Neil Peart died and my phone started buzzing. He was the drummer of the band Rush, and anybody who knows me at all knows what a huge fan I am of the Canadian power trio. My brother, my former pastor, one friend, then another, checked in on me.
I told my wife about his death, went back into my office … and a few minutes later, she poked her head into my office to see if I was OK. Not so much. I thought of my brother, Mike, with whom I’ve seen Rush a dozen times. I thought of my friend Ethan, who introduced me to Rush. I thought of the friends I made when I went to Rush camp and wrote about it.
As I say in that piece, I can pinpoint to the week when I became a Rush fan. — the end of June, 1989. My buddy Ethan played the first part of 2112 (called The Overture) over and over again. I fancied myself a smart kid, so the fact it was called “The Overture” made it interesting in and of itself. And the music was like nothing I had ever heard. They played with passion and precision.
It sounded exacting, cared for, pored over. There was just so much going on in it; I had to concentrate to listen, to absorb. It was an immersive experience, like reading, in the best way. When I listen to it now, it sounds like perfect writing, like there was not a wasted note, not a wasted chord, not a wasted second.
We listened to 2112 over and over again. It was a while before I learned the lyrics to 2112 were inspired by an Ayn Rand book, and years before I realized how full of shit Ayn Rand was. But I loved the very idea that a rock band would write songs based on dystopian novels.
After 2112 mesmerized me, I devoured the Rush catalogue. I would buy a cassette, listen until I had the lyrics memorized, then move on to the next. I listened to Rush to the near exclusion of almost every other band I liked. It’s embarrassing, almost, how much I listened to them. Considering I also read Neil Peart’s books, I can say there is not a single artist, in any medium or genre, whose work I consumed or loved more.
I’ll leave it to the more musically astute to assess Peart’s weird time signatures and other musical details that I only vaguely understand. But I will say this: Early in my writing career, I wanted to be a reporter. I wanted to chase facts, dig up stories, right wrongs. I wanted to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and I didn’t care very much about the sentences I wrote as I did so.
As I progressed on in my writing career and started to care more about how to put words together, my admiration for Rush’s work grew. I saw parallels between what they did and what I tried to do. I saw reporting as learning to play and writing as creating music. It took me years to become competent at them. Somehow they mastered both. I knew how much work I put in to create middling stories. I marveled at the time they must have spent to create brilliance.
Years ago, I simply loved their music. Now I believe each of them is a genius. Their work inspires me. Even though they retired, like other Rush fans, I harbored the .00000001 percent chance that they’d get back together. Now that’s gone.
Like any huge Rush fan, I have a hard time deciding which of their songs is my favorite. I’m going to go listen to all of them.
More from Matt Crossman: mattcrossman.com.