Reflections of gratitude for Rush drummer Neil Peart |

Reflections of gratitude for Rush drummer Neil Peart

by Amy Roby

The first time I ever heard Canadian rock trio Rush was in the backyard of a friend’s house when I was 12 years old. As Joelle and I pitched in to help her family with some outdoor chores, “Tom Sawyer” blasted from her older brother’s boombox and reverberated against the fence boards surrounding the yard. The music was like nothing I’d ever heard, and the song’s synthesizer-driven hook melding with the complex drumbeat stopped me in my tracks. Standing beneath the hot sun, covered in dirt and weary from the work, I felt a surge of wonder and excitement. That was the moment I became a fan of Rush.

Rush’s prolific and gifted drummer Neil Peart passed away last week after a battle with brain cancer. Peart was a musician, author, instructor, student and lyricist; he wrote the vast majority of Rush’s lyrics starting with the “Fly By Night” album in 1975. His poetic style coupled with the band’s progressive sound helped Rush amass legions of passionate fans all over the world.

Peart is often listed at or near the top of “World’s Best Drummer” lists. He was famous for his precision, hard-hitting style, and lengthy drum solos during the band’s concerts.

In spite of the accolades, Peart eschewed the rock and roll lifestyle and worked diligently to avoid certain aspects of his fame. He preferred privacy and chose to ride his motorcycle from venue to venue instead of joining bandmates Geddy Lee (bass) and Alex Lifeson (guitar) on the tour bus.

Tragedy struck in 1997 when Peart’s 19-year-old daughter, Selena, died in a car accident. Ten months later, Peart’s partner and Selena’s mother, Jackie, passed away after being diagnosed with cancer. Overcome by grief, Peart stepped away from the band and found solace on his motorcycle yet again. The experience prompted him to chronicle his journeys in a book titled, “Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road,” one of several non-fiction books he authored.

He found love again with photographer Carrie Nuttall, whom he married in 2000, and found his way back to Rush the following year. Peart and Nuttall’s daughter, Olivia, was born in 2009. Two years after the band’s 2013 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Peart officially retired from Rush.

As a kid who grew up during the early days of MTV (back when they featured music videos), I remember the intriguing appeal of getting to watch Peart, Lee, and Lifeson play the tunes that so inspired me. The soundtrack they created echoes through many significant experiences in my life, and it’s been a nostalgic trip over these past few days revisiting those videos online, reminiscing about where I was and how I felt the first time I heard all those songs.

Peart died on Jan. 7 at the age of 67; may he rest in peace.

Amy Roby can be reached at