Dean Clough

August 23, 2023

Portico Darwin: The Ethos of Neil Peart


4 Minute Read
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Happy Wednesday. 

Upon our triumphant return from Paso (yes, yes - a Travel Guide is coming soon), I finished the last few pages of Neil Peart's excellent book, "Roadshow:  Landscape with Drums."  It is appropriately subtitled "A Concert Tour by Motorcycle," as it documents the late Rush drummer's decision to ride his BMW 1200GS motorcycle between shows on the band's 2004 tour, A.K.A. R30.  The book also captures an enlightened man's view of some major places in both North America and Europe, with plenty of fun behind-the-scenes stuff. 

If you're a fan of Rush and especially Mr. Peart, the book is a must-read.

But what about those that may not know who he is, or if they do, don't care?  Well, the book is instilled with a particular ethos that is worth reading - and sharing. 

Neil Peart (pronounced "peert") was born on 12 September 1952 and died on 7 January 2020.  He joined Rush in 1974, after their original formation a few years earlier, and played his first concert with band co-founders Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson on 14 August 1974, in Pittsburgh.  Apart from playing the drums, Peart soon became the band's primary lyricist.

Rush went on to become as big as any band, with a respect for their musicianship perhaps bigger than them all.  They called it quits in 2015, with Neil sadly dying of cancer just 5 years later at age 67.

Neil Peart was unique.  For one, he was arguably the greatest rock drummer in history, and if not, he's not far down the list.  Ask anyone that plays the drums. 

Next:  Mr. Peart's erudition (he laughs at himself about this in the book) is famous, and it came through in his lyrics.  And his prose.

But the most remarkable thing about Neil Peart is the abject tragedy he faced and overcame.  In August of 1997, his 19-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident.  And then it got worse - Peart's wife of 23 years died soon thereafter, in June of 1998, of cancer.

Peart took a long sabbatical and considered quitting the band.  But they returned for an album and tour in 2002, and "Roadshow", written by Neil during the 2004 tour, reflects the still-raw wounds from his devastating losses.

(There's much more to that story, and also about Neil riding a motorcycle long distances as grief therapy - it's all in his book "Ghost Rider".)

OK, but what is his "ethos"?

Writing (and Reading)
First, what gives a rock star - and a drummer at that - the gall to write not just one book, but several, in the first place?  Well, I can relate, and while I certainly can't write like Mr. Peart, the fact is, he (like I) began writing because he loves to read.  So, he felt he'd take his own shot at putting some thoughts down on paper.

That's the same reason this blog exists.  Wow, do I like to read - and write.  But in light of Neil Peart, I feel borderline illiterate.

Work and Job Sites and The Guys at Work
If there's one thing to know about Rush as a band, it is their work ethic.  While there were no doubt exceptions, all 3 members brought their A games every single night, and it was the band's central philosophy to at least attempt to have each night's show be the best yet.

Indeed, Peart's tradesman-like nature comes out early and often in this book.  I loved how he explained that drumming for Rush was still a "job", shows took place at the "job site", and the band and its crew were "the guys at work."  It was no affectation.

And it is humbling to read the self-critique of a man as accomplished as Peart.  He knows he's among the best - but he states plainly that that only increases the pressure.  He knows of what he's capable, and if a given performance does not meet his impeccable standards, it is obvious (the book includes his actual show notes) he is disappointed in himself, and for letting down his bandmates, their crew, and the audience.

Oh, and BTW, that was after riding 250 miles or so on a motorcycle the day of most shows.

Neil is an atheist and I thoroughly enjoyed his pokes at organized religion, specifically Christianity.  He does that by simply noting the (mostly foolish) messages he saw on the signs posted outside churches in the U.S.  

Things like:

Lust blinds, binds, grinds.

The price of obedience is nothing compared to the price of disobedience.

Sin will kill you.

Wow - makes sense.  Well, at least the first does.

Driving in the Passing Lane
Briefly, join Neil and me in a campaign to educate our fellow drivers.  On a 4 or more lane highway, you should drive the speed limit or slightly higher in the far right lane, and go to the left lane only to pass.  Once you've passed, you should return to the right lane.  Hanging out in the passing lane ruins the entire concept, and also fucks up traffic behind you.  But you knew that already, right?

Neil Peart brought that up several times in the book.  See, Julie:  I am not the only one.

I am also not the only one when it comes to a complete love of the Adirondack Mountain region of upstate New York.  He namechecks Tupper Lake, FFS!  Neil says the region is amongst his favorites anywhere and deems it one of the most beautiful places on Earth.   

It is.

LOL, his overall favorite is Switzerland and The Dolomites in Italy.  I can't imagine why.

Mr. Peart is no wildman, and certainly not a crazy rockstar law-breaking type.  But like I, he despises the opportunistic nature of some police departments, who simply hassle drivers because they can, and worse, because it's a revenue center.  Yuck, and I agree with Neil it's not like that in Europe.

Strangers and Security
Neil Peart is renowned for his introversion and disdain for the veneer of stardom - you can listen to the Rush song "Limelight" for more information.  He simply never participated in the band meet-and-greets, because they made him so uncomfortable - "embarrassed" was his word.  He couldn't stand the nutty adulation - Mr. Peart saw himself as just another person.

But wow, were there scary stories.  Situations where one or more fans had somehow gotten through security and made it all the way directly in to their inner sanctum backstage.  Imagine looking up at your workplace and seeing an uninvited stranger standing there, demanding an autograph?  Or worse:  how about being stalked in your vehicle or at home?  It must be awful, and I have often said I can't imagine much worse than being widely recognizable in public.

Florida and London
This one is easy:  he loathed the former and loved the latter.  Makes perfect sense. 

He also said that although they wanted every show to be their best, it was especially true in Los Angeles, Toronto (the band's hometown), New York, and . . . London. 

That also makes sense.

As a life-long fan of Rush, this book only cemented their place in my personal music hall of fame. 

But it does leave me somewhat saddened, as while the band had retired, I am confident Neil Peart would have continued writing and creating had he lived longer.

RIP, Professor.


Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


So, yes, it is "Roadshow" that led to so much Rush lately here on KLUF.  But in return for your indulgence, I do have a treat.  And it is consistent with today's post, as it certainly involves live music.

Here is a YouTube playlist of my favorite cuts from the recently released treasure trove of Midnight Special shows, released by its producer Burt Sugarman.  Holy smokes.

Portico Darwin:  Midnight Special


About Dean Clough