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SYFY WIRE obituary

Neil Peart, the vision and drumming power behind prog-rock icons Rush, dies at 67

By Benjamin Bullard
Rush drummer Neil Peart

A legend of both progressive science fiction and musical talent has passed away, with the death this week of Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart. 

Peart, 67, passed away on Jan. 7 in Santa Monica, California, from complications related to brain cancer, according to Rolling Stone. As the longtime drummer behind the trippy Canadian power trio, Peart brought not only incredible drumming chops to the table (he remains revered in drumming circles as one of the greatest to pick up the sticks), he also wrote most of the band’s visionary lyrics. From the mid-1970s all the way through the band’s technology-embracing heyday in the 1980s, Rush reared a generation of progressive rock fans on visions of how futurism, technology, and even a mystical nod to ancient ways could offer an introspective salve for isolation and loneliness.

A native Canadian, Peart joined fellow Canadians Geddy Lee (vocalist, bassist, and keyboard player) and virtuoso guitarist Alex Lifeson in 1974, after original drummer John Rutsey left following the band’s eponymous debut album. Peart’s participation brought an instant shift to the band’s heft — not only as a true musical power trio, but also as a lyrically expansive outfit unafraid to invoke Greek myth, medieval fantasy, and progressive science fiction over the span of 18 more studio albums. 

With the other two band members largely content to step back and leave the lyrics-writing duties to Peart, Rush embarked on a spree of concept albums in the 1970s that engaged myths both rooted in history as well as those that sprang from Peart’s fertile mind. 

2112, released in 1976, featured a sprawling 20-minute song of the same name that took up half the album, with Peart-penned lyrics that followed a future individualist hero on a rebellious struggle within the sci-fi city of Megadon, set against a larger context of interplanetary warfare. The opus’ famously ominous ending — “Attention, all planets of the Solar Federation: We have assumed control” — became just one of many Peart-scripted lyrics to stay on the lips of Rush fans as the band continued turning out concept albums (or epic concept songs within larger albums) including A Farewell to Kings (1977), Hemispheres (1978), and — with a tighter, more tech-based sound taking shape — 1981’s landmark album Moving Pictures

“Countdown,” the final song on 1982’s Signals album, even incorporated actual mission-control audio from a space-shuttle launch, reinforcing Peart’s lyrical reverie at the majesty of watching the space shuttle Columbia lift off for the first time. NASA astronauts, including the crew for the final Columbia mission, would go on to adopt the song as one of their anthems and even used it as an in-flight wake-up song. 

Peart, who was a Toronto-area native, is succeeded in death by his wife, Carrie Nuttal, and a daughter, Olivia. A pair of tragedies in the late 1990s previously had claimed the lives of both his 19-year-old daughter Selena, and, less than a year later, his longtime partner and common-law wife, Jacqueline Taylor. Peart and his bandmates were made Officers of the Order of Canada in 1996, and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

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