A GREAT ROCK & ROLL DRUMMER, TRAGEDY AND GRIEF

September 9, 2021

Neil Peart is, in my opinion, the greatest rock & roll drummer that ever lived. In fact, on my list, number two is way off. Peart was the drummer for the iconic Canadian rock band, Rush. I remember seeing him in action at a concert at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City when they were touring with the music from their "Roll the Bones" album back in the 1990s. Peart played a sizzling and impossible solo on his drum set that included more than 30 pieces. At the end of the solo, he played for several minutes with the platform spinning as he juggled his drumsticks in the air--and they were flying into the rafters. I had never seen anything like it in my whole living life. I still haven't. Neil Peart was affectionately called "The Professor" because he wrote most of Rush's lyrics and took inspiration from Ayn Rand, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and various philosophers, and fantasy novelists. His lyrics were deep and provocative.

By 1997, Peart was world famous and wealthy beyond what he could ever have dreamed. It was a testament to his work ethic, intellectual curiosity, and devotion to his craft. But then tragedy struck. Peart's only child, a 19-year-old daughter named Selena, was killed in a car accident. Less than a year later, Peart's wife of more than 20 years died of cancer. He believed she died of a broken heart. Neil Peart was 45 years old when he became a mid-single. His entire family had died, and he was alone. Fame and wealth could not make up for those profound losses.

Peart told his partners Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson that he couldn't be the drummer for Rush anymore. He got on his motorcycle and rode 55,000 miles, all over North America and as far south as Belize. Rush didn't perform or make any new music for 5 years. Peart wrote a book about this personal odyssey called "Ghost Rider." He described this lengthy motorcycle trip as follows:

"There have been those who have actually said they envy me, though mostly strangers, and I doubt you’d be that short-sighted or self-absorbed. This is way more freedom than anyone should ever desire, and carries way more baggage than 'freedom' can ever sustain. This is more like 'desperate flight,' and another name I have for myself is 'The Ghost Rider.' I’m a ghost, I carry a few ghosts with me, and I’m riding through a world that isn’t quite real. But I’m okay as long as I keep moving."
Neil Peart, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. However, Peart doesn't run forever. He figures out that a key to moving forward, healing, and reclaiming his happiness is personal development and self-reflection:

"And me, I’ve got to start all over. Not only build a new life, but construct a new person. I call my old self 'that other guy,' for I share nothing but his memories, and everything he ever liked I’ve had to discover all over again, one by one, so that I’ve held on to, for example, reading, motorcycling, and birdwatching, but I’m not yet sure about art or music (I can look at it or listen to it, but not with the same 'engagement' I used to)."

Neil Peart, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. Peart would eventually find the engagement and love of music again--but not until he found a new source of inspiration--his second wife, Carrie, who he married in 2000. They had a little girl named Olivia in 2009. After marrying Carrie in 2000, Peart told his bandmates that he was ready to work again--and produced some of his best and most insightful work over the next 15 years. It was during this period that Neil and his bandmates were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He rebuilt himself, became a new person, and then rebuilt his life. It's something we can all learn from.

Neil Peart was diagnosed with glioblastoma (brain cancer) in 2017, two years after Neil and his band mates retired. He died in January of 2020 at the age of 68. At the time of his death, his net worth was 42 million dollars. Neil Peart's life was marked with the exhilaration of high achievement and the pain of tragedy. But I think, perhaps, his highest achievement was rediscovering himself and rebuilding his life after a personal tragedy took his family away from him, through no fault of his own. He faced further tragedy. But imagine if he had not rebuilt himself and his life, remarried, and rebuilt his music career. That would have been a bigger tragedy. He really lived a tremendously full life for another 20 years after a loss that would have killed most people.

If you are still grieving losses and feeling miserable, take heart. Grief is normal in your situation. But the sun will come out again. You can find hope, new love, and a renewed sense of purpose. You can get creative and build a life that is extraordinary.

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