, Neil Peart announced to his bandmates that he was ready to return to recording and performing. The product of the band's return was the 2002 album Vapor Trails. At the start of the ensuing tour in support of the album, it was decided amongst the band members that Neil Peart would not take part in the daily grind of press interviews and "meet and greet" sessions upon their arrival in a new city that typically monopolize a touring band's daily schedule. Neil Peart has always shied away from these types of in-person encounters, and it was decided that exposing him to a lengthy stream of questions about the tragic events of his life was not necessary.
After the release of Vapor Trails and his reunion with bandmates, Neil Peart returned to work as a full-time musician. In the June 2009 edition of Neil Peart's website's News, Weather, and Sports, titled "Under the Marine Layer", he announced that he and Carrie were expecting their first child. Olivia Louise Peart was born later that year.