In Memoriam: Neil Peart
I became a fan of Rush back in the early ’80s, the first time I heard Tom Sawyer over the radio from KBFL, at the time the student-run radio station out of Buffalo (MO) High School.
The three members of the band were all virtuosos on their instruments, but the thing that raised them above other bands of that era was the song writing. Lots of science fiction (2112, Red Barchetta, The Body Electric, and more) and stuff that’s science fiction-adjacent (Countdown, obviously, though Digital Man and New World Man fit with the cyberpunk esthetic of the early ’80s). But most of their other tracks, with their recurring themes of individualism, resistance to authoritarians, and introverts and outsiders trying to find their way, spoke to me as well. And most of those lyrics came from Peart’s pen.
Peart, who died last week of glioblastoma, aged 67, took influence from science fiction, but in turn, science fiction took influence from him. Last month (December 2019), the Libertarian Futurist Society nominated The Trees, an anti-equal-outcomes parable, for the 2020 Prometheus Hall of Fame Award. Kevin J. Anderson, a long-time friend of Peart’s, novelized the band’s last studio album, Clockwork Angels. And Rush’s music has popped up in my own stories in different ways.
- “1001001” from The Body Electric is the email username used by the mysterious hacker who contacts Clay Shieffer in the beginning of my first novel, The Blank Slate.
- Closer to the Heart is part of the Alignment with the Universe hymnal in the last two Stone Chalmers novels, To All High Emprise Consecrated and In Public Convocation Assembled.
- A close reader will also realized that Closer to the Heart is also a hymn sung by Tao Pacem, in The Reincarnation Run.
In addition to Peart’s relevance for science fiction, he also exemplified some positive traits creative people of any stripe should emulate.
After the album Caress of Steel failed to meet their record company’s expectations, the band faced a choice. Record an album more in line with what the suits wanted, or follow their weird. They followed their weird and recorded 2112, which ended up being their best selling album to that point and laid the groundwork for the next four decades of their successes.
When asked about writing the lyrics to Limelight, a song about the pluses and minuses of fame, Peart said, “I didn’t want to be famous. I wanted to be good.”
And he was, for a career lasting about fifty years, speaking to the hearts of millions of fans worldwide. All because he and the other band members forged their path and stuck to it, regardless what the suits and the critics said. You can’t ask for more than that in this life.