The Professor’s Words

On a cold January morning in 2020, I pulled my car into the only empty parking spot available, which was a quarter of a mile from the front door. My boots crunched upon hard-packed snow as I walked along the path to my dreaded, dead-end factory job. I hated what I was doing. The pay was…I guess worth it. But still, there was no meaning to any of it. I’m not even going to get into how much I loathed the elitist punk that I worked for. However, I digress. I trudged another quarter mile to the office that held my desk, flung off my coat and flipped on my outdated PC. To keep myself from vomiting daily, I plugged my ear pods into my phone and quickly turned on some much-needed musical inspiration. Rush was the choice of the day, as their music always seems to put me in a positive state of mind.

I worked through the morning. Page after page of mindless data entry and paralyzing production scheduling. Then came the text message that froze me. My phone buzzed. I received a text from my brother saying that “Neil Peart has died.” I instantly stopped what I was doing and searched for confirmation. Sure enough, there it was. All over the internet was news of the drummer’s passing; at the age of 67, from brain cancer. That beautiful mind. The news was a virtual punch in the gut. I was stunned right there at my desk. The company-line toing goof that sat next to me asked: “What’s the matter?”

“Neil Peart just passed away.” I told him, shocked that I was even able to speak the words aloud.

“Who’s that?” he asked. The rest of the day is a blur in my memory.

Since that day, myself and countless fans across the country and the world, have become more aware of not just the drummer for Rush, but the man himself. I learned decades ago, as did so many other Rush fans, that Neil Peart was the bands sole lyricist after joining the band in 1974 in the wake of the release of their self-titled first album. What I didn’t know then was just how much of an impact his words would have on my own writing and my life.

That evening, after hearing the terrible news, I drove to my girlfriend’s house and cried. I had insisted that Siri play the Rush song, “Afterimage,” over and over again. A childlike sob emanated as I sat and listened with a face full of tears.

Suddenly you were gone, from all the lives you left your mark upon – Neil Peart, 1984.

They say that time heals all wounds. It is true, life does go on. Since the death of my hero, I became partly obsessed, with the band’s music and the professor’s words. From the many documentaries and some of my own research, I discovered that Neil would handwrite his lyrics in such a way that one might be compelled to frame it as art. I will share some of this art with you here, in honor of a man that had so much influence on my playing and my writing.

I had given a lot of thought to compiling Neil’s lyrics. I still might, but this is for myself at the moment. In Anthem, Neil conjures the idea of self-worth. Based on Author Ayn Rand’s story of the same name

Anthem from the album Fly by Night, 1975
By-Tor & The Snow Dog from the album Fly by Night, 1975

Neil was a ferocious reader. During his downtime on the road during those early years, he would read as much as he could handle. Many of his chosen subjects were science fiction and fantasy.

In By-Tor & the Snow Dog, we see a glimpse into the future as Neil composes lyrics using complex themes. What I find to be cool (for lack of a more appropriate word) is that on all these beautifully crafted lyric sheets, Neil feels the presence of mind to jot down where they were in the world at the time.

Overture from the album 2112, 1976

In Overture, Neil once again summons the world of Ayn Rand with the complex and highly popular 2112. It is important to note that it was the album 2112 that gave them the autonomy that they longed for. Like Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead, the individual stood strong against the system and triumphed.

Never again would the boys have to worry about what the record company thought. This was the essence of what 2112 was all about. They were going to make the music that they wanted to make, or they would make nothing.

Entre Nous, from the album Permanent Waves, 1980

Neil takes a somewhat oblique course with the song Entre Nous, as he comments on the complexities and subtleties of personal relationships. The line “the spaces in between leave room for you and I to grow.” is genius.

With the album, A Farewell to Kings, the band wrote one of their most complex pieces that spanned multiple albums. Neil continues his love of science fiction with the epic Cygnus X-1 book one. In this story of the mysterious black hole, Neil outdoes himself as he creates worlds to ultimately be destroyed. I absolutely love the final entry… To Be Continued.

Neil Peart’s words and music transcended time and space. Everything he did, he did with absolute enthusiasm and fascination. The things that he accomplished in his 67 years on this planet will forever be etched in history. He was so much more than what he displayed. More than a drummer. More than a writer. He was a father, a husband, and a man all to himself. Neil kept his personal life extremely private, and though he may not like the adoration of the millions that admired him, he certainly set the bar high.

Thank you, Professor. Rest in Peace.


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