By the time the progressive rock band Rush called it quits in 2018, the Canadian power trio had been rocking for over 40 years, sold over 40 million albums, received a pile of awards and cultivated a devoted fan base that helped drive them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
While all three band members — including guitarist Alex Lifeson and keyboardist/bassist/lead singer Geddy Lee — have enjoyed high regard for their musicianship and devotion to craft, drummer Neil Peart has served as captain of the ship, not only keeping time and dazzling the audience with a crescendo of drums, but writing the band’s eclectic lyrics. Peart died in January, and as musician, writer and adventure traveler, he left behind a body of work that includes 19 studio albums, dozens of compilations and nine books.
To mark his passing, what can be made from Peart’s prodigious output? Turns out there are a few takeaways you can benefit from even if you don’t bang on things with sticks for a living:
Commitment to craft. Known for his stamina and technical proficiency, Peart constantly ranks among the best rock drummers in the world. Fans and peers lauded his innovation and showmanship. Peart has said that he was never born with a talent for drumming, so he channeled his fierce determination for the instrument and coupled that with incessant practice. In the early years he took every opportunity to play and treated each opening act like it was his big break, until of course it eventually was when he joined Rush in 1974. There’s no magic to it, decide what area you want to improve upon and apply a consistent, disciplined cadence to your approach and you’ll hit your goals, too.
Stay restless! “When people talk about boredom I can honestly say I’ve never been bored for a second in my life — but I’ve always found a way not to be,” Peart said in an interview. He talked about thwarting boredom by “cultivating restlessness.” When he found himself with down time in between shows on tour he would ride his bike and check out new neighborhoods. Like everyone else, Peart found himself in doctor and dentist offices for appointments and always carried a book with him to use these blocks of time.
Take care. Peart referred to “care” as “an unfashionable word” but he used it to describe his perspective on everything he did. Approaching his song writing with care meant using a four words out of every five stanzas of draft lyrics. Deciding to write non-fiction meant riding a bicycle through Cameroon to live the experience he wanted to write about. Playing a show meant giving every audience his best and not just coasting through the show based on the band’s fame. “A performance will have as much care as I can give it, we never played a show where we didn’t give it 100%.” You don’t need to be rich or famous to impart care in all that you do, either, and doing so pays dividends.
Cultivate resilience. In 1997, Peart tragically lost both his wife and young daughter within the same year. He told his band mates that he was quitting Rush and he embarked on a 55,000 mile motorcycle road trip through North and Central America to deal with his grief. Along the way, he found a new voice as a writer and published Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. Eventually, he returned to the band to start anew and recorded three more albums and tours as well as a number of books. While life deals us a steady drumbeat of tragedies and setbacks, the key is to foster an ability to recover, adapt, grow and return to the stage with renewed vigor.
Always a student. By the early 1990’s Rush had made millions of dollars and was at the top of their game. It would be easy to sit back and relax and bask in the glory of being the best. But Peart thought differently. “What is a master but a master student? And if that’s true, then there’s a responsibility on you to keep getting better and to explore avenues of your profession.” Peart took his own advice and became the pupil of an acclaimed jazz drum teacher to further augment his skills and perspective. Whether you are at at a career high or low, you need to keep moving forward through learning and continuous improvement.
Fire it up! Rush’s Geddy Lee once remarked of Peart’s penchant for practice, “You’re the only guy I know who rehearses to rehearse.” When it came to living life Peart was all in. Instead of a standard five piece drum kit, he used a 360 degree set up with over 30 pieces. He didn’t just ride his BMW motorcycle on Sunday afternoon drives, he logged a hundred miles before breakfast on thousand-mile sojourns. Peart says it all comes down to passion. “The literal meaning of ‘enthusiasm’ is infect them with the gods,” Peart said. People can sense your enthusiasm—or lack of it— and respond accordingly.
As Rush cribbed from Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage and we are merely players,” so no matter what you’re role in this big show called life you can choose how to approach it, and choosing to do so with care, commitment, resilience and passion can lead to a memorable performance.