From Rush With Love
Neil Peart drives like he drums. On a bright mid-April afternoon in Los Angeles, fresh from a rehearsal with his band, Rush, for what might be their last big tour, he powers his pristine, silver, Goldfinger-style 1964 Aston Martin DB5 onto an exit ramp off the 405 at highway speed, slowing not at all — speeding up, maybe — into a sharp, perilous curve. Call it the way of the Peart: daunting technical mastery paired with a penchant for the gloriously excessive.
He plays an outsize role in Rush, writing the lyrics, serving as the band’s designated conscience, taking solos so lengthy and structured that they get their own song titles. To a certain breed of rock musician, the drummer is a Clapton-in-’66-level god: Dave Grohl wept after meeting him.
Peart is also an amateur auto racer, and something of an off-ramp connoisseur. “Racetracks are designed to make it as difficult as possible to get around that corner fast,” he says over the Aston Martin’s growl, hands tight on the wheel as he whips through the turn. “And some ramps, by necessity, are that way too. I’ve been picking out a few favorites — the ramp to Wilshire on the 405 is awesome.”
At 62, Peart resembles an off-brand Tom Hanks, with a prominent, florid nose and alert brown eyes. He is tall, dressed in a black T-shirt, black khakis and Prada sneakers; he has ropy, muscled forearms and an athlete’s physical ease, despite growing up as a self-described weakling. He is a good deal more personable than you’d expect of a guy who wrote the lyrics to rock’s premier anti-schmoozing anthem, “Limelight” (“I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend”), delivering crisp, all-but-indented paragraphs in a rich baritone. A rigorous autodidact and a gifted, near-graphomaniacal writer, he has penned so many books, essays and lyrics that he can’t help deploying conversational footnotes: “When I wrote about that, I said . . . ”
Peart’s fans consider him rock’s greatest living drummer: He’s won prizes in Modern Drummer‘s annual readers’ poll 38 times. And even those allergic to the spectacle of inhuman chops unleashed upon gleaming, rotating, 20-piece-plus drum kits might consider Peart’s talent for rhythmic composition and drama: Rush fans know that his hypersyncopated beats and daredevil fills are pop hooks in their own right. “Neil is the most air-drummed-to drummer of all time,” says former Police drummer Stewart Copeland, Peart’s friend, musical influence and occasional jam partner, who points to a core sense of groove beneath the flashiness: “Neil pushes that band, which has a lot of musicality, a lot of ideas crammed into every eight bars — but he keeps the throb, which is the important thing. And he can do that while doing all kinds of cool shit.”
Neil Peart likes to ask himself a couple of key questions. One is “What is the most excellent thing I can do today?” The answers lead him to travel between Rush’s shows on a BMW motorcycle instead of a plane or bus (creating scheduling nightmares for the band’s management), and to embark upon extracurricular bicycle trips through West Africa and China and Europe. He aims to fill every minute of his life with as much much-ness as possible, which may also help explain all those 32nd notes.
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