Great News! “Beyond The Lighted Stage” is now streaming on Netflix! It is my favorite “Rock Documentary” of all time. I had already seen it on Netflix DVD a couple of years ago, but since then — they put it on streaming! I have watched it another three times. I even like to have it on when I do chores around the house. Having said all that, my post today is not a review of that great 2010 documentary about Canada’s progressive rock band Rush. (That film will have to be the subject of another blog.)
My topic? Well, after watching this rock-doc, I could not help but be mucho-impressed with the persona life story of band’s drummer/lyricist Neil Peart. I was greatly inspired by the interviews with him. He is (arguably) the greatest rock drummer.
Mr. Peart is a GREAT MAN – and that is not an accolade I give out very often. I would have to put him up there with Buddha, George Washington, Mr. Spock, and the guy who invented the Wendy’s Triple with Cheese (hold the mayo).
When I watched Mr. Peart, I saw a talented rock-hero, but in his flaws, I also saw a lot of myself. He is a good role-model — and not just for his expertise on the drums. I think any young person should aspire to live a life as well as he has.
The documentary shows through interviews and home movies the story of Neil joining Rush. It also shows some earlier film of him as a little boy (He was a Canadian boy who could not ice-skate very well – which he admits caused him some trouble in his life.) He was a gawky, bullied teenager. After high school he studied music and — among other things, books about Objectivism while in England but returned to Canada and earned his chops playing in local rock bands. He was working in his family’s tractor supply store when he was asked to audition for Rush – as the original Rush drummer had health problems and could not tour. Neil played like a cross between Keith Moon and John Bonham — and was of course hired.
Neil Peart is not your typical rock drummer. Mr. Peart has always been an avid reader. He is no academic egghead, yet the man is very sharp, very witty, and very astute. His literate nature led to him becoming the main lyricist for Rush. I always liked how he often employed themes from history, mythology, literature, social-economics and science fiction. Peart lyrics are sometimes a little like J.R.R. Tolkien …and sometimes like Isaac Asimov. Admittedly, rock critics often PANNED his songs for being pretentious and/or sophomoric – perhaps comparable to an English major at a liberal arts college. This is a great injustice. Ok, some lyrics are hokey, but others are very deep, very profound — even mystical. When you look at his entire body of work, it is indeed very ambitious – particularly considering the lyrics are for a hard rock songs! Rush songs have also “borrowed” famous phrases from literature. This is not “ripping off Shakespeare” as some have claimed. Rather, Mr.Peart has referenced certain well known phrases for context and emphasis. His songs spoke to the generation of us alienated heavy-metal kids who had just enough education to be dangerous. Think 2112 – linked here.
The two other members of Rush – singer bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson are very good about signing autographs. They like to interact with the press and the fans at these “meet and greet” events before concerts. Mr. Peart does not. He does not care for signing autographs, meeting and making small talk with fans, and has a reputation of being an anti-social sourpuss. (Yup, I know what that’s like.)
Nothing could be further from the truth. The documentary shows what a gentle, humorous and thoughtful man he is. You should do so well.
Damn, I wish I was a better writer.*
“Cast in this unlikely role
Ill-equipped to act
With insufficient tact
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact”
Some found N.P.’s brooding intensity to be off-putting. However, as Geddy Lee explained, “Neil is not anti-social , in fact he is very shy… He is not good at talking with fans because he is just not com-for-ta-ble.”
Neil Peart made a good point on this, at one point he said “When I was growing up I loved The Who, but I would never, ever think of going up to their hotel room after a concert and try to meet them.” The man is absolutely right. What is there to say in those situations really? Don’t be like these guys.
A poignant great part of the doc also explains what happened during a dark period of Mr. Peart’s life. One night, Neil and his wife Jacqueline were informed that their daughter Selena died in a horrific auto accident. As Mr. Peart and his wife struggled with their loss, Neil’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, and died a few months later. She lost her will to live on the night her daughter died. Peart said that his wife actually died of a “broken heart”. He called it “a slow suicide by apathy. She just didn’t care.”
Mr Peart struggled to cope. He considered himself “retired” from music. In his grief, Neil Peart got on his motorcycle and rode. He cycled around North America. Eastern Canada to Alaska, to Baja Mexico, Belize and around again. 55,000 miles. He would just ride, as the feel of the road calmed what he called ‘his baby soul”. He was never recognized on the journey, and would be never approached when he would stop in small towns and cafés. His experience is chronicled in his book “Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road” (2002).
I am currently reading this and highly recommend it. I know that he is a famous musician, but I feel connected via experience to Mr. Peart. He expresses many of the same feelings I have had about travel.
Readers: My descriptions here cannot capture the virtues of this great man.
Mr. Peart’s official web page is linked here.
Please enjoy the Rush song “Limelight” in super-HD, and featuring these great lyrics linked here.
Lyrics are discussed on the SongFacts website linked here.
* “Those who wish to be / must put aside the alienation / get on with the fascination / the real relation / the underlying theme”